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Service Management in the Age of Digitization

By Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

If there is one thing that has been a core function of IT shops large and small over the years, it is the delivery of service. Ever since that first panicky call to Radio Shack to see if they had the right replacement bulb for the Univac, the management of that service has been an issue.

Why is Service Management in the Age of Digitization still a topic? This should be a foundational IT discipline we have perfected. The solution may seem as simple as providing a set of services to fix and maintain the systems and processes that have been delivered, like a car dealership service center. You sold it, so you need to fix it, change the oil, and maybe throw in a car wash.

"Through virtualization of hardware, software, and services we can drastically simplify how we interact with our systems"

Unlike the car dealership, IT shops are not supporting a relatively short inventory of makes and models. Every IT shop in the world is dealing with a custom product. Imagine… of the millions of businesses in the world with computer systems, not one IT shop is like another. Totally custom.

This begs the question, how can Service Management ever be efficient or standardized given this fractured nature?

First, one might argue that while the IT shops themselves are all different, the processes or frameworks they use are more uniform. ITIL does a great job in bringing uniformity and definition to the practice of IT service management. It provides a simple and clear approach to providing service management. And therein may lie the problem. It tries to make simple something that is inherently complex, perhaps even chaotic. ITIL helps us structure and understand how to provide service, but it can fall short on specific issues that break the standard mold.

Second, perhaps all IT shops are not so different. After all, we are really talking about 1) computer systems, which have the same core components, 2) software programs, which follow the same Boolean logic, and 3) business data, very similar across a vast variety of organizations. Why not provide service at that level?

Ultimately, it is because our customers do not operate at that level. They work at the level of processes inputs, outputs, decisions, and interactions. This brings back the complexity—every business’s process is different.

Is there a way forward? Are we doomed to IT Service Management never being good enough, a point of customer pain and IT angst?

The fundamental problem is that we are trying to match the complexity of our systems against the complexity of our business processes. This many-to-many approach will always leave loose ends.

The alternative is to simplify one side of the equation. Assuming for the moment we cannot control the business side, then that leaves the system side. The answer lies in the Cloud; or more specifically, in the inherent nature of virtualization.

Through virtualization of hardware, software, and services we can drastically simplify how we interact with our systems. We are not really simplifying the core functions, but we are removing the complexity needed to interact with those functions. Well-designed cloud implementations will allow significantly simpler and maintainable IT software and hardware services.

The Cloud is sold as the answer to many problems, often inaccurately, but for IT Service Management it will bring the virtual simplification we need.

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