Delivering IT services is at the core of any modern IT organization. IT provides services to deliver or enable business outcomes and value. It seems straightforward. So then, why do so many IT organizations struggle with undefined services?
As it turns out, what an IT service is actually is often misunderstood by IT professionals – and as a result, services do not get correctly defined. Instead, many IT organizations identify things like laptop computers, password resets, and installing software as “services”. And while these service actions (which is actually what these things are) are important for the end-user, none of those things indicate a business outcome. The consequence of not formally defining services in terms that business colleagues can recognize as business outcomes and capabilities could be causing cracks in their organizations.
Let’s break down what an IT service is – and isn’t – and examine just how impactful well-defined services can be for an organization.
What are IT Services?
As defined by ITIL4, a service is “a means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.”
Add the phrase “through the use of IT” to the end of the above sentence, and you have the definition of an IT service.
Specific IT services will differ from organization to organization depending on their industry and their business needs and requirements. But any service definition always has its basis in creating value and delivering or enabling business outcomes.
Think about it. A laptop computer – by itself – provides little value. But when a laptop computer is used to securely access a corporate network, enabling use of a system that controls the manufacturing of widgets, which in turn, are sold to end-customers….now we have a different perspective. It’s not about the laptop computer – it’s about having the capability to manufacture widgets.
In other words, the laptop by itself does not deliver a business outcome. But combined with all of the other things mentioned about (and more!), a business outcome (widgets to be sold to customers) is enabled. And achieving that business outcome provides value.
Why do IT services matter?
If we look back at our earlier definition of value, the important part of it is “delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve.”
Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
The value is achieving the quarter-inch hole, not in the drill.
To put it in IT terms, it isn’t about the network or the cloud or AI or the laptop or having a password reset. It’s about the result. And if that result is considered valuable.
IT services deliver value to customers and enable customers to achieve business outcomes. It’s a vital capability, especially today when customer expectations are so high.
But it’s more than that.
Having well-defined IT services demonstrates to the rest of the organization how well IT understands the business of the business.
Well-defined IT services speak the language of the business. Colleagues that work outside of IT can quickly recognize and understand the expected business value and business outcomes from the use of that service.
And well-defined IT services illustrate how IT contributes to the organization’s success.
This all means that IT must have a strong understanding of what outcomes the business needs to realize or enable, and how the people, processes, and technology delivered by IT contributes to those outcomes. Many IT pros struggle with this. It’s not enough for IT professionals to primarily focus on systems and technology anymore. They have to understand how what they do – and how they interact with others within (and outside of ) IT – contribute to the success of the organization.
It’s not about the drill. It is about all of the things that work and are delivered together that results in the quarter-inch hole.
But unfortunately, many IT organizations only talk about the drill.
Why Do Organizations Resist Defining Services?
Why do so many organizations struggle with defining their IT services?
The first reason is that IT sometimes struggles to understand the customer’s perspective. Simply put, many IT professionals don’t understand the business of the business. Therefore those IT pros are unable to articulate what they do in terms of defined services, and how those services provide a real business value to the customer.
Another reason why many IT organizations don’t define services is that they have a resistance to governance. They look at governance as being overhead or something that gets in the way of getting work done. When you define an IT service, you’re creating a structure and setting good expectations for how IT enables business success. And governance – done well and as appropriate – enables organizations to achieve their vision and objectives.
But some IT organizations take governance too far. Those organizations tend to stand up processes for process sake. As a result, no one ends up following processes (much less understands the intent of the process to begin with) or using services as has been defined.
Defining IT services also helps the organization understand if its investments in technology are meeting the needs of the organization and helping the business achieve its vision and objectives.
This has terrible consequences for the organization!
What happens when IT Services are not defined?
One of the biggest consequences of undefined services is that it causes tension between IT and the rest of the organization. Without defined services, there are no shared expectations – either within or outside of IT. The rest of the organization have no idea what IT is capable of doing for them. Services give IT the ability to set expectations and to create healthier relationships between IT and the rest of the organization.
Undefined services also impact value and the way IT’s value is perceived. Without defined services, IT will have difficulty articulating the value they provide to the organization. This hurts IT’s ability to justify budgets and get buy-in for investments. If you can’t articulate the value of IT, you can’t show the ROI on any tool, piece of technology, or investments in IT.
Finally, it’s difficult to prioritize work without defining services. When you don’t define your services, everything will seem like it’s the most important thing that needs to be done…until the next thing comes along. IT will find itself responding to requests from users and working on projects that organizational leaders may not have any interest in doing.
How to Start Defining Services
What is the best way to start defining services and showing true integration with the business?
Begin by understanding business needs. That means engaging your key stakeholders and decision-makers.
To define your services properly, ask these key stakeholders and decision-makers what outcomes they need to achieve to meet business goals and objectives. Ask how they envision the use of or how they are using technology in achieving those goals and objectives. Ask how they perceive value – and how they would measure that value.
Then start identifying and defining your services based on what you heard from those stakeholders. Identify what it takes to deliver the outcomes and value that stakeholders need. Identify the costs and risks involved in delivering those outcomes – and how IT will manage those costs and risks.
Then write it down and publicize it using terms those stakeholders will recognize and understand. Any time you talk about technology, talk about it in terms of services.
And you’ll be on your way to much better business-IT alignment.Share