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Service management and the human factor

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Workshop If your job involves managing IT, IT services or business services it’s probably not escaped your attention that for better or worse, your job entails working with other people. Whether strong demarcations between “IT” and “The Business” exist, or whether your firm takes a more ‘progressive’ approach, there are numerous constituencies, each of which operates separately from the rest.

Without getting into tribal structures, hunter gatherers or the rather clever approach they have to organisational structure at companies like Gore, the fact is that such structures inevitably have an impact on how services are delivered, monitored, measured and managed. Despite the best efforts of the IT industry to automate the pants off computing, it’s all still pretty people intensive. For all the talk of ‘automation’ and ‘lights out’ data centres or server rooms – and there are rational arguments for and against – we’re still working in ways that require high levels of human interaction.

We have application guys, database guys, server guys, network guys, desktop guys, security guys (and gals) and so on. Each is working in their own area, solving their own problems with their own tools. This is partly down to the development of IT and its management. Both have added layers on layers over time, each adding new capability and complexity. Management tools have proliferated; and although ‘management suites’ exist, we find that IT organisations using them are no better off in terms of the burdens they find themselves under than those that follow a multi-product or vendor approach to IT management.

So how does this impact service management? The result of the mish-mash of human interactions and information technology is a fragmented view of the world and quite a lot of inefficiency, something readily acknowledged by the readers of The Register. However, the current state of play demands that we need these multiple and different sets of skilled people to keep everything working properly. And, given we find it unlikely that most organisations will seek to implement fully automated computer facilities any time soon, this model looks set to continue for the immediate future.

The much talked-about skills shortage in IT may have something to say about that. Hardware becomes obsolete but code persists. IT organisations may be delivering services which rely on software (COBOL springs to mind) they may not have the skills to fix. Is retirement of people a bigger risk than retirement of technology, or just another reason why the industry’s ‘automate everything’ message makes sense?

In the real world, too much pressure from all sides – economy, IT budgets, business demands, skills - could mean no movement whatsoever. Service management works today in spite of or because of the people bridging gaps where the technology doesn’t.

If the future holds more of the same, then building a better understanding of our own organisations and infrastructure will help. This means getting over that separate entity thing and working out how to deliver services to the business without everyone doing their bit in isolation. But given how quickly the outside world is forcing our businesses to evolve, are we going to get the opportunity to join things together or will we need ever more people to manage ever more stuff? If you have any thoughts on this ever so slightly broad topic, we’d love to hear them, as always.

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