In the years before I became a specialist in all things data, I worked as an IT service functionary.  I still have a finger in that pie today, talking at conferences about ITSM and (to a much lesser extent) ITIL. I have a fondly-remembered superior to thank for introducing me to ITIL in the 1990s. He was a (somewhat maverick) IT manager at a prestigious London firm and I was the newly promoted IT support manager. “Get yourself on Noel Bruton‘s IT manager course”, he said. “It’s brilliant”.

I did and it was. I picked up numerous shiny pearls of wisdom from the no-nonsense Mr Bruton. He also mentioned en passant an IT support framework called ITIL, which I’d not heard of at the time. When I returned to my desk I spent some time researching the subject and eventually bought the two OGC volumes – Service Support and Service Delivery. I was, it must be said, impressed. It immediately became clear to me that the structure and certainty which ITIL promised would be irresistible to the industry. I subsequently found myself proselyting to all who would listen about the future approach to IT service.

About a year later, a new IT director was installed by the partners of the firm. One afternoon he called a meeting to outline his vision of the way in which he believed that we should provide IT service. I – perhaps inadvisedly – stood up and delivered passionate oratory about the advantages of the ITIL framework. My memory of that encounter is that the intervention was more than a little unwelcome and I was summarily slapped down by the new new honcho. Oops, bad start.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I didn’t last a great deal longer in that role. I left to take a position with another major organisation (eventually becoming part of  the team responsible for introducing IT service management processes into the firm). However, I recently stumbled upon the LinkedIn profile of that old IT director, and it raised a smile when I noticed ITIL terminology all over his profile.

The point is this. Change happens in our sector. He didn’t see ITIL coming but it came nonetheless.

Fast forward to 2016 and the IT service landscape is once again undergoing seismic movements, and in a reflection of that earlier time, I find myself proselyting once more. Those who have attended the talks that I have given recently (itSMF Roadshow events in Sweden, 2014 SDI conference, 2014 SITS event) will know that I am currently fascinated by various new paradigms of customer-facing service provision which are informed by complexity science and psychology.

Let’s face it, the process age of IT service is over (although this doesn’t mean we’ll stop using processes – just as the end of the iron age didn’t mean that we stopped using iron). Corporations are nowadays excited by solutions to the rapid changes that are a feature of the contemporary world – and this means that they appreciate agile innovation. The traditional offerings of an IT department – stability and break-fix – is of decreasing relevance. This old thinking is painting many IT functions into a utility-like corner; that is, on a par with the central heating people. These functions are annoying when they fail, but generally invisible the rest of the time. Such service conceptions are not future or growth oriented, and that’s the problem.

Twenty-first century enterprises would much prefer an IT department that would also relish the role of partner – or even leader – in the challenge of continual and game-changing innovation. They yearn for creativity, pro-activity and agility throughout the IT organisation; they would love to see motivation via values and not targets from service desk staff. Perhaps enterprises even dream of IT staff embracing approaches based on 21st century complexity, rather than 20th century mechanistic and systemic thinking.

No amount of process-tweaking is going to take the industry from the old to the new.

Nope, in my view, these challenges facing contemporary IT service departments are human ones, rather than those of process or technology. The winners in the game will be the IT service teams who can quickly readjust their thinking to these new requirements and the new paradigms required to meet them.

One may (like that IT director) slap me and the other proselytes down if one wishes, but it will not stop change from happening. Indeed, I’m hoping that my instincts will once again be correct and we’re about to embark on an exciting and beneficial transformation of the way the customer facing corporate IT is conceived. This time I’m deeply involved in this new thinking – I’ve been talking at conferences about it for years and have even written a book. My company is also gearing up to provide advice in this area (alongside our more everyday data and analytic services).

I’m looking forward to a more complexity-flavoured conception of IT service. I passionately believe that it can engender improvements to both the working lives, and the end product for leaders and staff in the parent enterprise (i.e. our customers), as well as for staff in the IT function.

I’ll be posting more on this subject here in the coming months so check back here again soon if you’d like to know more.

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