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What steps can CIOs take to optimize their ITSM software?

James Stanger of CompTIA dives into the reasons for ITSM software proliferation in the enterprise, why that's a problem and how sticking to a unified ITSM framework can help.

IT service management frameworks and ITSM software are longtime staples of IT operations, yet the longevity of the ITSM discipline has not yet eliminated many challenges with it. IT departments still tend to deploy ITSM software to target specific, localized needs rather than enterprise-wide requirements. IT departments also often have duplication of capabilities in the software they've deployed, and, at the same time, they frequently fail to maximize the value of the software they have.

Here, James Stanger, chief technology evangelist at CompTIA Inc., a nonprofit trade association, shares best practices for deploying ITSM software and offers insights on the challenges CIOs continue to face when developing their ITSM strategies. One important takeaway: A unified ITSM framework -- whether it is ITIL, ISO 20000 or some other approach -- goes a long way in optimizing ITSM software.

Editor's note: The following has been edited for clarity and length.

What are the reasons for the proliferation of ITSM software in any given enterprise?

James Stanger: One is IT folks love to buy software, and that's why there are many ITSM pieces of software and you end up with this hodgepodge of tools. Also, what happens is you end up with a new CIO, and he or she says, 'We're going to use this ITSM software.' Then that person leaves and you end up with a new CIO and [another piece of] ITSM software. Or you have one company merge with another, so you end up with two of the same type of ITSM software.

James StangerJames Stanger

But what's funny is you have the ITSM software to help you rationalize and categorize software [used on the business side], but rarely is anyone using a [unified] ITSM framework to implement ITSM software.

What should IT departments be doing to reduce the thicket of ITSM software?

Stanger: People chose the software or the framework du jour or the approach of the day. What we need is for someone to say, 'We're going to stick with this framework, and after we adopt an approach, we'll map the software to it.' Too often we think adopting software will solve our lack of framework. You have to choose and adopt the framework first and then the software is a tertiary concern. You have to get everyone on the same page, and then you can get rid of multiple different pieces of software.

So, you have to address the bigger problem of buy-in. You've got to have everyone from the top down understand that this is the framework we're using. If the CEO isn't aware of the CIO's approach, and the CIO isn't able to educate the middle managers on how the framework works, then you have a business disconnect and that drives the use of so many different ITSM software platforms.

It's OK to have multiple ITSM software products, as long as they're all pushing in the same direction. Otherwise you just have chaos. And that's what I see, because CIOs don't resolve that fundamental issue of picking a unifying framework first.

Who owns responsibility for the ITSM software tools?

Stanger: The overall owner is the CIO, but the business owner will be the IT divisions underneath the CIO. The CIO will basically say the individual teams have to use and know those tools very well. For example, the help desk manager reporting up to the CIO will be somebody who has the most visibility into the tool that helps the help desk.

If the IT person who has the most say on a particular software tool says this existing solution isn't doing what we need so let's move to something else, the CIO then has to ask if that new tool will really help the team work more efficiently or has to [ascertain] if the existing software would work just fine, if that person understood the ITSM framework better. I think a lot of CIOs struggle with doing that.

Too often we think adopting software will solve our lack of framework. You have to choose and adopt the framework first and then the software is a tertiary concern.
James Stangerchief technology evangelist, CompTIA

Why is better management of ITSM software important?

Stanger: The first thing that this software will do is take pieces of the framework like configuration management or business information flow and put it in categories inside the software, so now you have a way to see how your business works. Then within those categories, the software has ways to track and plan projects. It's a management tool -- a time management tool, a team management tool, you can even call this software a business process management tool.

Why do IT departments persist in adding ITSM software, other than they love to buy software?

Stanger: Each of these particular pieces of ITSM software has their own DNA. They started in a certain area -- for example, some started in the help desk area or in the world of medical devices -- and they became successful. So, then they moved into management for the whole of IT. But there's still that DNA where they excel in certain areas and are average in others. And IT is good at saying, 'Here's where this software really excels.' That's one way you end up with proliferation: IT wants software that excels in every area.

So, that is the problem hampering ITSM?

Stanger: I'm not sure it's a negative thing. If the company has a framework that they're all trained to use and they're implementing the software to that framework, then it's not a big deal. If you're all unified, you can use multiple platforms with minimal problems. But that 'if' is a big deal.

How many IT organizations are good at optimizing their ITSM software?

Stanger: Most IT departments aren't that great at optimizing what they have. It seems much easier to buy a new piece of software than optimizing what you have.

For example, [many pieces of] software are left to the default setting. It's like IT bought a VCR but it was flashing 12:00 all the time. The temptation is always to go and buy a new VCR or buy a TiVo, but that doesn't solve the problem that you're not delving into the system and customizing it. It takes a good six months or a year to tune ITSM software to your company. But there are a lot of companies who bought this stuff and it's still flashing 12:00. The software is not optimized. That's where the work comes in. Too many [IT leaders] really expect a turnkey solution.

Parting advice to CIOs on optimizing ITSM software?

Stanger: Pick a framework, adopt it, customize it and then educate to that. That would make rationalizing and categorizing IT processes better than any one piece of software. We need to spend more time educating people on how to customize a framework for their own business.

Then once those tools are in place and tied to a framework, then the next thing you should do is use another whole set of business processes to make the framework more efficient. So, you have, for example, the ITIL framework to rationalize and then you'll use Six Sigma to improve processes. So, you implement a framework and then you find a process to make that framework more efficient.

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