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Enterprise service management blurs business, IT operations

IT-style automated workflows are expanding to non-IT departments, even as business initiatives fuse with software projects. IT ops will support both, often with the same toolset.

The fusion of business and IT has morphed into a concept known as enterprise service management, as software vendors support IT-style automated workflows for non-technical purposes.

The enterprise service management (ESM) category emerged in 2017 among vendors that sold ITSM tools, such as ServiceNow, BMC and Micro Focus. Other tools that edged into ESM territory more recently, such as Atlassian's Jira Service Desk, grew out of software project management offerings. What they all have in common is the application of IT practices around complex workflow management, such as service catalogs and change management databases, to non-IT enterprise functions.

"This is the real next generation of enterprise software," said Charles Betz, a Forrester Research analyst who tracks ESM, ITSM and DevOps vendors. "DevOps is a fun conversation, but it's adjunct to this."

Non-tech teams adopt IT workflow tools, service portals

IT ops pros must support the back end for these tools as they evolve, and in some cases have taken on the integration of software project management tools and service desk ticketing systems, with an eye toward eventually supporting ESM.

Mikael HedbergMikael Hedberg

"We built our own integration [for Clubhouse project management software] into FreshDesk, which wasn't a big deal, but we'd like to have some built-in integration that develops the two systems together," said Mikael Hedberg, CTO at APSIS International, a marketing automation firm based in Stockholm. "We are looking at options on how to either expand this integration or migrate to a different ticketing system."

One software development team at APSIS spearheaded the use of tools from Clubhouse, an emerging competitor to Atlassian's Trello and Jira. Since 2018, all eight of the company's software development teams, product management, IT operations and tech support adopted them. It replaced a mix of previously used tools, such as Redmine open source project management software, Microsoft Team Foundation Server and Trello.

This is the real next generation of enterprise software. DevOps is a fun conversation, but it's adjunct to this.
Charles BetzAnalyst, Forrester Research

Clubhouse had broad appeal because it balanced customizable features with out-of-the-box integrations, Hedberg said.

"You don't need to spend a lot of time configuring things -- you can start creating new projects and new stories, and then you can expand," he said. "And it has a very strong integrations with some of the other tools that we use, like GitHub, where it just fit together out of the box, [and] didn't take a lot of complicated or hacky solutions [to] connect the two."

Once it standardized on Clubhouse for software project management, APSIS established BizDevOps workflows, where project managers create user story requirements in their own workspaces, which are sent to development teams' backlogs within the tool. From there, the tool's use also expanded to non-technical sales and marketing teams, which began using Clubhouse to automate workflows. Clubhouse has proven useful to technical and non-technical teams at APSIS so far because of its efficient ways to sort, group and prioritize projects.

"As a former product owner myself, I know that can get out of hand if you don't have a good tool to organize them," Hedberg said.

Now, in addition to fleshed-out integration with FreshDesk, Hedberg said APSIS would eventually like to use Clubhouse for full-fledged ESM. One item on Hedberg's long-term wish list for Clubhouse is support for the type of low-code interfaces Atlassian's Jira Service Desk added in November 2019 to appeal to legal, facilities and HR departments.

Clubhouse already offers built-in integration with ZenDesk, and FreshDesk integration is one of its top priorities for 2020, according to a company spokesperson. However, the vendor is primarily focused on appealing to software teams as it competes with Atlassian for Jira customers, and prepares a Confluence competitor, rather than any near-term expansion into ESM.

Enterprise service management evolves toward "corporate 911"

The ESM market began to truly solidify in 2019, as vendors began to natively support non-IT features, according to Forrester's 2019 ESM Wave report. The ongoing buzz around AI and machine learning in IT will further spur the ESM market in 2020, the report predicted.

Competitive lines between vendors are still being drawn, however, Forrester's Betz said. While Jira Service Desk's templates edge it closer toward direct competition with ServiceNow in ESM, ServiceNow is much more fiercely competitive with BMC, IBM and Micro Focus.

Many of Jira's ESM features remain complementary to such products -- some of their specific business services for CRM or HR functions could be listed in a Jira service catalog, for example. And while ESM-style features are finding their way into tools such as Clubhouse, they have a long way to go to if they are to become full-fledged members of that category.

But eventually, both technical and non-technical corporate services will find their way into very similar service catalogs, as ESM matures, Betz believes.

"These tools will answer the problem of how employees can raise their hand and say, 'Hey, I need help here,'" he said. "They'll create a kind of corporate 911, where it doesn't matter if your problem is a leaky faucet, a software bug or a cell phone that doesn't work, you'll have one consolidated, shared services organization."

IT pros should be aware of this trend and expect more enterprise software heavyweight entrants and consolidation in this market, Betz added.

"Sooner or later, Oracle and SAP are going to have to place bets, and then things will really get interesting," he said.

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