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The Service Catalogue: a waste of time?

Posted By Barclay Rae, 17 January 2017

Service Catalogue is a single term that is interpreted and used in a number of different ways. It is a key area of ITSM that has grown in importance and relevance in recent years – both to define and manage IT Services and value, plus also as a means to automate and speed up service fulfilment.

Many organisations have embarked on projects and initiatives to build service Catalogues or one sort on another – in particular this has been supported (and in some ways driven) by the vendor market who have improved their capability and offerings in this area  

There are a number of different terms and varied taxonomy in use in this area, particularly around different areas of Service Catalogue – e.g. technical service Catalogue, business Catalogue, user Catalogue. In fact these are different outputs and ‘views’ – basically of the same data.

‘Service Catalogue’ is quite a specious term that can be applied to a number of different entities. This can be a source of confusion and also of misplaced criticism of the actual Catalogue concept.

Essentially the Service Catalogue can be defined as follows:

  • An automated portal for self-service and request fulfilment by users – this help  to reduce lead times for e.g. IT ordering and can help to open up access to the IT organisation (and increasingly other departments)
  • A strategic business level view of IT Services – that can help to clarify IT priorities and used as the basis for prioritisation, service reporting and service level management
  • A technical repository of ‘supply chain’ information for the IT Service provider to use as the basis for management and delivery of services. This includes knowledge management, supplier and contract information, internal support and departmental responsibilities etc.

Detractors of the Service Catalogue fall into 2 main areas:

  1.  ‘Old IT’ cynics who have been running IT for many years and can’t see what value the Service Catalogue can add, particularly if they’ve tried and failed to implement SLAs with their customers.
  2. Futurists who see no need to try to define services when technology and business has already moved on from the concept of IT Services.

Register your place on the upcoming Service Catalogue workshop.

So, let’s look at three key issues around the Service Catalogue that detractors like to make.

1 – We already know what to deliver

IT departments can argue that they already know what to deliver, so what’s the point?

Often they can’t say what they do or what value they deliver – so it’s helpful and vital from a strategic / business perspective. And the automation of request fulfilment speeds up customer response and reduced lead times, plus usually cuts support costs. Business level reporting cannot realistically be achieved without some service-based definition of what IT does.

At a simple level the Service Catalogue helps IT to be clear on its priorities and what it is there to deliver.

2 – It’s already been surpassed

The futurist view is that Service Catalogue is already out of date and unnecessary, given that everyone buys IT and we don’t need to try and shoehorn everything into an IT Service…

Service Catalogue as currently defined will probably be transitional — it probably won’t exist in 5–10 years’ time. The process of defining and developing a service focus is still useful for IT departments as part of a learning / development process. And self-service and automated fulfilment are essential and will continue to be areas for development.

3 – It’s often misunderstood

Certainly, the practical steps to implementation are not well defined. This is an area where ITIL training doesn’t provide much direct help. Also the multi-level nature of the subject can make it prone to misinterpretation.

As a general rule it’s good to be clear on taxonomy and local definitions/variations from the start. The simplest definition is where Service Catalogue is seen as the ‘live’ services actually running as part of the wider IT Service Portfolio.

9 top Service Catalogue tips

  1. It is not one single document or tool – the Service Catalogue has a number of stakeholders and outputs, so can be manifest in many forms. SLM is a process and approach rather than a single document or tool.  ‘Service Catalogue’ is definitely not just ONE thing or ONE type of document or system. This is because organisations and individuals have different needs, different focus and also different entry points.
  2. The value is achieved from engaging with IT customers and IT departments – to work towards demonstrably common goals. Customers should be engaged to discuss service improvement, not SLAs or Service Catalogues.
  3. Successful implementation requires a collaborative approach – a service is in affect a supply chain that may cross several reporting lines. Customers/users need to be consulted and involved, as well as stakeholders across the IT ‘supply chain'.
  4. Workshops are a good way to get people involved with consensus and momentum – they are also a good way to achieve common understanding and e.g. agreed definitions/taxonomy around SLM and Service Catalogue concepts.
  5. Start simple and strategic – complexity will come. It is a good idea to aim for a single page view of services initially, in order to focus on overall end-to-end services and outcomes delivered, rather than starting at the technology level.
  6. The corollary to (5) is that some vendors and organisations do start at the unit technology level – this will work in order to develop a fulfilment catalogue but will not deliver strategic end-to-end service value.
  7. Most vendors provide not just tools but also useful data and content for Service Catalogue. This can save a lot of time in creating service records and data.
  8. A visual representation of the service (catalogue) structure is useful to build understanding – a picture can be vastly more descriptive than a 20 page document.
  9. Get started – too many organisations dither and prevaricate on this topic. The result will change and will probably never be perfect so it is useful to just get started and learn how to develop this by doing it…

Tags:  Service Catalogue 

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The Indian Rope Trick

Posted By Richard Horton, 11 January 2017

How would you explain service management to a quantum physicist?

Recently I thought I was going to have to do this, and mused on whether this would be easier or harder than responding to the usual "what do you do?" icebreaker. I know little about quantum physics and had a little look at the area where this physicist works, in search of clues. Doing this I read about the Indian Rope Trick, and thought that actually, this might be a useful analogy.

In the Indian Rope Trick, you start with something which, if left to its own devices, would prove unstable and collapse. However, as the rope loses its stability and starts to collapse, countering forces are triggered. These result in a correction which takes the rope back to its initial, apparently unstable, state.

This reminded me of what happens in Service Management. What we do varies a lot, and what we focus on is determined by what is necessary to maintain the stability of our services.

To those outside, we are like that invisible force, pushing the rope back to its intended state. The direction the rope starts to fall can vary, and so the countering force required varies in accord with this. The lack of visibility of what is being done is not a problem — in fact, it's what we're aiming for. We want it to seem that our service, like the Indian Rope, is standing unassisted.

It turned out that I'd got the wrong person and my quantum physicist was actually involved in public affairs (Google doesn't give all the answers)! But I found the analogy I'd stumbled across of interest, and one I thought worth sharing.

What do you think of the analogy? Leave a comment below or tweet @ITSMFUK.

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Reflections on service management in clinical health research ​

Posted By Richard Horton, 07 December 2016


The Professional Service Management Framework (PSMF) explores how doing service management in our organisations involves more than just ITIL processes. Here Richard Horton takes a tangential view of some of the specific skills required within the clinical health research arena. Could these have wider relevance?

 When I was 12 and three quarters I started keeping a diary. I was using an office diary where weekdays were split up by ‘lunch’ and ‘evening’. I took my cue from the first of these, and extended it. For the next 3 months I dutifully recorded, not just what I had for lunch but what I had for every meal. Looking back now it is, for me at any rate, a fascinating document, covering as it does school meals, meals at home, and a camping holiday in Germany. Some of what it records, like my enthusiastic demolition of seconds of various dishes, aligns with my memory and won’t surprise anyone who has seen me at a buffet. Elsewhere, as in how quickly school fish led to a dislike of fish in general, it seems to differ, taking longer than I had thought. 

Our memories, of course, are fallible, and even when we choose to write things down, how accurately and fairly we record things matters a lot, as does what we deem worthy of recording in the first place. When we record things we don’t necessarily know how our record will be used, and what seemed important or relevant at the time may now seem insignificant, and vice versa. Despite these caveats the imperfect records that diaries offer are likely to add structure, content and accuracy to our memories. 

The organisation I work for is part of the fabric of clinical research in this country. In such a world teams seek to improve knowledge about how to treat people effectively. Something more thoughtfully structured and controlled and collaborative is required than, say, a solo doctor’s memory of what potential treatments they might previously have tried with success. Trial and error, if not structured appropriately, is likely to lead to recurring errors. 

Does this matter? Well, when dealing with difficult questions like how to treat scurvy, the subject of the original clinical trial, it can be the difference between failure and success.

We may know about scurvy now, but big unanswered questions remain for the clinical research community, like ‘what causes dementia?’ How do we approach such a question? When you don’t understand causes, knowing what data to collect is difficult. Through a careful approach of asking specific questions, gathering data meticulously, structuring trials, analysing, and then being able to split true causes from coincidental happenings, researchers make progress. This painstaking approach can, over time, produce dramatic turnarounds. There are conditions, like certain testicular cancers, which 30 years ago had a terminal diagnosis, but where now there is a success rate in treatment of over 90%. Maybe in 30 years’ time we will be looking back on a similar turnaround with dementia. Well, it’s something to aim for and would have a substantial benefit for individuals and society if achieved.

The scientific method is known for tackling problems by posing appropriate questions and verifying whether hypotheses are correct or not. However, the value of such an approach is not confined to science. It teaches us much about how we can intelligently approach uncertainty in other areas of life. In a world where about 70% of projects are reckoned to fail, my sense is that skills of this kind are underused.

At first sight diaries appear a completely different world. No one sets a question and there is no evaluation of your method or whether you have met any objectives. Any relevance to the world at large, unless you are a politician writing with publication in mind which is a different kettle of fish, is likely to be posthumous. However, probing at what might be important to you, and exploring ways of recording it, seems to me to be laying some foundation stones for the sort of observation, attention to detail, and questioning required in effective problem solving or research. Well, as a diarist, I would say that, wouldn’t I!  More generally, space without an agenda to creatively explore how the world works helps us build skills to tackle subsequent specific issues which don’t have a predetermined solution.

I no longer chronicle every meal, but I do still keep a daily diary. And I do now eat fish.


If you want to learn more about clinical health research then please register your interest, here

This Massive Open Online Course  (MOOC) runs on a regular basis. Look out for the next round! 

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A DevOps Business Simulation

Posted By Paul Wilkinson, 02 December 2016

Paul Wilkinson reports on one of the most popular interactive elements of conference.

The theme of ITSM16, the itSMF UK conference, was ‘Professionalism in ITSM’. One of the streams, ‘People make ITSM’, focused on the human elements that make ITSM successful – such as communications, leadership and people development.

Barclay Rae in his opening speech discussed the Professional Service Management Framework (PSMF), a competency model announced earlier this year for ITSM professionals. Barclay explained that ‘soft skills’ are becoming increasingly important for IT professionals. Two of the six competence areas in the framework, ‘Self-management & leadership skills’ and ‘Interpersonal/relationship skills’, clearly focus on these softer skills.

To support this focus on people and developing new competences, Jan Schilt from GamingWorks and John McDermott from HPE facilitated a ‘taster’ session of the Phoenix Project DevOps business simulation game. The simulation game is a form of ‘experiential learning’ helping delegates translate theory into practice.

The goals of the simulation session were to:

  • Explore and experience the essence of DevOps.
  • Understand the culture and behavioural aspects of working in a DevOps environment.
  • Discover how DevOps could help your teams to become more efficient and effective.
  • Experience how to ‘implement’ DevOps principles in your own organisation.
  • Explore key success factors for DevOps adoption and deployment.

Jan introduced the simulation and stepped immediately into his role of CEO of Parts Unlimited, an organisation specially devised for the simulation. Showing the delegates a press release from the morning papers, he declared, ‘Parts Unlimited’s share price is falling and there is bad publicity around the company. IT must transform its capabilities if we are to survive…” He then welcomed ‘Bill’, the delegate playing the role of VP of IT Operations (VPO). The VPO looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

“….and Sarah, from Retail Ops,” he continued, “will ensure that the Phoenix Project will realise the necessary business growth and profitability.”

The team played round 1. It soon became clear that things were not going well. The business was getting frustrated, so too was IT. Not all the work was being performed… mistakes were being made, requiring rework. Roles and responsibilities were unclear. At the end of the round the team reflected:

  • The business was confused. There was no clear overview of the status of their projects, or how work was being prioritised.
  • The process was unclear for the tester, who was involved too late.
  • The lead engineer spent 60% of their time doing ‘things’, with an unclear relationship to business projects.
  • The team had started with ‘visualising’ their work – however not all work was captured and there was no relationship to the business outcomes to be realised.
  • People were ‘running around’ – the process was unclear, and this led to wastage, delays and rework.
  • Work stopped ‘flowing’; nobody called ‘stop’ to find out why and where the bottleneck was.

The teams then explored some critical success factors for DevOps and applied some of the DevOps principles. Round 2 seemed much smoother. The reflection at the end of the next game round revealed:

  • There was clear visibility of all work, the flow of work through the system, and where work was being blocked or held up.
  • The tester had more clarity and delegated testing throughout the chain, preventing mistakes being passed downstream.
  • There was visualisation of the right information which helped with decision making.
  • The team had gone from ‘headless chicken’ to ‘retrospective’ and ‘experimentation’ - exploring how bottlenecks could be removed and end-to-end working improved.
  • The team recognised the need for somebody to take responsibility for facilitating the stand-up.
  • The team recognised the need for everybody to use the ‘Andon’ system and call ‘stop’ and then to ‘swarm’ to solve issues – preventing hold-ups and delays and identifying improvements.
  • In a squad or team EVERYBODY should be able to stay ‘stop’ when detecting quality issues or experiencing a barrier to smooth flow.
  • If you don’t know the answer, ask for help.

How did the team manage to create such a turn-around? The simulation is played in a number of game rounds; between rounds the team learns to run their own ‘restrospective’ – focused on continual learning and improvement. This is a critical capability.

State of DevOps finding: Improving quality is everyone’s job. High-performing organisations spend 22 per cent less time on unplanned work and rework. As a result, they are able to spend 29 per cent more time on new work, such as new features or code.

‘…The DevOps mantra of continuous improvement is both exciting and real, pushing companies to be their best, and leaving behind those who do not improve’.

Finally at the end of this intensive 1/ ½ hour session people were asked ‘What was the VALUE of the experience’? The conclusions:

  • Being ‘passive’ doesn’t help – need for everybody to take ownership and be pro-active.
  • Need for team working – ‘collaboration’ as opposed to ‘co-operation’. As John McDermott explained, “Co-operation is people working together, each with their own silo’d goals; collaboration is people working together collectively towards shared goals”.
  • Communication – giving feedback, sharing information, asking what others ‘need’ to do their work.
  • Transparency within the squad – which leads to improved collaboration.
  • Trust. The exercise helped create trust in the team, through collaboration and communication and working toward agreed, shared goals with the business.
  • Understanding different perspectives, which helped create a shared vision.
  • Being able to see the ‘big picture’ in one room with all the stakeholders.
  • Value of the ‘stand-up’ – using the ‘Andon’ principle. There was no ‘micro-management’; the team was ‘empowered’.
  • Transparency and honesty – daring to say “I don’t understand the new way of working” and asking for help. This represents a significant culture change. Trust is critical and a culture of open, honest feedback.
  • Stand-up – asking which blockers and barriers are stopping you.
  • The IT support role felt more engaged and empowered through seeing the projects and the impact.

As the State of DevOps finding revealed: ‘Employee engagement is not just a feel-good metric — it drives business outcomes’. The report revealed that companies with highly engaged workers more than doubled revenue growth compared to those with low engagement levels, as well as impacting share value.

State of DevOps finding  (Lean product management): ‘When employees see the connection between the work they do and its positive impact on customers, they identify more strongly with the company’s purpose, which leads to better IT and organisational performance’.


Paul Wilkinson is Director and Owner of GamingWorks


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ITSM16 Q&A: Jon Morley, Transition SIG Vice Chair

Posted By Jon Morley, 27 October 2016

In the lead up to ITSM16, we'll be posting blogs from various people answering a simple Q&A about ITSM16 and why they'll be attending this year.

Jon Morley, Vice Chair of the Transition SIG, follows Richard HortonAnthony Oxley and Matt Hoey.

What are you most looking forward to at ITSM16?
The awards dinner as the ITSMF Transition Special Interest Group (SIG) are shortlisted effectively for two awards which we will hopefully win.

One is via the Ashley Hanna Contributor of the Year for our chair Matt Hoey - whose dedication and tireless leadership has been sublime and instrumental in driving the SIG forward. The other through Thought Leadership (Whitepaper) of the Year for our Two Speed Transition paper.

What have you got out of attending previous ITSMF UK conferences?
There are too many things to list but summarily the networking, learning and presenting opportunities from previous years have been considerable and have helped me drive my own skill set and career forward as well as being able to apply ideas back in my own workplace.

Perhaps, the biggest highlight for me personally, was taking last year's SIG ITSM15 presentation on Two Speed Transition 'on the road' via Bright Talk and the ITSMF Ireland Conference recently. This was only possible due to the opportunity to deliver this well-received slot at the ITSMF UK Conference in the first place.

Why are you attending the conference this year?
The award dinners I've already mentioned but I'm also supporting the SIG by presenting at our "Brilliant Service Transition - ten things you need to know" talk which utilises the ignite format as well as providing top tips on improving your approach to Transition. It should certainly keep us on our toes with the slides changing every few seconds!

I'm also looking forward to seeing talks from Stephen Mann, Matt Hoey, Stuart Rance as well as some of the stories from the "front line" like Skipton Building Society, LV & BT. Also, if time permits, I'd like to undertake some 'Lego Serious Play' with Christian Tijsmans.

Someone who hasn’t been to a conference before asks you what they’d get out of it. What would you tell them?
Last year's conference was one of the best I've been to regardless of industry or subject matter. The venue and variety of content and vendor stalls, makes this a truly unique event without it being a "sales show".

From a practical point of view, you will get to learn from not only the industry thinkers but get practical advice from people like you who have 'gone through the pain' and still delivered results for their organisations and customers.

At the very least, you will get the opportunity to develop a professional and personal network that can pay dividends when needing help and advice.

What’s been one of the biggest changes in the ITSM industry in the past 25 years?
For me, the fact that ITSM has reached out beyond the various versions of ITIL and being solely an IT "thing" to being a key building block for IT being a true partner to its customers. Moreover, its influence on non-IT functions like Finance, HR and front line customer service is growing.

It's no longer about one way of doing business but blending a wide variety of non-traditional ITSM subjects like Agile, Lean, Architecture and so on with the growing demand for digital, self-service like mobile apps to give the customer what they truly want.

What are you most looking forward to in the future of ITSM?

Seeing how it develops - and continues to be relevant - in the digital world.

With the amount of smaller technology businesses coming through, it's no longer enough for established firms to rely solely on market share and reputation to generate business - particularly, when smaller firms are generally more adaptable to the changing demands of their customers.

That said, some of those smaller firms can grow very large, very quickly and are realising that ITSM can, and does, add value - when applied in the right way.

What excites you most about companies embracing PSMF?

Giving the ITSM industry a more vocational and recognised career standpoint within IT. This like Technology, Projects and Architecture roles and industry have been around and respected for years but ITSM for me has never had the full respect or recognition it deserves.

What the PSMF gives us, is the opportunity to not only help overcome some of the ignorance about ITSM, but also to give the next generation of IT people a career path that they otherwise might not have heard about.

Equally, I really like that the PSMF is a body of knowledge that be applied across the board for companies. It provides not only recognition, but gives the company the ability apply practical solutions specifically for them - whereas, things like ISO are generally, standards driven.

In ten words or fewer, what does being an ITSMF UK member mean to you?
You can get back more, than what you put in.

There's not much time left to book on to conference.

Book now, or call 0118 918 6500.

Tags:  ITSM16  Q&A 

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Professional Service Management Framework

PSMF is a practical competency model that defines a professional identity for the service management industry and all those that work within it. Whether you’re an individual service management practitioner or an enterprise organisation, PSMF is a way to improve individual and team service management capabilities and to recognise the full value of the service management contribution.LEARN MORE

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