The New Old Shit
Sometimes, I think I might be being a bit of a luddite. It’s easy, once you’ve worked in tech for a certain amount of years, to get a tad ‘jaded’. Perhaps even a tad cynical. I’m also reminded often that it’s a healthy mindset to have.
Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) is a scam. One with very real human consequences. Part marketing flim-flam, part exploitation. A ‘discipline’ that benefits nobody but the people selling it. Let’s wind back the clock…
In the beginning, there was ITIL.
Or rather, there wasn’t. Computers, and the people that knew how to make them work, kind of snuck up on the world. I remember my (much) older sister, working for a well known travel agent in the UK, telling me that she had to use a computer and my kid brain being pretty stoked about it. In hindsight, she was more likely the victim of an early iteration of ‘data entry hell’. Still, it wasn’t her first job and it was new to her. Computers had gone beyond how I thought of them at the time and had become… Bigger.
Looking back at it now, there was a need to marry the incredibly technical with the incredibly practical. I present to you, dear reader, this video from Bell Labs. If you work in tech, you owe these people an incredible debt. They had it right there and then, but genius has a tendency to be misunderstood.
Enter the ‘Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)’. At the most basic level, this is a framework in which an organisation can manage their information technology infrastructure. It was introduced by the UK government in response to, well, the things I talked about up there. Marrying the technical with the practical.
It’s worth a little aside at this juncture. If there’s one thing the British are good at, it’s process. Some might even call it ‘bureaucracy’, and they’d be right to do so. We’ve had a lot of practise. Anyway…..
Umm, anyway…. Jeez. I was hoping to give a bit of history about how ITIL has changed over the years. I’ll be honest, I was thinking that I could cite the involvement of Capita in version 4 as being some kind of ‘smoking gun’. The point where a somewhat ‘dry’, but sensible, framework around which you could base your IT services turned into a marketable shitshow. Best I can find that supports the original ethos is this page on the UK government website.
I guess you’re going to have to do your own homework there. Would love to talk to anyone who knows the history in detail because, well….
It really has been corrupted and turned into a marketing scam. Enter ITSM aka ‘Information Technology Service Management’.
Dry frameworks that serve a purpose…. Work. In a sensible environment, there is some give and take. They are, after all, just frameworks. You take what works in your particular situation and leave what doesn’t. The feedback loop of ITIL is no bad thing. It gave rise to the concept of Service Level Agreements (SLAs). We, the techies, agree to give you, the users, a good service based on things we can both understand and quantify. You want a system that works, we want to give it to you.
It’s worth being clear about this, too. We really do want you to have a good experience with the things we provide. Your easy life is ours.
But, I hear Venture Capitalists the world over scream, where is the money?
Enter ‘ITSM’ and, oh good God in Heaven, ‘Experience Level Agreements (XLAs)’.
The theory here goes that people should be able to rate their experience in using the systems you, a Service Provider, supply based on their experience of using them. Which makes sense. Bill in Accounts doesn’t know the intricacies of running a secure and resilient file sharing system, and nor should they have to. They only know that ‘redundancy_list.xls’ is taking longer to load than they think it should.
But there’s the rub. They think it’s taking too long. It might be! It might also be the case that Bill is extraordinarily hungover and totally done with the shit of the world. No judgements. His wife left him and he was heroically drunk last night. Was pretty sure he didn’t have a cold before tonight too, but he was sniffing and rubbing his nose one hell of a lot. Anyway, poor Bill. Deserved to let his brain off the hook. Any one of us might do the same. I like Bill.
Point being that his experience of using your systems may well be subjective. Which makes XLAs an incredibly unreliable metric on which to judge effectiveness.
There will come a time, if it hasn’t already, that a (justifiably) ‘coin operated’ Sales Person is going to sell XLAs as a differentiator. “Well, uh, look. Anyone can offer an SLA, but do they really care? What does that mean to your users? We care about the experience, and we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is”.
That will mean teams being judged on how their clients feel at any given time when using your service. KPIs, as in ‘employed or not’ KPIs, based on how Sandra likes how you talked to them in a ticket or on the phone. Not good! This has been the norm in call centers for a while, by the way. There’s a reason why the person you talk to on the phone, often in a faraway land, sounds both incredibly scripted and also incredibly keen to make you not hate them. When they ask you to give positive feedback, you really should. 10/10 every time regardless of what you think of the service they’ve given. Unless you’re a bastard, in which case there is nothing for you here but judgement.
It’s coming to a Service Desk in your company soon. They’ve been watching. They’ve been learning. There is nothing new in this industry anymore.
Innovation is hard. Repacking things with a nice, huggy sheen is easy. ITSM is simply everything that a decent IT, Development, DevOps, whatever function has been doing for the last fifty years.
I beg of you Exec people to stop falling for this interminable marketing shit. Listen to the people who work for you. Really listen. There is nothing in this ‘discipline’ that isn’t covered by ITIL, or that can’t be solved by letting your team talk to your users and take action based on their feedback. If that’s not possible, your organisation is toxic and needs to die.
Turn away from this rubbish. Let frameworks be guidelines, not marketing driven dogma. Let people be people, and let it be enough for them to simply do their jobs well.
Thanks for reading.