How to Perfect an IT Service Management (ITSM) Strategy in 2021

Written by Richard Thomas

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    ITSM has been a building block of IT service management best practices for years — it’s in the name (IT Service Management). But with new versions of ITIL (one of many best practice ITSM guidelines), not to mention COBIT, ISO, FitSM and more, the number of frameworks, suggestions and strategies can be more confusing than helpful. Not every prescriptive component of ITSM has a place within your operation, and focusing on what works for you (and your customers) is the real core of perfecting an ITSM strategy in 2021, and beyond. 

    Service providers and MSPs face a set of unique challenges and opportunities in the current economy. Although IT services are increasingly commoditised, businesses have never been more dependent on effective network and connectivity services as they are today. Remote and hybrid working has accelerated digital collaboration and communication. The opportunity is there, service providers just need to find ways to transform that into margin-rich relationships. 

    Core to differentiation within a commoditised market is selling outcomes rather than IT components. By delivering holistic solutions that change how your customers engage with connectivity, you can go above and beyond standard IT service management and directly integrate with their in-house IT team. Ultimately, this outcome should be core to your perspective on ITSM, and achieving that is what we will explain here. 

    Additional resources: For more context on how to update your service management strategy in the face of commoditisation, check out our eBook — Transforming the Value Networks

    Step 1: Understand the frameworks, but don’t be constrained by them

    Successful ITSM aims to align IT services and processes with business objectives in order to help a company to grow. This goal is largely made possible through the implementation of a few standard ITSM components which include — 

    1. ITSM processes: Core processes include service request management, change management, and problem management. These are a large part of what separates ITSM from IT, and provide repeatable processes that bring optimisation within easier reach.
    2. ITSM software and tools: Platforms that overlook the workflow of service delivery, while enabling smooth communications between service providers and clients, are fundamental to the oversight, and ongoing improvements, that set good ITSM apart.
    3. ITSM frameworks: ITSM frameworks provide a set of service management standards and guidelines that are typically industry-specific. 

    Some of the most common ITSM frameworks include — 

    • ITIL4 (Information Technology Infrastructure Library): A registered trademark of Axelos Limited that is used by 47% of providers, and offers a framework of best practices through the ITIL 2011 glossary and more that inform wider ITSM strategies.
    • COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies): An IT governance framework used by 36% of providers for developing, monitoring, and improving IT best practices.
    • ISO 20000-1:2018: The international standard for IT service management that was initially developed to mirror ITIL best practices, but also supports a range of other frameworks.

    Any business needs to understand these frameworks and how they contribute towards industry-specific business objectives so they can even stand a chance at competing. But, as commoditisation of services continues, differentiation also relies on the ability to step outside of these confines. We can do this by using generalised best practices to inform value-led services that cover all the basics, but that also meet each client’s unique IT priorities. 


    Pro-tip: ITSM and ITIL are often used interchangeably, which further confuses IT strategies. In reality, ITSM refers to how teams manage the delivery of IT services while ITIL, like other frameworks, is an approach to ITSM that outlines industry best practices through a range of resources.


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    Step 2: Focus on what matters to your customers

    At its best, ITSM is just about focusing you on your ability to understand what matters to your customers and develop ways to implement a management strategy that realises those goals. Frameworks obviously help, but, successful ITSM is also reliant on your ability to tailor service towards individual IT requirements. Outside of industry norms, modern clients especially tend to look for a few key reassurances from ITSM, and they are — 

    1. Quality outcomes

    Quality outcomes that add value, reduce churn, and make services indispensable are a touchstone of ITSM, and they rely on optimisation through inherent crucial processes including —

    • Management: Delivering quality services that customers can count on. 
    • Efficiency: Improving outcomes by finding ways to deliver better results more effectively.   
    • Measurement: Tracking progress and delivering status reports that demonstrate your value to customers. 

    Providers also need a firm grasp on the goals of each business, working closely with in-house teams to ensure that every process is driving towards desired outcomes. 

    1. Predictive maintenance and future-proofing

    Ongoing value is also vital, and a focus on predictive future-proofing is the best way to deliver that objective. Analytics platforms are an important part of taking monitoring data and using that to identify insights that you can use to improve outcomes. This kind of visibility enables MSPs to understand performance and monitor the wider health of IT infrastructures for long-term outcomes.

    1. Holistic services

    Holistic services that consolidate ITSM systems are the best way for service providers to avoid the ‘bag of bits’ modularity that’s largely driving IT commoditisation. Software and platforms that provide one-source access to entire IT infrastructures is especially crucial here. But so too is a service provider’s ability to easily communicate with IT teams on the ground, and thus guarantee efficient, seamless, integration. 

    Step 3: Find ways to demonstrate value

    It’s far too easy for IT service to sit in the background. In fact, you might expect that to be part of “good service delivery” — outcomes that are so seamless no one ever notices them. But that’s part of the problem with commoditisation. If no one notices your services, they will consider them interchangeable. Demonstrating your value is a critical part of differentiation.  

    Value-led services that put ITSM at the company forefront are the best ways to differentiate regardless. Particularly right now, that means focusing on a consultative outlook that ensures clients can see the value you’re offering at the click of a button. Smooth, accessible communications make that possible. Consider your ability to provide — 

    • Visualisations: Visual analysis makes it far easier to understand what’s going on and how change will impact results. 
    • Non-technical insights: The people making decisions within a business generally don’t have technical backgrounds. You need the ability to provide business-level insights (using business-level language) and connect investments with clear and relevant outcomes. 
    • Shared displays: A single portal that can be used to keep everyone on the same page, literally, is invaluable to minimising confusion and enabling communication. 

    These outcomes pave the way for a future of ITSM differentiation and prioritisation. By providing the opportunity to simplify while simultaneously making it easier to cross-sell and up-sell to advocates who already understand what you can do — which is a critical part of re-inventing MSP sales strategies. Successful ITSM relies on your ability to push this focus so far forward that it becomes an integral aspect of operations — a goal which, as well as leaning on value, increasingly relies on the merging of MSPs with in-house teams. 

    Step 5: Become part of the in-house IT team

    Lines are blurring between in-house teams and their service providers, and ITSM needs to take this into account. A collaborative focus is a fantastic way for service providers to both better understand what matters to their customers, and to demonstrate value. 

    MSPs who can operate as part of their customer’s in-house team will find it easier to execute almost all of the steps on this list, and create truly differentiated outcomes. This, paired with the integration of existing ITSM frameworks and best practices, can add yet more value to service overall, ensuring that clients are aware of the work you’re putting in, and the improvements that it’s directing. 

    A great way to transition away from “third-party” service provider to “trusted member of the team” is to help your customers better understand their own networks. By providing network services and a platform able to change how your customers understand those services, you transform the very nature of their in-house capabilities — making yourself indispensable. 

    The future of ITSM demands more holistic solutions 

    Commoditisation has long kept MSPs up at night, driving down prices and compromising outcomes. Luckily, differentiation is still possible, and perfecting your ITSM strategy with outcomes in mind can help. To determine what needs to change to make that possible, it’s first crucial to ask yourself — 

    1. How easily are you replaceable for your customers?
    2. How can you become irreplaceable for them?
    3. How will you know you have succeeded?

    You need to stop selling a box-of-bits and transform your service offering into a bespoke and customisable set of interconnected outcomes. This context can help drive your ITSM strategy in the right direction — identifying what works and where there’s room for improvement. 

    At Highlight, we’ve been helping service providers create more holistic outcomes for decades. Our platform combines the power of analytics, customer communication and network monitoring in a single tool that can help you improve IT service management and strengthen customer relationships. 

    Ultimately, everything we’ve described here are critical factors that went into the development of Highlight. If you want to learn more about how Highlight can transform your ITSM strategy, get in touch and talk to an expert today.   

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