Here’s what I’ve noticed after spending several years in service management: DevOps is coming up more in the conversations I’m having with service desk leaders. Usually, these conversations start with one of the similar questions: DevOps is going to be the death of ITSM, correct? Alternatively, some consider DevOps as a challenge, and ITSM doesn’t seem so relevant because you don’t have in-house development going on.
I always answer these questions in the same way: ITSM is relevant, and DevOps is not a threat to it. There’s more to it, however. ITSM professionals can still achieve their most relevant goal–excellent customer service.
If you allow me a moment, I’d like to offer some background as to why excellent customer service is essential for every ITSM professional, then walk through some of the ideologies or frameworks used and how they interact. I’ll close this piece by discussing what radical transparency means in practice and how it can help you achieve an excellent customer experience.
When discussing DevOps, we usually see three parts: Development, operations and the actual business. The business demands different things from both development and operations. Development teams are asked to push out code as fast as they can, and operations teams must keep the existing services available and make sure everything is stable. Development is trying to fulfill as many business needs as fast as they can, while the operations team is accountable if things go wrong.
These might be extremes, but these are the traditional silos that have their expertise, priorities and goals, but there is no holistic overview. These internal organizations also use their way of working, based on a framework or ideology: DevOps tends to use agile, the business uses lean and ops focuses on ITIL. These ideologies can clash and compete at times.
Because so much is happening with DevOps, we see significant developments. The speed of development and deployment is increasing, leading to additional continuous delivery advancements and technology implementations. The collaboration and breaking through walls between the development team and the operations team for deployment has come a long way within many organizations.
Meanwhile, ITSM professionals face more and more challenges. Apart from the existing incident handling, they encounter incidents about newer, faster releases. Also, how are they supposed to deal with knowledge management, an already complicated process in itself? The increased speed of development makes it look as if they are always running behind. Getting out of that reactive approach is not getting easier.
Customer experience and satisfaction is the number one priority in ITSM, creating quite the challenge. In ITSM, all input comes in: If things do not work at all or break down; if things do not work as expected; and if users need help to get things working. Good feedback also usually comes in via the service desk. When examining customer experience, there is a thin line in how fast you can go: If functionality is delivered too quickly, customers will not be able to use it. When delivered too slowly, customers will be unhappy about it as well.
You can argue that a new silo comes into the picture–namely support. The support team keeps things up and running. Likewise, there are communication links between the customers and the other silos where they can filter bugs to development, info on any outages to operations and feedback on how the customer perceives the value of the functionalities to business.
What if you don’t have in-house development? Well then, DevOps and the link with ITSM can be even more challenging, meaning you only have part of your DevOps and some of your support outsourced. For one application, perhaps you are relying on one or multiple vendors, but it might be the case that your vendor is dependent on another vendor.
In other words, the process looks more like a plate of spaghetti than a smoothly laid smooth IT process. There are significant benefits to outsourcing, which is why we keep using outside vendors for some of our operations. In these cases, consider the shift of responsibility, the extra expertise, stability and continuity you gain. However, there are also downsides, such as loss of transparency.
A Shift in Responsibility
Shifting responsibility does not mean the same as a shift of accountability. Your ITSM team will still have to take ownership because even if you are not controlling everything. You have to be in control. In the end, you are still responsible for your customer experience and happiness. Customers do not want to wait two years for new features because the update of the vendor cannot take place for whatever reason. Also, it would be best if you had insight into what is going to happen for your users, and you need extra insight regarding how everything is working.
Silos make this a challenge without outsourcing and are even more so the case when outsourcing these responsibilities. Before we move forward with solutions, let’s first take a step back and look at the frameworks and ideologies the different silos are using. As discussed, first, we have ITIL, typically used in operations.
“ITIL is the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world. ITIL can help individuals and organizations use IT to realize business change, transformation, and growth,” stated Axelos on their website. It’s about aligning services to the needs of the business and supporting its processes.
Next, we have lean, which is about maximizing customer value and minimizing waste. Lean is where value stream mapping comes in. You identify what works then look at how you can improve flow. Finally, agile, the cultural aspect of DevOps.
At first sight, each of these processes seems contradictory, but actually, this is not the case. The key is using each of these principles correctly. For example, consider CAB, which comes out of ITIL. In many cases, the A in the acronym stands for “authorization” instead of “advisory.” Knowing that might make things much better and can open up the possibilities of automation, which is crucial to improving things.
Likewise, some people tend to say that agile can never work in an ITSM context because it is against processes, but that’s also not true. Agile speaks to individuals and interactions over processes and tools, not without appropriate processes and tools. However, if you take a step back, you see they have more in common than you might think and some changes coming to ITIL4, for example, already address how to achieve a better correlation between the three.
Let’s look at all of them together. Usually depicted as a horizontal value stream, but looking at it as a continuous loop, makes things a lot clearer for me.
When you start in the business with the idea, take it through the design, code, build and test phase, then move over to the release and deploy and then we get into ITSM territory with the support and monitor stages. Where you see the blue line is where DevOps focuses mostly, so this is also where you witness the creation of a new silo: support (where ideologies or frameworks come in the picture).
So how do we break through these silos? Radical transparency. First of all, silos have to share their common purpose, which in the end is excellent customer experience. You can change it however you want; but in essence, that is what the business, development, operations and support all strive.
To accomplish this, we first must know what impacts the customer experience.
Let’s break it down: There are visible and invisible effects for the customer that can either be positive or negative. Visible results on the positive side will be features; on the negative side, defects. On the invisible side, positive things include architecture and process improvements. On the negative side, technical debt.
For excellent customer experiences, we need to focus on the visible effects. Invisible effects must be worked on, too; if completely neglected, these will become visible at some point. The most prominent and the first focus should be on the visible effect. To do that, we need insight. If we all have the same set of information, often we all come to the same result. Getting to that same set of information requires radical transparency and also sharing information and insights.
Shared Workload Tooling
First disclaimer: When I talk about sharing tooling that does not necessarily mean using one tool. I will specify. I mentioned before that ITSM professionals have to know what is going to happen that might affect the customer experience. They have to be aware of which new versions are coming out and which customers are going to be or are on that version. For that reason, you need to share relevant information from your release orchestration tool to your ITSM tool. For instance, in our service management tool, we can see who is on which version via an automatic integration.
That is a flow from DevOps through ITSM. The return flow also is essential. Any feedback that comes through your ITSM process regarding bugs has to flow back as well. So, for that, you need an integration between your ITSM and bug tracking tools. I also have seen some examples within the ITSM process where a Kanban board is used to improve collaboration between development, operations and support.
Just making visible those tasks that impact customer experience and being able to follow up on the progress made by all stakeholders is so valuable. It also gives the support team the necessary insight to be able to communicate with the customer.
If you are working with one or multiple vendors and dependencies there, you will want to include vendors in this as well. Moreover, that might mean you even have to tie in your and their ITSM tools.
Another thing you want to share is customer satisfaction insights. First, measure satisfaction throughout the entire chain. That includes employee satisfaction, as well. We have seen the proof that employee satisfaction has a direct impact on customer satisfaction, so make sure you have all those data available and insightful.
Next up is sharing knowledge, which requires proper documentation. Think of federating knowledge into a knowledge base to make relevant information available to the right people. Make sure you have a good understanding of each other’s processes, and the impact they have on one another is essential. As an example, we had some challenges in collaboration with one of our hosting partners. When we sat down to discuss this with them, we found out some choices we had made in the deployment and support process, were not as reliable because we had assumed things about how the hardware had been set up and those assumptions were not correct.
Excellent documentation and communication are key. If you have things outsourced, you want to make sure your vendor is the right partner, and you have a common understanding.
Another important thing that should be shared is dashboards, where you can have a total overview of all parties involved and the impact they might have. You especially want to have visible what the effect is on the customer experience. It is valuable to have insight into all things that need your attention, but for your shared dashboard, focus on those things that are not going well and that have an impact on the customer experience.
When you work with one or more suppliers, you want to make sure they are also using these dashboards and actively monitoring these. For you to be sure they use that, add that in your vendor selection criteria. The only way this works is if there is that radical transparency, where all parties involved have access to your vendors, development, operations, support, business and customers.
Hopefully, because of this article, you’ve taken some additional perspective about where DevOps and ITSM come together, why the silos have to be broken down and how working with one or multiple vendors can be especially challenging. Also, hopefully, I’ve provided a bit of background on the various best practices, frameworks and ideologies most used and how they share commonalities. Radical transparency means breaking through the silos and how this can improve your customer experience.
Finally, to sum it up:
- Make sure all parties have a common purpose and are doing everything to achieve that.
- Share relevant information. All words here are significant: share to achieve radical transparency, applicable because you don’t want to flood people with things that are not of use to them, and sharing too much may distract them too much. Provide just the relevant information so everyone can focus on the common purpose.
- If you do all that, you will produce better value for your customers, all for excellent customer experience.