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27 May 2010 | Ian Clayton Blog
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Every Cloud has a Silver Lining - for ITSM
This week Ian looks at how cloud computing is affecting perceptions and reality in the realm of IT Service Management projects and the use of the ITIL framework...

  Ian Clayton

Last weekend my home office rumbled as the effects of a 4.9 then a 4.8 earthquake tested my bookshelves. If you’ve not experienced one, the feeling is like driving over cobblestones for a few seconds. Most earthquakes are an interesting distraction for someone like me who lives in California.  Like volcanoes, they are sometimes discounted and disparaged as ‘the earths flatulence’. 

That said, we all unconsciously respect the fact the next one could be the ‘big one’.  On this occasion, the only obvious consequence to me was a thud on the floor caused by the ITIL Service Transition book, which I’d placed precariously on a pile of books queued to be mined for best practice statements. 

Freudian perhaps, because I had just returned from CA World in Las Vegas, where my experiences as an invited panel member for the ‘Service Portfolio Management’ discussion morphed into intense debates on the possible influence Cloud Computing is having on IT Service Management (ITSM) and the relevance of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) framework. 

Like a remake of the infamous spam song by Monty Python, the word cloud was everywhere at the conference.  It seemed at times there was a competition to inject the word ‘cloud’ into a sentence as many times as possible, whilst avoiding offering any meaningful guidance or conclusions.  My ‘cloud fun meter’ was soon full.  (For those Scrabble® fans out there, I think the maximum points you can score for using C-L-O-U-D is 33). 

It was obvious the Cloud computing discussion is shaking the ITIL books from the shelves of my fellow professionals.  It is having the tectonic impact of a ‘disruptive technology’ upon ITSM projects and especially those centered around ITIL.  I found myself increasingly providing ‘air cover’ for ITSM, and suffering flashbacks to the outsourcing hype of the late 1980s.  It was troubling how little  ‘flashforward’ help there was from those who once proudly called themselves ITSM and ITIL evangelists.

Why ‘Cloud’ Makes the Business Pulse Race

So why does Cloud Computing make the business pulse race and what might its impact be upon ITSM or ITIL?  Let’s start with the potential hype.  Some of the more common benefits attributed to Cloud Computing include:

  • A more agile and responsive IT investment decision making process
  • Greater alignment of IT investments with business goals
  • Paying for only what you use, a new generation of ‘service economics’
  • Even more rapid, utility styled request and deployment of information services
  • Greater scalability in all ways, linking real-time demand and utilization with planned capacity – ‘just in time service’
  • Higher quality of service, less downtime caused by non-standard or inconsistently architected and designed infrastructures
  • More cost effective use of all types of technology resources, including human
  • Annual savings in hardware, power and human labor costs
  • The availability of green-IT options without the need for long-term transformation efforts and capital investments

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

In my opinion the benefits of Cloud mirror those suggested as resulting from an ITSM or ITIL project - greater agility, higher quality of service, and delivered at a reducing cost.  However, the Cloud discussion while mugging ITSM for its benefits, also exposes a number of failings in the traditional ITSM approach:

  • The sheer glacial speed of progress and delivery of tangible business benefits
  • The sometimes veiled commitment of specialized and scarce resources to a long-term effort
  • A lack of support from the application and systems management functional groups
  • A failure to properly integrate business continuity, security, facilities management and capacity planning disciplines
  • The inability to relate customer activities to consumption of IT resources
  • The lack of stakeholder support in ITSM as a value creating initiative

If that were not enough, those of us long enough in the tooth to recall Cloud Version 1.0 – outsourcing, can’t help but be reminded by this discussion that the business need has not changed.  End users and buyers of service want a demand driven, pay as you go optioned, and utility styled means of subscribing to and using information system services.   They want to be able to relate their investment in IT to specific business outcomes.

For Now a Hybrid Cloud

Given the present level of maturity of Cloud Computing options, Cloud service providers may struggle to accommodate highly customized applications and IT organizations may baulk at migrating sensitive systems.  The likely result is, most IT organizations will face the challenge of managing a hybrid cloud infrastructure over the next 2-3 years consisting of a combination of ‘public’ and ‘private’ cloud platforms.

What’s clear is that the public Cloud has little if any ties to the traditional ITSM concepts and methods.  It is busily establishing a next generation of service management ‘best practices’, involving subscription based offerings, more agile service agreements, and an order fulfillment based provisioning model.  Their service management system involves procedures and governance of a federated design, spanning and respecting the sovereignty of the cloud service provider, the enterprise, and the customer IT organization.

Private Clouds, established to provision information systems that for one reason or another will continue to be hosted by the IT organization, will have to mimic the customer-provider relationship pioneered in the public Cloud.   They will likely have to implement ‘cloud managed services’ software. 

Both the public and private Cloud options will have to tackle the emerging service experiential economy, where the customer experience matters most, successful outcomes aside.

A Darwinian Event

Have no doubt; the Cloud is real and happening and we are experiencing a seismic event and the major re-adjustment, at a frightening pace, of the tectonic plates upon which the service management industry sits.  Propelled by the long-standing business need discussed earlier, traditional ITSM software vendors have been prompted to market their software as superior investment based upon access and use via a private Cloud – ‘ITSM software-as- a-service’. 

The Cloud discussion is polarizing ITSM theorists and differentiating them from practitioners. Proponents of familiar must-have ITSM artifacts such as service catalogs and configuration management databases (CMDB) are either strangely quiet, or forming committees designed to ensure inter-operability. Disappointingly, few if any ITSM training classes have adapted their curriculum to embrace, include, and explore Cloud concepts.  Traditional qualification schemes, such as ITIL, and perhaps even the refreshed ISO 20000 standard, are outdated.

Worryingly, we are seeing some of the most vocal ITSM and ITIL evangelists, while calling into question the reality and viability of the Cloud, soliciting ideas on the likely impact of a Cloud option on ITSM and ITIL rather than lead their peers through this metamorphosis. The Cloud discussion is causing management to rethink the value of an ITSM initiative and employers to reassess the need for qualifications in relatively static and inflexible frameworks such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL).  

Given the budgetary decisions some States have here in the US between keeping a teacher or an IT employee, the Cloud represents a Darwinian event for ITSM projects and industry professionals.

Clarion Call for ITIL Expertise

As for ITIL, apart from what I have just suggested, I think the challenge is less for ITIL itself and more for those who trumpeted ITIL at its launch and since, as the definitive source of best practice.   The gap created by the Cloud discussion between the IT universe we face today, and that described by ITIL, is huge.

ITIL offers a one size fits all starting point. Cloud discussions prompt a networked or federated design of every practice area – and this not just limited to the infamous ‘CMDB’.  ITIL practices will need to be adapted and extended to address the need for practices to span disparate and discrete organizational entities and political fiefdoms.  ITIL will also need to improve its light-weight guidance on the service desk function, incident management and request fulfillment to satisfy the greater emphasis on managing customer interaction within a hybrid Cloud environment.

The burden to bridge between the ITIL content and the real world will fall upon those who (should) know ITIL best - the legion of qualified ‘ITIL Experts’.  As an ITIL Expert myself, I do not underestimate the challenge, and the burden it places upon a professional’s personal work experience with Cloud.  If ITIL becomes redundant as a consequence of Cloud discussions it will be because of the failure of its own professional community, not the framework itself.

There is a Silver Lining

I believe Cloud Computing presents to us a stark reminder of what ITSM projects should target –the achievement of successful business outcomes at a reducing cost.  I also believe every Cloud discussion has a silver lining for ITSM initiatives and industry professionals by returning the focus of ITSM initiatives to their original ‘true north’ – the customer.

In a strange warped way, the Cloud discussion might have another alter ego ‘silver lining’.  Those who fail to understand and adapt their ITSM thinking quick enough, or bridge the obvious gap between the theory in ITIL and the reality of a Cloud dominated IT, will find themselves contributing to a thin dark line in the equivalent of the industry’s geological timeline – a ‘KT Boundary’ representing the mass extinction of ITSM projects.

My simple conclusion - Cloud Computing is a seismic event, and likely the ITSM industry’s ‘big one’.  Prepare.

Ian Clayton applies outside-in and lean thinking to service organization transformation efforts.   He helps rescue failing or failed IT Service Management and ITIL® initiatives by establishing customer relevant self-funding continuous improvement programs, and specializes in helping assess and integrate Cloud Computing strategies into service management initiatives. 

For more information please visit http://www.servicemanagment101.com or contact Ian directly at ian@servicemanagement101.com.

(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)

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