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IT service management needs to incorporate best-in-class consumer IT

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Niel Nickolaisen

I have read several opinions that claim the days of the CIO are numbered. According to these thought leaders, the advent of cloud services and consumer IT now make it possible for everyone to get the technology they need and want without using their IT department.

I, on the other hand, think this is the best time in the history of mankind -- or at least in the computer age -- to be an IT leader. Every aspect of the business and society now uses and relies on technology and every innovation is fueled by technology. To my way of thinking, if we are not an essential part of organizational leadership, shame on us.

While the door to our taking a strategic organizational role is open, what determines whether we go through that door? I think there are several things we must do but foremost among those is getting our IT service management act together. And, yes, those same cloud services that some claim will doom us actually give us an opportunity to dramatically improve and accelerate service levels -- and devise a service-level management approach for the consumer age.

The upshot is that CIOs should not only consider best-in-class enterprise IT but probably also look at best-in-class consumer IT to establish our benchmark for our service levels and agility.

At its core, IT Service Management is about meeting customer demands for services and service levels. In our technology-rich environment, we first need to recognize that customer expectations are being set by their best experiences with technology -- and those expectations are being set by someone other than the IT department. Our customers are now used to things like self-service and self-provisioning. Once our customers have experienced rapidly creating a cloud-based file storage and back-up system for their personal files, they expect that our enterprise IT should also be that simple to use. So, our service management approach must include options for self-service and self-provisioning or whatever will meet our customers' expectations for rapid, high-quality IT services.

As another example, mobile devices give customers a lot of control over what notifications and alerts they receive. Should our enterprise systems do the same for our customers?

The upshot is that CIOs should not only consider best-in-class enterprise IT but probably also look at best-in-class consumer IT to establish our benchmark for our service levels and agility. Imagine what would happen if we were to survey our customers and ask them about their best "service level" experience with technology -- inside or outside the enterprise -- and match that service level. My hunch is there would be less talk about the relevancy of the CIO role.

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In addition to using consumer cloud services to define our own service levels, we should consider how we can raise our service levels for any cloud services we consume. For most of us, demand for services varies throughout the day. An outage in the middle of the day is a much bigger service-level problem than something that occurs in the middle of the night. As a result, I think it is important for us to adjust our daily service-level agreements to match these varying demands. I am currently in discussions with a cloud service provider to change how they measure their service levels. They use a service-level metric that treats all hours of the day the same. In my contract negotiations, I am taking a very strong stand that they must use some type of adjustable service-level agreement. For me, they must do this or I will not do business with them.

This really should be the best of times for an IT leader. All we have to do is deliver amazing services and the highest service levels.

About the author:

Niel Nickolaisen is CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He is a frequent speaker, presenter and writer on IT's dual role enabling strategy and delivering operational excellence. Write to him at nnick@wgu.edu.

This was first published in July 2013

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