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Rob England: “What is Service Management?”

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Tenuous link: One of Rob's passions outside of ITSM is trains. The ITSM Review offices are in sunny Swindon in the UK, home of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's workshops which powered the Great Western Railway.

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to welcome Rob England (a.k.a The IT Skeptic) as regular columnist at The ITSM Review.

Service Management

Railways provide a useful analogy for understanding what service management is and how it works.

What is a railway for? (or “railroad” for our American readers)

If you said “to move people and/or goods” you are only partly right.  On the right track (pun intended) but not there yet.

How should it move goods and passengers?  With maximum quality?  Or at minimum cost?  The answer to that is “it depends”.  It depends on what the customer wants.

A customer is one who pays for the service of the railway.  That isn’t always the same as the one who buys the ticket or books the freight.  Many railways receive public funding, so the government or other body is effectively also a customer: they are paying for part of the service.  Not all customers are users of the services.

The railway is answerable not only to its customers.  It is also answerable to its owners and the governors they delegate authority to.  The owners may not want the same things as the customers at all.  For example, railways are often required to provide a passenger service as a requirement of gaining the right to operate.  These passenger services are often unprofitable: the money is in the freight services.  Guess how often such passenger services meet the needs of the paying ticket-holders.

So a railway exists to provide a service that moves people and/or goods to meet the needs of its governors and customers.

Your are in the service business

If you were operating a railway, what activities would you have to manage in order to ensure you meet the needs of your governors and customers?  There would be some activities that are unique to railways, such as scheduling, servicing rolling stock, dispatching trains and so on.  But the bulk of the activities involved in operating a railway are the same as operating any business: reporting, financials, HR, marketing, IT, procurement… and delivering your services.  It doesn’t matter whether an organisation’s services are transporting goods, providing accommodation, building houses or catching fish.  They all serve customers and they all perform a similar set of activities to manage that service.

Whether you build roads or map them, operate ports or use them, build houses or sell them, plan weddings or sing at them, care for kids or clothe them, sell PCs or scrap them, you are in a service business, even if you may not be in a “service industry”.

We aren’t talking about over-the-counter “may I help you?” service, how to develop the customer service interface, the experience of contact.  Service Management is about the end-to-end process of providing services.  It covers such things as:

Service management activities Rail examples
Delivering Executing a service for users Food service, engine drivers, shunters
Operating running the infrastructure that makes the services work Signaling, track maintenance, security guards
Supporting Responding to user requests for service or help, and resolving them Ticket sales, call centre, guard, repair crews
Cataloguing Providing information about what services are available Timetables, websites, brochures
Customer relations Maintaining relationships with customers Customer account managers, sales, public relations
Measuring Monitoring and reporting service metrics Punctuality, traffic volumes, profitability
Planning Proposing, choosing and strategising new services, improvements and retirements Routes, trains, schedules, freight deals, specialised cars e.g. refrigerated)
Designing How the service will work, what infrastructure it needs Developing  anew schedule, specifying new equipment
Building Creating the infrastructure, mechanisms, and processes to deliver a service Ordering or constructing new rolling stock, laying track, hiring and training staff, printing collateral
Implementing Rolling out the new service, going “live” Commissioning new rolling stock, publishing new or changed schedules, deploying staff, rolling trains
Assuring Protecting the organisation, its staff, customers and users.  Making sure the service is safe for people, compliance and profits. Track safety programmes, risk register, ticket inspection, financial and quality audits
Improving Making service better: identifying, planning and managing improvement to efficiency and effectiveness Quality programme, cost control, regular maintenance schedules
Governing Direct, monitor and evaluate the management and execution of the services Corporate vision and goals, high-level policy, risk profile, annual report

Service Management says the most important thing you do is deliver services to your customers.  Moreover, everything you do should be considered in terms of the services you provide to your customers.

‘Outside-In’ Thinking

Adopting a service management approach can have a profound affect on the way your business works and your staff think.  It takes us away from that introverted, bottom-up thinking that begins with what we have and what we do and eventually works its way up and out to what we deliver to the customer.  Instead, with service management we change our point of view from concentrating on the internal “plumbing” of our business, moving instead to a focus on what “comes out of the pipe” – what we provide.  We take an “outside-in” view.  Starting from this external perspective we then work our way top-down into the service organisation to derive what we need and what we have to do in order to provide that service.

Service management isn’t one subset of the business; it is not one activity at the end of the main supply chain.  It is a different way of seeing the whole supply chain, the whole business that produces the services, by seeing it initially from the outside, from the customer’s point of view.  Therefore any discussion of Service Management may stray into general business management topics.

Seeing our business in terms of the services it provides can’t help but make us better at providing them.

To a customer, “better” means more useful and more reliable, i.e. more valuable and better quality.  

From the service-provider’s point of view, “better” means more effective and more efficient, i.e. better results and cheaper.  

Follow along in this series of articles as we look at Service Management through the lens of railways and how they operate.  We hope it will provide a fun and useful way to understand this thing called Service Management.

© Copyright 2012 Two Hills Ltd.

Rob England

Rob England is an independent IT management consultant and commentator based in Wellington, New Zealand. Rob is an internationally-recognised thought leader in ITSM. He is a published author of several books and many articles. He is best known for his controversial blog and alter-ego, the IT Skeptic. Rob is an acknowledged contributor to ITIL (2011 Service Strategy book). He was awarded the inaugural New Zealand IT Service Management Champion award for 2010 by itSMFnz.

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  • http://twitter.com/MatthewKBurrows Matthew Burrows

    Service Management is about helping customers achieve outcomes, and we do this by providing services which are designed to do this (hopefully).  We really mustn’t forget the outcome – service is what we do, outcome is why we do it, customers are who we do it for, process is how we do it.

  • Ian Clayton

    The railway metaphor seems real familiar and one I cite in the USMBOk and my webinars.  It is real close to that offered by Ted Levitt in his book Marketing myopia where he asks “what business are you in?”.  In his and other work they moved onto the experience to accompany the outcomes and then again to outside-in thinking.  There are many pre-existing sources and methods for outside-in, an I think we in the ITSM realm should respect them and cite them when we use this term.  
    Anyone interested in further information on this can either visit the BP Group on linkedin, or contact me, I have worked with the business folks for the past 4 years to help apply this to service management and especially to IT.  Thanks Rob for helping publicize this alternate approach.

  • Ian Clayton

    Apart from the USMBOK, which provides a comprehensive lexicon of concepts and methods for outside-in and the original service management thinking (from product management sources not IT), I’d recommend any customer centric book by Patricia Seybold, Barbara Bund, and you must get your hands on books that represent the true origins of service management by Richard Normann, as we return to its roots in our ‘next generation’ service management discussions.

  • Ian Clayton

    Upon review – service management is about end-to-end back office actions but as Matthew says it is MORE about delivering value through a combination of successful customer outcomes (an outside-in term) and an appropriate service experience.  Outside-in thinking when applied starts with these aspects.  If you have heard my webinars on this you”ll recall the magic number ’42′ as representing what service management must gain visibility over and manage.  Discussing service management goals with terms such as ‘best practice’, ‘process’ and even ‘service’ is recognized by seasoned outside-inners as inside-out thinking…

  • A novice

    The railway metaphor is indeed an excellent metaphor to describe about service management. It is very useful to explain the concept to a person has already got some interests about service management.

    Are there alternate approaches to illustrate and promote IT service management to students from high schools to attract them to become ITSM professional?