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Your ITSM Career Path

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"A career in service management can be an amazing ride."

So you want to make your career in IT Service Management (ITSM).

Are you sure?

You do realize that you will be doomed to receive that glassy-eyed stare from people at social events when you are forced to admit that you work in “IT”?

The ones that don’t make some excuse to answer a phone call, go to the bathroom or get another drink, will hang around because they want to ask you how to get rid of a virus on their home PC!

Only nerds and geeks work in IT, don’t they? To be moved there from the business is some sort of cruel punishment.

Think again, within Service Management there are roles for a wide variety of skillsets, some technical, some not. A great IT Service Management team will have a good balance of both.

Entry Level ITSM

Take the normal “entry-level” service desk analyst (operator, technician or whatever your business decides to call them). In a large operation this person may only need to have a great phone manner, the ability to follow a script (although I really hate these!), listen to what the customer is saying and then log and categorize a call appropriately. They will need to be able to know the difference between a service request and an incident, hardware and software, and understand which services a customer is talking about. Most service desk tools will take care of everything else for them, assigning to the right team or agent.

The skills in a slightly smaller service desk may extend to doing simple first line resolutions such as a password reset (if you can decide whether this is an incident or a service request, there is a large group of people waiting for your answer on LinkedIn!), or other, simple repeat incidents. On a smaller, more expert, service desk you will need to pick up more technical type skills to enable a higher rate of first time call resolutions. But this should not require you to have in-depth technical IT training, just a modicum of common sense and the ability to follow instructions should do the trick.

What I would love to see is the service desk analyst role being seen as a career, not just a stepping stone, a good service desk team member is worth their weight in gold. I was a very good service desk analyst but, sadly, the salary rate for someone in that role generally stops somewhere around the “just able to survive” mark, so to get ahead personally and secure your financial future you have to get out and move on. It is time for CIOs and the like to start thinking outside the square and come up with ways to make this position more valuable, and it is possible to do this…but that is something for another article!

Business or Technical

If you are going to move out of the Service Desk arena, there are basically two ways to head. If you have more of a more technical bent, then you are most likely to head to infrastructure, network administration, database manager roles and the like. The rest of this article is probably not so much for you!

ITIL and other best practice frameworks give a multitude of career paths to choose from for people wanting to pursue a career in ITSM. At a practitioner level, larger organizations will have full-time roles for change managers, configuration manager, problem managers, incident managers…even knowledge managers (a neglected role, in my personal opinion) and other specific ITIL roles. The world really is your oyster. Smaller organizations may bundle roles together into broader service manager roles.

Get some training under your belt in the disciplines that you want to pursue career-wise. While your goal may be that elusive ITIL Expert qualification, bear in mind that it is very difficult to get an employer to fund training to that level, and I can understand why…most ITIL experts will be found working in consultancy roles, either independently, or for vendor organizations, and any employer who understands the market will know this…investing in training you to that level is, in all likelihood, going to benefit someone else. The only time I have seen an employer willing to invest in this level of training was when the person undertaking the training was also willing to sign a contract committing them to working there for a three-year period following their training. This really was a win-win situation for both parties, at the end of the three-year period the “expert” had real life experience of heading a successful ITSM improvement program, and the business had reaped huge benefits from that same program.

The Dark Side

Now we need to talk about something that practitioners may consider to be the “dark side” of the force of ITSM. Working for (shhhhh…don’t say it too loudly) a VENDOR (key in the sinister Mwah-ha-ha, or Jaws theme music!). Let it go people! Vendors deserve huge kudos in our industry…did you enjoy the last conference you attended? Do you think that could have happened without vendor community support? Do you think that itSMF, SDI, HDI or ISACA would be here if it were not for vendor sponsorship?

I will get down from my soap box now (and I don’t work for a vendor organization right now).

There are fantastic opportunities for ITSM specialists with vendor companies, think about it, you get the chance to get into a business, work with them to improve their ITSM practices and then move on to the next site. There is a great sense of achievement on offer in this sort of role. If you are at all like me, you like a challenge and this is where you can get it. Vendors generally get called in when things need to be fixed, and these are exciting times. Maybe I have a short attention span, but spending a few months with a customer, really helping them to introduce best practice into their service management is exciting and to be able to do that time and time again is exhilarating!

A career in service management can be an amazing ride. Mine has taken me around the world and allowed me to meet some amazing people, both virtually and in person. It was never a career path I had imagined in even my wildest dreams, to be honest if I had dreamed about a career in any version of an IT world I would probably have considered it a nightmare! My journey is continuing as I augment my traditional service management skills with new social technologies… I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Kirstie Magowan

Kirstie Magowan fell into IT Service Management in 1999, completely by chance, after an interrupted career in journalism.

She completed her ITIL V2 Manager's certificate in 2003 and then moved into independent consultancy.She now finds herself happily combining two fields that she has a real passion for - ITSM and writing - in her role as Chief Editor for the IT Service Management Forum International (itSMFI).

Kirstie lives in the Bay of Plenty region in New Zealand, growing avocados with her husband in her spare time and sharing her ITSM skills with a variety of businesses in New Zealand and Australia and further afield.

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  • http://twitter.com/Simo_Morris Simon Morris

    I chose to concentrate on IT Service Management above technical topics because I felt that I could “scale” more effectively.

    Looking after bigger and bigger technology solutions – storage, networks and so on – has a certain allure, but being able to improve user experience, people and process is a better challenge.

  • http://twitter.com/mikepats48 Patsy Anderson

    I am a Service Desk Analyst and uber-keen contributor to ITSM initiatives and CSI in our small internal service desk.

    For a while, I thought I would like to be involved in ITSM from a more powerful position, but my first foray into that kind of job made me realise that I don’t have the necessary leadership and management skills (well….not without support, anyway, but that’s a long story).

    So now I am back as a Service Desk Analyst and you know what? I love it. I am busy, engaged, learning and improving my technical skills and understanding of business processes. As a member of a small team, I have the opportunity to be involved in a variety of work – application support, infrastructure, training, process improvement, even a contribution to in-house software development. I do wish I could influence more people with my appreciation of ITSM practices and process improvement … but I am working on it. (Looking forward to TFT12 – get voting for some great speakers – http://list.ly/list/1R9-tft12-051212-the-first-24-hour-global-itsm-virtual-conference-for-more-information-hellosdi-ecom#item_58274)

  • http://twitter.com/itsmtwit Aileen Diefenbach

    My boss has told me on several occasions that my role – ITSM Improvement/Service Desk/Client Services is a dead end job and that most companies just outsource everything related to it. It’s sad to know he does not understand the slightest what we can (and have done) to lead tremendous improvement.

    • http://twitter.com/itsmreview The ITSM Review

      Ouch, doesn’t sound good!

  • Stephen Alexander

    This strikes me as a very ‘operational’ approach / view of ITSM.

    What about coming in from the Business and starting in Business Relationship Management? Maybe move to being involved in Portfolio Management? All and all be more involved in the ‘strategy’ or even ‘design’ stages of ITSM.

    Also you didn’t mention anything about ‘owners’ only ‘managers’ – there is a difference and this can be crucial to your career development as well as salary.

    As far as what Aileen Diefenbach mentioned – I would tend to agree with her boss – that sort of operational / utility is being outsourced. What is not being outsourced though is ITSM at a strategic, design, transition level – mostly due to the fact that is much more intertwined with business risk and impact. Operations is a utility and is or will be outsourced at some point. The connections to operations need to carefully minded (better know how to manage vendors, understand contracts, and so forth) and of course there is an opportunity for CSI across the board.

    I think this article could really be expanded and use a fuller understanding of the broader world of ITSM.

  • http://knowledgebird.com/ Aprill Allen

    My background was completely operational, (I didn’t even step into management.) so I identify with most of this article. I spent time in tier 1, tier 2, and tier 2.5 roles.

    Kirstie’s writing from her own experience, but I’d love to read of other ITSM experiences that took a different path. Perhaps, Stephen, you could add to the conversation by sharing your ITSM career path in the comments or even asking Martin for a guest post slot. ITSM is, of course, a broad discipline(?), and it’s worthwhile getting the detailed views of the nooks and crannies.

  • http://twitter.com/TonyAtHP Tony Price

    I agree with Stephen Alexander’s comment. ITSM at a strategic, design and transition level is a crucial skill and differentiators that can help make a difference in an organisation. After all, why are we here? To support the business and do everything we can to make a positive impact in the success of an organisation. How much do you understand of how ITSM really affects your business?

  • Pawan

    Great article, I am just a beginner in service desk environment, That’s why I am confuse about the things but still I have lots of thing to learn from this article. I found some area to explore in Service desk field.