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Is there such a thing as the "ITSM Community"?

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Does a happy, successful “ITSM Community” exist?

As you may know in February Rebecca and I attended the annual Pink Elephant conference in Las Vegas.  Post-event there is always (as you would expect) a lot to talk about, such as how well the event was run, the content, the amazing people and networking opportunities. But I’ve done that already, so now I want to focus on something a little different for this article. I want to talk about the “ITSM community”.

We are a ‘community’

By “we”, I mean members of the global ITSM industry and, by putting the word “community” in quotation marks I’m asking, well are we really?

This topic came up on several occasions at the PINK14 conference (granted it usually involved bar snacks and a cocktail, but then again all the best conversations usually do right?). Not least when the topic of the future of SMCongress came up. There were daily conversations about how to “help the community” (be it in the shape of SMCongress or any other initiative). There were debates, and many ‘aha moments’ too, but one unanswered question remained throughout: What is it that we (the people who refer to said “community”) are actually trying to achieve?

Who is the “community”?

At ITSM Review we consider ourselves to be a “community” where ITSM professionals (and ITAM professionals over at the ITAM Review) gather to consume helpful content, discuss best practice, occasionally meet-up in person, and share opinions.  Furthermore, my job title includes ‘community manager’, which means I manage the content, encourage discussions, arrange meet-ups, and try to get people to share their opinions.

Are we successful in delivering helpful content, encouraging discussions, organizing meet-ups etc.? Yes (our growth certainly doesn’t suggest otherwise). Are we a community? Yes, but we’re only a tiny proportion of the larger ITSM community.

When we (and by we, I now mean the ITSM industry) refer to discussions on social media, whether it be on Twitter, in back2itsm groups, LinkedIn or anywhere else, we refer to them as “discussions amongst the “ITSM Community””.

When we attend conferences such as PINK14 and ‘we’ meet up in sessions, at lunch or in the bar at the end of the day, we refer to ourselves as the “ITSM community”.  Or we have discussions about how to help the “ITSM community”.

I’m the worst offender by the way, I use the term “ITSM community” like it’s going out of fashion. But the question is this: does the “ITSM community” (as we refer to it) actually exist?

Opening a can of worms

So I’m the community manager at ITSM Review yet I’ve just questioned whether or not an ITSM community actually exists. I could quite easily be out of a job by the time I finish this article.

I do believe that the ITSM community exists, I just don’t think it exists in the way that we think it does.  We talk of the ITSM community as an intangible entity made up of people in different ITSM roles from around the world, who want to benefit from, and contribute to, the collective wisdom of other members.

You may disagree with my definition but bear with me while I look at a few issues: Is there really a need? Are we sharing? Are we global?

Then there is the issue with  ‘people in different ITSM roles’. That is where our current “global ITSM community” really falls down.  Consultants, check. Vendors, check. Analysts, check.  Practitioners? Not so much check.  At one point at PINK14 we were a group of 15 people discussing this topic, and only one of those was a practitioner. So that means 6.7% of the group represented practitioners, and what’s worse is that figure is quite high. Often there is no practitioner representation in these discussions at all.

Furthermore, we have to ask, what is the purpose of our community? To help others, right? But currently the vendors, consultants and analysts are trying to help without necessarily understanding demand. Whilst the people who we believe really need the help are usually nowhere to be seen? Do you think that is a fair statement? Probably not, but I think it isn’t far off.

When Stephen Mann kicked off the back2itsm initiative he said it was about “the reaping of the knowledge and experience held within the ITSM community (ITIL’s creators, publishers, trainers, consultants, software vendors, ITSM practitioners, and ancillary roles such as analysts) for the benefit of all.” 

When I asked Charles Araujo what was the reasoning behind launching SMCongress he said “we formed the ‘RevNet’, which ultimately become SMCongress, to bring together some of the brightest minds in the ITSM community to explore where the future of our industry was going and what it would mean to ITSM professionals everywhere.  Our aim was to provide valuable insights and ideas to the entire ITSM community.”

So many questions, so few answers

Thus far, I’ve highlighted several questions, none of which I have specifically answered. This is ironic, because none of us could answer them at PINK14 either.

This is the biggest flaw in any of our attempts to either build a community or serve/help an existing community. We don’t really know what it is that we are trying to achieve. We (i.e. those of us who actively take part in these kind of discussions) might think we know what we want to achieve, but then is what we’re trying to achieve actually of any value to anybody? For example the news announcements surrounding AXELOS was “big talk” in our group of 15 at PINK14, but one of those 15 people wasn’t in the slightest bit interested. Can you guess who? Yes, the practitioner.

You can see that I am going round in circles here with question after question. I’m dizzy, so you must be too. Apologies, but please bear with me.

The main phrase that kept reoccurring on this topic at PINK14 was “how do we help the community?” This was in relation to SMCongress, back2itsm, and the ITSM people active on Twitter. In my opinion, this question cannot be answered in our current position. Why? Because there are so many other questions that need to be asked (to our target audience) and answered first:

  • Do you think there is such a thing as an ITSM community?
  • Do you feel part of an ITSM community?
  • Would you like to be part of an ITSM community?
  • What would you expect to input to and receive from an ITSM community?
  • How would you expect to communicate with an ITSM community?

The only thing that everybody seems to be in agreement on is that we want to help practitioners and that they are our target audience, but even that leads to further questions such as “are we talking about the people on the front line of a service desk say, or IT managers, or both?”

Where on earth do we go from here?

Wow, yet another question that doesn’t have a clear answer. There was a lot of debate at PINK14 about what next steps any community initiative should take, and one thing that was clear is that it’s not a one-man-band job.  There were discussions about involving the likes of itSMF, AXELOS or other high-profile industry names. There was also talk of creating ways to encourage vendors to actively engage their customers on the topic.

I think all of the above are great ideas, and much needed, but I also believe that it is likely to be difficult to pull a united force together to drive any community initiative forward. I’m not saying that such an approach will fail, I do strongly believe said approach is needed and can succeed, but it will take a lot of time to bring it all together. In the meantime there are things that everyone can be doing to help.

Next time you meet with a practitioner (in my view, anybody working in IT who is not a consultant, analyst or vendor), ask them the five questions listed in the bullet points above. Take the answers and share them across any ITSM channel, with us, on social media, in forums etc, or ask them to complete our online form.

If you are a practitioner reading this, pretty please share your own answers with us.

Together we can start to crowd source the answers we need, because without answers from the people we are trying to help, how can we ever move forward and build the existing ITSM community into something more beneficial?

Where does ITSM Review fit in all of this?

A large amount of our readers and subscribers are practitioners and they keep coming to our site because they find it useful. We therefore already have an existing relationship in place with a small proportion of the ITSM industry. They might not all actively engage with us, but it is a huge starting point.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

We can ensure that we nurture the community that we already have. We can also utilize said community to gain the feedback required to help move any global initiative forward.  We’re going to continue with everything that we already do, as well as push for more continuous feedback. We’ll start by pushing for as many responses to our online survey as possible. We can then feed this back into any larger initiative.

Unfortunately as much as we hate to admit it, we’re a small fish in a very large pond. It’s going to take more than feedback from our readers alone to get enough feedback to start being able to answer the long list of questions. This is why having other institutions and companies involved will be the key to success.  Pink Elephant, HDI, SDI, itSMF’s… they all need to take the same approach.

It’s also worth mentioning here that ITSM Review isn’t looking to build something to go up against SMCongress, back2itsm or anything else. We don’t care what the initiative is called or who owns it – so long as it gets the job done.

In summary

Let me be clear here – I’m not trying to be harsh on the existing “ITSM community” (as we refer to it) and I am also meaning to sound negative. I realize that non-practitioners are always going to be more active in things, and maybe that’s fine? But then when “we” should stop saying that it’s practitioners that we are trying to help. I also want to stress that this post is not an “attack” on SMCongress and I fully support the official announcement (due out shortly) that will be issued about moving SMCongress forward.

Anyway, neither I, nor ITSM Review have all the answers or the power to drive any true global community forward alone. That said, we’re successful in what we’re currently doing in our own community and we plan to continue, because feedback leads us to believe that we are making a difference to multiple people around the globe. In addition to this we will do whatever we can to support any larger initiatives.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what all of this is about? Regardless of who has the answers, or who’s opinion differs to the next persons, don’t we all just want to help make the lives of ITSM professionals easier? You may not agree with all of my opinions in this article, but surely we can all agree on this?

It’s time to stop debating, and time to start gathering answers.

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11 Responses to " Is there such a thing as the "ITSM Community"? "

  1. Nicely put. But I’m dizzy too now.
    The reason we are all dizzy is because out community has no core.
    If we look to other communities of professionals it would be interesting to see if there is the same levels of existential angst in the legal community or the civil engineering community or the medical community. I think not. They have structure and successful professional associations.
    I’d be interested in feedback from crossover people who know more about other communities, why they do or don’t have a successful sense of community.

  2. James Finister says:

    At times like this I wish Charlie Betz was in the room to bring some semantic discipline because otherwise I’m in danger of having a Humpty Dumtyish approach.

    I think we use the term ITSM Community in at least two very different ways, and the two meanings are usually made clear by the context..

    It would be disingenuous to deny that there is a group of us, that Rob might describe as the chattering classes, but who more positively see can be seen as a core of people who bridge the often separate networks that exist in the iTSM world. It contains a mix of consultants, vendors, suppliers, trainers and practitioners – and don’t forget the word consultancy in my job title is mostly an historic accident – from different countries, different interest groups and with different pet frameworks. In its own right that group only consists of a minute part of the wider ITSM community, but it is very well connected to that wider community. or rather, to those wider communities.because it seems overly simplistic to think that there is one big ITSM community out there. In reality there are a multitude, as becomes very obvious when you stand and watch at some “networking” sessions.

    But there are certainly groups of people out there who are using ITSM but either lack a voice, or chose to be silent.. Those of us who are more vocal have two choices. We can either try to get them to engage directly with each other, with Axelos and with the itSMF or we can , to the best of our ability, speak on their behalf.

    • Bart van Brabant says:

      James…you forget the 3rd choice. Leave them to explore by themselves and find out other and maybe better good practices. In the community there are too much self proclaimed experts who go from event to event without an actual feeling of the day to day realities of ITSM ‘broad scope’ practitioners. If you listen to them once, you are impressed, but after 10 years you start to think it is impossible the really have the experience. This is one of the reasons I pulled myself away from the communities – the other thing is the lack of ethics and the many possible conflicts of interest. These so called ‘speakers on their behalf’ should consider this…because the community is evolving to a new level.

      • James Finister says:

        Bart, I’m not sure that is really an option. New “experts” would fill the vaccuum

  3. Gede Suparsa says:

    I’m one of those 6.7% and for me I want to be able to be associated with like individuals that share the same kinds of problems that I face, either to bounce my ideas on how to solve them or to get inspiration from others. Also to find out where does this job lead to and is there something else interesting I’d like to try?

    Why does it seem like there’s little involvement of practitioners? I think this is because there just isn’t a critical mass and professions themselves are relatively new (especially if you compare them to traditional office ones like accountancy or law). I think there’s also the problem of spread, ITSM covers such a broad spectrum you might as well say “office work” so trying to build a community of people who have problems with office work, people don’t feel like there’s a common bond to want to engage.

    Does it really matter? Help is always welcome but I don’t think just because you don’t see the people you want in other communities means that’s wrong. Perhaps it’s best to leave those groups to form in their own way that works for them. But helping to make those connections I think is the best way to help.

  4. Rui Soares says:

    I think what we call ITSM community is mostly customer-side absent (well, after all they have their full time jobs and focus doing it and making it work within their influence circle). I believe all benefit from what ITSM community produce and share but it’s true we the chatters lack feedback regarding what really people need from ITSM. I certainly have feedback and observe patterns albeit the sample is small.

    So the recent SMcongress survey initiative is a sensible step towards getting that precious feedback. I suspect we will be surprised by the results.

  5. Aprill Allen says:

    I believe we are a community of practice. Yes, we come from different perspectives and have different specialties, but we all come together in a variety of ways and online locations because we all share an interest in helping people see the value in their partnership with IT—both financially and symbolically. We learn from each other and we mentor each other, but as a community in the warm-fuzzy sense, we are factionalised and people have been marginalised. And I think that’s because the professional association that SHOULD have been the scaffolding for this community of practice crumbled, i.e. the itSMF.

    What we have is a failed social contract, if there ever was one. With no stewardship from the professional association many of us pay fees to, we’re unlikely to rise above the rabble.

    As far as practitioners go, let’s stop using that word. Let’s, instead, use doers and helpers. There are those who do service management every day and there are those who help them—consultants, vendors, trainers, etc. The itSMF in Australia is mostly made up of helpers. If we want more doers, the itSMF marketing, pricing, and benefits need to change. Doers don’t care about discount Qantas club membership and access to online ITIL books, though they are useful to me as a helper—not that I take advantage of them. Doers want mentoring and help with career progression—this is where a professional Community of Practice could meet that need. COULD. If it were executed well.

  6. Alan Rodger says:

    I was going to make the same point as Gede, but instead I will back him up. Practitioners that need help might very often find that the extremely broad view of ‘the ITSM market’ does not scale down to their role in solving specific organizational needs. In such cases, they are unlikely to find very valuable their membership of a community that tries to encompass a very large scope of interest.

  7. Francois A Biccard says:

    I probably run the risk of generalising, but having been on both sides of the fence (Practitioner and Analyst) I found a regular apathy from Practitioners. Not sure why though, but it seems they are in the trenches every day and very rarely stop to lift their heads and see where they are at from a strategic perspective. It also seems ITSM best practices and frameworks have been perceived by Practitioners as abstract concepts – not something that could add value to their day-to-day.

    This is where the responsibility lies for initiatives like back2itsm and SMCongress – make the abstract real again. But, it’s a shared responsibility for everyone interested in this conversation, to make people see the value. For me personally, ITSM didn’t mean much until I saw how it became a common language which I could use to talk to like minded individuals, and how to be more productive in the roles I performed. It was then when I started seeking like minded people to share best practices and practical methods with, and applying those experiences in the real world.

    And then, a shout out to the guys at ITSM Review – they are actively doing their part in making things real, providing a place where real world experiences and advice can be shared and consumed. Let’s not become consumers though, otherwise the ‘Practitioner’ percentage will probably be stuck at 6.7% for a while…

  8. Sophie Danby says:

    Thanks to everyone for their responses, some really great points raised.

  9. Chris Evans says:

    A community is nothing more than a group of people who, in this sphere, have a common interest or interests (as opposed to a living arrangement etc). For that reason I do believe that it exists for ITSM. I think that the participation is more down to those who socmed and those who don’t in general. I am one who does and so you will see me sticking my head above the parapet, particularly on LinkedIn. I understand that people are ‘busy’ doing their ‘day jobs’ but if anyone of those people can tell me that they haven’t looked at Facebook, or scanned JobServe, or checked Twitter in the day then I would be very surprised based on experience. If you can do that, you can focus that lookup on your industry and your future and shame on you if you don’t!

    I certainly don’t believe that the membership is elitist or restricted by role as I see members from all walks of IT life contributing regularly. Given that there are a number of genuine experts in this community who, by the nature of work they do, conferences they attend (lucky swines) and years in the game they have, tend to all know each other it is not surprising that sometimes the communication loops seem to be restricted to a round table of the ‘usual suspects’. It is perhaps this that drives the exclusive view of the community.

    I do feel part of the community. I am able to engage with numerous people around the world who do the same stuff that I do but come from a hugely diverse range of corporate and / or geographical locations and so can give you that alternative perspective or share their experience with you on a problem you maybe having or often just a topic of interest. I think it is essential to have this exposure to enhance your knowledge and understanding of what you do, what is changing and how it is done elsewhere in the world. I don’t believe my Windows XP MCP will carry me through to retirement, instead it is moving and learning that will keep me current and relevant.

    Personally I feel that the greatest benefit of the community is the knowledge sharing and I try to contribute what little I have in a useful way. Based on what we do for a living, it makes sense that we use the technology of the day to get those messages across and this is the reason that the LinkedIn forums are so popular.

    If I could have one wish for us, it would be that the ITSMF (or similar but as it has a large presence now …..) would step forward and be the voice of the industry (it could be someone else but we need a ‘union’ of sorts) to pull all of these knowledge efforts together. I would love to see a central ITSM forum organised, moderated and controlled so that we lose all of the duplication and random rubbish and all of the golden ideas that appear can be corralled, stored, referenced and hey, why not use them as input to the next version of AxelITIL?