4. Collaborate and promote visibility – the fourth guiding principle of ITIL4

With the new and updated version of ITIL there is also an update on the 9 guiding principles first introduced with ITIL Practioner. These new set of 7 principles provides practical help with making decisions when adopting the ITIL4 framework:

  1. Focus on Value
  2. Start where you are
  3. Progress Iteratively with feedback
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility
  5. Think and work holistically
  6. Keep it simple and practical
  7. Optimize and automate

In a series of blogs I will look into each principle asking how these will provide guidance when adopting the ITIL4 framework and when improving the service management capabilities of the IT provider. To me these guiding principles should support the decision making when adopting or improving IT service management. It is also important to note that these principles will have to work together. The principles will not work in isolation, it is not a matter of pick-and-choose.

Collaborate and promote visibility

The guiding principles of ITIL4 should help you apply the best practices to improve your service management capabilities. The principles also appear to address pitfalls that have occurred in the past with the “implementations” of ITIL as well as common pitfalls in existing IT departments. One important issue that needs to be dealt with is the tendency to form silos and to stay working within these silos. In the past ITIL was a common framework used in IT Operations and IT management. It was not very common in IT development or Application management. The benefits of using a framework like ITIL are limited when the framework is only used in parts of the IT service organization. This principle of collaboration is about breaking the walls between silos and starting working together as one IT service organization.

One IT service organization

When trying to improve IT services you often will come across issues with collaboration in the IT department. Incidents can start to bounce between support groups when they do not want to take responsibility to solve them or when support groups do not see how the incident relates to them. Support groups can also prioritize working on more interesting projects over dealing with the day-to-day operational challenges. Collaboration skills are often not considered important enough by IT management. I’ve experienced a chat session in a service management tool where both IT support workers were actually sitting side by side at a group of desks. They only had to swivel their chair to actually talk, they would have solved the issue within minutes instead of days.
Working in silos is often a cultural problem, made worse by specific behavior like hero-worshipping and putting emphasis on specific technical know-how to qualify for promotions over soft skills. There is no real value in being the only one knowing how a certain key IT systems works when the rest of the team is not allowed to access that knowledge. To optimize the contribution of IT to the business soft skills, like being able to communicate, will be much more valuable. And the skill to collaborate and work in multi-disciplinary teams is one of these.

Product or Service

Collaboration within the IT organization itself is important and it can be a challenge to achieve. The ITIL4 principle of collaboration goes further, it is also about the collaboration between IT and the Business (users and managers). Often IT departments feel that they are doing a lot to gain the insights in what the business expects them to do. They read business plans, regular customer satisfaction surveys are held, they talk with client panels and so on. These approaches align with the concept of IT as a product. When developing and delivering a product it is important to understand what the buyer/customer would expect the product to be and the product to do. Getting the customer requirements wrong would lead to products not being sold or not being used.

And, the customer voice in product development is often quite passive. Customers provide functional requirements and these are interpreted and translated by product managers into technical requirements. Customers can provide feedback on prototypes and product iterations and then it is up to the developers to value the feedback and to take action. From an IT perspective, specifically from the development angle, it can be attractive to consider an IT service as a product to be created and delivered to the customers. Their emphasis when talking about IT is on Technology.

From a business perspective IT is a service

From the perspective of the business there is more value to be gain when they can be actively involved in the development and use of IT systems. Their emphasis when talking IT about is on Information. Technology enables business to better access information, to have the right information available when it is needed and to enrich and enhance information to gain insights and understanding of markets, needs, trends, development, etc.  The business wants to collaborate with a partner that understand the connection between the business processes and strategy and how technology can be best used to contribute to business value. Depending on the role of technology the expectations of the business for the level of collaboration might vary. When technology is perceived as a commodity a more passive form of collaboration might be acceptable. And when technology is seen as a strategic asset, the business wants to be very involved with the development and deployment of this asset.

Can the business trust the IT Service Organization?

From the perspective of the business IT can be an important contributor to the value of the business. It can also be a great risk to the operation of the business as well as the reputation of the organization. Technology can break down as many examples already have shown. The question is not so much if technology will fail but when it will. And when this happens, can the business expect the IT Service organization to be ready to fix the crisis quickly and get the business up and running again? Can the business trust the IT service organization to take care of its important assets?

When collaboration between business and IT is active and on the same level than trust will grow. First, IT would learn more about how the business is using technology and how important that is for the overall business performance. IT would also see how business users work with technology on daily basis. Often IT departments only hear the complaints of the business through calls to the helpdesk and that can easily create an image of business users being hopeless with technology.

Second, it will show the business how well IT understands technology and what the capabilities are important to keep technology working and developing. Often the business has little understanding of what is actually needed to keep IT systems running well. This also fits well with the second part of the guiding principle Collaborate and Promote Visibility. It is important that the business understands how IT infrastructure, systems and applications connect to the performance of the business as well as maintain the business agility and reputation.

Information Technology or digitization on the business agenda

Finance, HR, communication, legal are all important subjects that are part of the curriculum of most business and management schools. Information Technology is often not addressed directly and is not considered important enough to be on the business agenda. It should be addressed. The dependence on IT systems and the opportunities offered by technology are too important for business management to ignore. The IT service organization plays a role here as well by promoting Information Technology and the further digitization in a way that business management can understand. This asks for an active role of IT in the collaboration with the business as well.

Collaborate actively as partners

When business and IT collaborate actively as partners than this would lead to some clear choices in shaping IT service management. IT is a service where business actively articulates what they expect and need in a dynamic and ever-changing environment. Where the IT service organization demonstrates and promotes the role IT in the success of the business. Where the business trusts the IT service organization to take care of the dependency on IT technology and to manage the associated risks of owning and using that technology. And where the IT service organization trusts that the business knows why and how they use that technology to better business performance and overall business value.

Principle 3: Progress Iteratively with feedback

Principle 5: Think and work holistically