Well-functioning IT services have become a decisive success factor for creating value in companies. But according to a study undertaken by exagon, a consulting firm, the majority of the 228 companies that work with SAP solutions and that were studied do not even have the quality metrics for needed such services. Only every fourth company has comprehensive and systematic service level management for IT processes. Only 19 percent of the companies studied regularly analyze their processes; another 25 percent do so only sporadically. Overwhelmingly, problems with service processes first manifest themselves when users (61 percent) or management (51 percent) complain. Weaknesses become apparent only when they produce problems in the business processes.
Obviously, the contribution of IT services to the success of a company is inadequately estimated, or at least estimated with too little consistency. Even the internal processes of many companies are insufficiently transparent. SAP users experience the typical consequences: longer response times in support, limited availability of technical resources, and inefficient use of service employees. Better transparency requires the setup of key figure systems for quality evaluation and for systematic control. Service level agreements (SLAs) should concretely state how to measure adherence to or deviations from the agreed-upon performance and the consequences that result. SAP customers can use such measures to significantly increase their productivity and added-value. But where and how should they start?
Focusing on the best in the industry
Developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency for the British government, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can help here. The goal of the ITIL is to optimize management of IT services. The ITIL lists best practice–processes that are valid in companies of all sizes and in all industries. The rules systematically split IT services into 11 disciplines for the areas of service support and service delivery. They include service level, availability, and security management; internal cost allocation; and configuration and change management. For each of the disciplines, the ITIL delivers process descriptions that help companies precisely define the flows, quality metrics, and controlling options of the IT services.
Analysis of weaknesses
Because comprehensive service management for the control and monitoring of IT processes is still in its infancy, the consultants at exagon have published a broad checklist to optimize IT processes. The list supports IT users in the reorientation of their IT services according to ITIL criteria. It uses questions to help users analyze the possible strengths and weaknesses of their specific context. The checklist considers about 50 individual elements and leads users through a quality analysis to evaluate the as-is situation. It identifies where action is still required, so it fulfills a basic precondition for the optimization of IT services. But answering the questions on the checklist is just the first step. Of course, designing IT processes that conform to the ITIL can improve the quality of services only when it actually optimizes and reorganizes the IT service processes in a company.
Experience shows that optimization of IT service processes depends upon three factors: individual strategy, flexible project conception, and adequately trained personnel.
1. Individual strategy
The questions about redesigning an individual corporate strategy primarily define the status of process orientation for IT services. They determine the preeminent goals of an optimization. Users choose from the following:
- Greater focus on users
- Better support of business processes that add value
- Improved ability to react to market changes
- Reduced costs of operating IT
- Higher level of automation for processes
- Greater transparency
- Ability to measure IT processes
- Improved quality in IT processes
- Efficient control of IT services
- Greater flexibility with organizational changes
- Better implementation of compliance requirements
2. Flexible project conception
The largest portion of the checklist is devoted to the development of IT services. The questions ask if enough knowledge exists about IT processes that add value and how much of a comprehensive concept exists for all key processes. A total of 28 questions puts the methodology of redesigning IT services according to ITIL criteria under the microscope. The questions include the modifiability of the process design, the prioritization of subprojects, and the procedures for change management. The planning of real-world SLAs, concepts for internal cost allocation, and project budgeting are also addressed. For example, the following questions help users to reflect on these areas:
- Are all IT processes part of a comprehensive process structure (a type of process map)?
- Are key figures being defined or have they been defined for the IT processes that add value?
- Is the sustainability of the optimization effect being valuated?
3. Adequately trained personnel
As a rule, the changed requirements caused by an orientation toward ITIL make it necessary for employees to acquire new or enhanced knowledge and skills. Because competencies and resources that meet the new needs are a critical success factor for the implementation of such projects, 11 questions in the checklist deal with these issues. The questions include an analysis of the current status of subject-matter and methodological competencies, training requirements, and the use of external consulting and operating resources. The following questions serve as good examples of those contained in the checklist:
- Are employees on the project team being trained in the subject matter of ITIL overview, ITIL overview, IT service manager, and ISO 20000?
- Can realization of the project be based on subject-matter experience with ITIL?
- Are there plans to involve the IT employees who will implement the IT processes later in an early stage of the project?
Answering the questions on the checklist is only the first step toward addressing the awareness lacking in many companies.