IT service management is a beacon of light in the current economic storm, says Nathan Brumby, Senior Director of Product Management for EMC’s resource management software.

We live in an instant society where kids google rather than visit the library, where shopping happens 24x7 online and next day delivery seems slow.

As development cycles shorten and technology advances cascade, people’s expectations - both in everyday life and in the workplace - have soared to the point where any kind of service failure, be it access to cash from an ATM or email on the run, is simply not tolerated.

IT departments tasked with maintaining and improving the complex environments supporting this frantic pace of change must now contend with the added 'whammy' of an economic downturn. In stark terms, this means not just less money to play with, but intense pressure to maximise the return on existing IT investments.

In organisations involved in the current spate of mergers and acquisitions, this could entail the fusion of completely disparate systems. Elsewhere, the task is almost certainly to align IT operations more closely to the needs of business units that are digging deep to stimulate sales and satisfy customers.

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ - or in this case the IT service desk, which over recent years has grown immeasurably in scope and stature to replace the humble standalone helpdesk.

The powerhouse at the heart of the service management transition is the ’federated’ configuration management database (CMDB), the mechanism that gives today’s service desk visibility and control over the IT infrastructure.

From assets such as laptops and phones, to servers and routers and applications, the new federated CMDB can draw information from existing 'best of breed' discovery tools to build useful views of the IT environment - and, crucially, make clear how each component relates to services.

Why should this matter? Put simply, it makes it easier for IT to fulfil its fundamental role; namely to deliver the high quality IT services - email, phones, equipment, websites and so on - that the business relies on to achieve its goals. And, fortunately, it is possible to feel the benefits fast. With rapid deployment and ‘out-of-the-box’ integration with current IT infrastructure, a new service desk can be up and running in a matter of weeks.

With this type of service desk comes the ability to automate processes at every level, bringing with it a myriad of cost-saving efficiencies. For the IT analyst, automation enables faster call logging, instant access to relevant knowledge and swift resolution of routine problems.

An online ‘service catalog’ or list of available services can revolutionise IT-to-business communication, ensuring the targeted allocation of IT resources and automating delivery of services.

For example, thanks to automated workflows, an entitled user could request, obtain approval for and download a new software application instantly - no need for paperwork and no technician required for the install.

Elsewhere, the ability to automate change management processes and software releases reduces the risk of errors and unplanned outages. And not least, for the financial director there are system-generated audit trails to significantly reduce the burden of regulatory compliance.

The potential of IT service management to deliver value to the business is a rich vein of opportunity ripe for mining. It is clearly reliable business service, underpinned by practical tools for continuous service improvement, that will provide much needed ballast through today’s economic storms.