Duncan Watkins, a senior consultant with Forrester, sets out the needs for IT service management in an increasingly digital world.

Many different organisations are undertaking digital transformation programmes - but what is a digital transformation programme? Well, it can range from significant technological transitions to digitising manual processes and all things in between.

Gartner defines digitalisation as ‘the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities’ and this is probably as good place to start as any. Whatever your digital transformation is trying to achieve, there will come a point where changes coalesce into recognisable services.

Once this occurs, there will be a need to run and improve the services that have been created. Although this isn’t new (it’s what IT service management has been doing for years!), it will create a new breed of digital service managers. What service management is, will subtly and knowingly change. Digitisation will drive these changes and, as such, digital service management (DSM) will require a new skill-set.

What is IT service management?

IT service management (ITSM) describes the methodology around the strategy, design, transition, operation and improvement of information technology (IT) within an organisation. It aims to ensure that the right processes, people and technology are in place so that the organisation can meet its business goals. It should manage services so they deliver real customer value, which should include supporting the delivery of greater revenue of the management of business risk.

What is different about ‘digital transformation’?

Digital transformation is the application of technology solutions to help business run more effectively and/or offer new services. In other words, it is all about technology enabling businesses to be better at what they do. You might well argue that this has been the point of ITSM all along, and you’d be right.

However, so many ITSM improvements are based upon internal processes without a connection to business benefit. Great digital transformation is solely based on improving business function and frames the agenda wholly on benefit and value.

What skills and knowledge will a digital service manager need?:

Customer experience - How frequently have you seen a technology project or improvement involve a lot of work, from skilled people, that delivered something that was never used? The reason this happened was the customer experience was never fully considered.

In the digital world, you must observe the customer experience directly so you can understand how people work. And remember, the consumerisation of IT has pushed customer expectations further still. Users expect systems to work as intuitively as the ones they use at home so always strive for that, even if it’s not always possible.

DevOps / agile - If you’re not already au fait with DevOps, you’d better get up to speed quick. DevOps is built around improving flow, getting fast feedback loops and continual experimentation and learning. However, the greatest value in DevOps is its emphasis in improving the culture of your IT organisations through collaboration and communication.

By encouraging your teams to work together to be more effective from requirement to delivery, DevOps can help you to deliver more quickly and safely. It breaks the old project management time, scope, cost triangle, but in a good way.

Blending frameworks and standards

It’s a long time since ITIL and its corresponding standard ISO2000 were the only ITSM games in town. Although that was never really the case, recent years have seen the emergence of DevOps, IT4IT, SIAM and others.

Coupled with this, established practices such as agile and lean have been adapted for use with ITSM. What this picture tells us is that successful DSM relies upon skilfully blending the right combination of these. It is no longer good enough to find a single framework and use it for all your DSM. You need to understand your goal and challenges, and use the right elements from several of them to deliver great services.

Skills transformation

With the growth in automation, greater emphasis on delighting the customer, and more complex multi-sourcing arrangements, there is a shift in the skills to deliver DSM. With a lot of the technology being consumed as a commodity, the emphasis is moving away from technical skills. What will be important are the skills that mirror other parts of the business but require IT understanding:

  • Service portfolio management, the provision and management of services (product management);
  • Business relationship management, the relationship between business and IT (account management);
  • Supplier management, the management of suppliers and the detailed knowledge of managing contracts effectively (purchasing / legal);
  • Financial management, the effective management of the increasingly complex budgetary requirements (finance).

Business relationship management

If good customer experience is important to DSM in the future, then business relationship management (BRM) is a key weapon in the DSM arsenal. BRM seeks to create a relationship between IT and the business that creates value for that business.

IT does this by ensuring the business relationship manager has the requisite knowledge, skills and behaviours to connect the business and IT. They will use disciplines such as demand shaping, exploring, servicing and value realisation to achieve the required outcomes.


Collaboration is defined as working with another, to achieve a shared goal. It differs from simple co-operation in that it is active rather than passive i.e. you must participate for it to be collaboration. With growth of conferencing, chat and whiteboard tools, collaboration across multiple sites has become a realistic objective.

The growth of agile and DevOps practices has collaboration at its very heart. Remember, they aim to achieve outcomes faster and safer. Effective collaboration is a part of how both achieve this.

Risk management

ITIL has a great definition of a service - a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks. In other words, in ITSM we are responsible for delivering value whilst being responsible for the costs and risks.

The risk part of this is too often overlooked, but to businesses it is crucially important. An example is that of a heavily regulated organisation like a bank. Creating value for a bank is often managing or decreasing the risks it encounters whilst continuing its business.

As security becomes a more significant competitive advantage for increasingly technological businesses so the management of IT risk will be an increasingly important part of your world.

Adapting to survive

Digital transformation is the way that an increasing number of businesses are adapting to survive. Being able to do more of what you’re good at, in a better way, has always been possible with technology. Only now though, do we understand how to manage this technological transformation to fully realise that ambition.

Digital service management will see a change in the management of IT services. Although some of these changes are more recent to ITSM e.g. DevOps, agile etc. the principle of exceeding customer expectations will never change. On that basis, digital service management is an evolutionary step, not a revolutionary one.