Outside IT & enterprise service management - what's the difference?

The IT department is a service provider to the business, but not the only one. HR, facilities management, finance, legal, marketing and other departments (depending on your organisation’s business model and structure) all provide vital back-office functions that keep the business running but customers never see.

Some of these divisions do perform customer-facing functions as well, but what they have in common is that they all provide some internal business services; part of their workload involves delivering outcomes for other departments and the general staff community. HR supports recruitment, on-boarding, training and the administration of benefits. Facilities management provides work spaces, access, health and safety, utilities, maintenance and cleaning services. The finance department covers payroll, expenses, procurement and management accounting information.

The ‘portfolio’ of internal services that each department provides will vary from organisation to organisation, but the general theme is that most of these departments don’t think about what they do in terms of providing a service portfolio. They don’t do service management. So how do these departments provide these services? And what happens when something goes wrong? Do they have the people, processes and tools to support efficient departmental operations that deliver effective and efficient outcomes for internal business customers? In many cases, they don’t. Internal services are rarely defined as such. Requests from other departments are rarely recorded in a purpose-built system - they’re more likely to use email, spreadsheets or post-it notes to manage work queues.

Responses to requests and issues often don’t follow a defined process. Handling requests is done on an ad-hoc basis, so the quality of the outcome is entirely reliant on the calibre of the people doing the job. That means when experienced people leave the organisation, quality of service drops. Without a solid foundation of processes and tools, performance as an internal service provider isn’t measured or managed. So it’s unlikely to improve without a change in the way they look at internal service provision.

So what can be done about it? In organisations where IT has established service management capabilities, the supporting processes, structures and tools enable consistently good performance. Not always great performance, but when an IT customer needs something from IT, or there’s an issue to be resolved, IT is capable of a managed response. It is this ability to respond to demands from the business in a manageable, repeatable, predictable and trackable manner this sets IT apart from many of the other business units. It is the service management capabilities within IT that make the difference as an internal service provider - and other departments can use what IT does as a template for establishing more efficient and effective service-oriented operations in the own areas.

Outside IT and enterprise service management (ESM) have become hot topics in the last year. The two terms essentially relate to the same ‘value proposition’. They’re both about using proven IT service management principles, practices, knowledge and tools outside of the IT department. ‘Proven’ is the key word here, as organisations with poorly performing IT departments won’t accept the idea that IT is a credible template for efficient operations elsewhere in the business.

The fundamental differences are in the scope of the application of service management, as well as the angle of approach. Where outside IT is about applying what IT knows about effective service management to one or two other departments (and then growing the application of ITSM practices out from there), enterprise service management takes a more strategic, joined-up approach from the beginning.

Outside IT is about applying the best of IT service management principles somewhere outside the IT department. Enterprise service management (ESM) is about applying the best of ITSM everywhere. The enterprise-wide application of service management requires an enterprise-scope project; that means having support from the very top of the organisation. A small-scale outside IT project, for example launching a self-service portal for the HR department, requires only a few IT and HR people to work together. There are two key factors that underpin the case for taking an enterprise-scale, joined-up approach: the common end user community and technology burden.

The common end user community

The end user community for IT is also the end user community for HR, facilities management and all other internal business service providers. So why not give employees a one-stop-shop web portal where they can access services and support from all internal service providers in one location? How about an enterprise service desk that handles/routes issues on behalf of all of the service domains within the business?

Doesn’t it make sense to centralise access to services provided by all areas of the enterprise (hence ‘enterprise service management’) to bring them all together under one roof as an enterprise service catalog? After all, from the end user’s perspective, the lines between internal departments are largely irrelevant. For staff, the benefits are obvious: one portal, one login, one view of all the ‘help’ that is available to them. For IT, the opportunity is to add some very visible value to almost every business unit – and the end user community at large.

The technology burden

Taking the more ‘organic’ outside IT approach means implementing pockets of service management excellence in different corners of the business without a bigger-picture plan of where things are going. Without C-suite oversight and top-down policies to support sensible progress, each department will be more or less free to pick whichever tools they want. The result? Dozens of different portals and process management tools – and IT will be expected to maintain all of them.

Throw in the fact that many complex ‘compound’ services (like staff on-boarding) run across departmental boundaries - and sooner or later IT is going to be asked to integrate these service management tools to make them work together. If you have just six departments with different tools, IT may need to build as many as 15 integrations between them all. 12 different toolsets means up to 65 integration points.

Naturally, over time, organisations taking the bottom-up outside IT approach will be forced to take a top-down look at the situation and will want to rationalise this sprawl of technology into one software application - to reduce license and maintenance costs and provide a more consistent end user experience. So, it makes sense to be aware of the pitfalls from the start, take a more strategic approach, and apply a one-system policy to avoid chronic application management overheads later on.


Outside IT is a bottom-up approach, starting in poorly performing service domain where the need is greatest (usually in a department that is inward-facing and thus has the largest set of internal services). Enterprise service management is a top-down approach, driven by executive vision and executed according to a strategic plan with a strategic objective – to increase business productivity by improving all of the internal business services that support the smooth running of the business.

Martin Thompson

Martin ThompsonMartin Thompson is owner and founder of the The ITAM Review and The ITSM Review. Martin is also founder and Chair, Campaign for Clear Licensing. A contributor to the BCS Configuration Management Group and contributor to the UK itSMF UK Service Transition SIG.

About this blog
IT service management is about delivering, supporting and managing IT services in an effective and efficient way. This blog provides a platform for experts across a variety of ITSM roles to share their insight and best practice for people to embrace new ideas to improve processes and performance.

See all posts by BCS ITSM
July 2018

Search this blog