Let’s talk about the communication crisis in ITSM

Poor communication has blighted the development of ITSM since its inception, yet we’re still sleeping on the value of talking.  The damage caused by the ITSM communications crisis must be reversed – and this change is an emergency change!

IT professionals and commentators talk a lot.  They talk about workflows and processes and strategies and metrics and integration and more processes.  It’s ironic therefore that they never talk about the importance of talking.

Talking, or more specifically, communication between key stakeholders is crucial to the success of business IT.  You see,  IT has traditionally been very bad at talking.  This doesn’t just mean talking between IT professionals and the rest of the business, although the cliched and harsh idea that techies struggle to bridge the gap with “normal” people is sadly still true in many cases.  But the ITSM communication crisis runs deeper than that.  It also refers to poor internal communications between IT departments, and between the peers within these departments. 

Let’s talk about talking
How do we know that IT is poor at communication? For one, this article from CIO says that more than half of IT projects fail.   As the article points out, the majority of IT professionals have been involved in a failed project, citing lack of collaboration and coordination as a major contributor.  More telling is that we’re still talking about the need to align IT with business outcomes – despite it being a topic that has been around for decades.  We all know there’s a disconnect between the IT department and the rest of the business, and this will only be solved by addressing communications.

“By referring to people within the business as ‘customer’ or ‘user’, we automatically create a ‘them and us’ culture.”

I’m a proponent of breaking down the silo mentality.  Not only do I dislike the word “user” to describe the people that IT supports, I think the contemporary label of “customer” is similarly incorrect. Why is semantics so important in this context? Because by referring to people within the business as “customer” or “user”, we automatically create a “them and us” culture.

IT isn’t a separate part of the business; some sort of pseudo third-party tinkering with servers and computers.  IT is part of the business, as integral as the cleaners, the sales department and the management team.  People within HR don’t refer to “customers”, they refer to their colleagues, and IT should do the same to begin solving its own communication problems.  If IT is part of the business, it should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the staff.  Creating this level of equality will make it much easier to have open and useful conversations.

What else needs to happen to solve the communication crisis and remove this disconnect?  Here are the areas that must be addressed:

Less reliance on impersonal communications
In the digital age, it’s all too easy to rely on electronic communications. Emails are an efficient way of sending or requesting information.  They are however less useful for hosting the kind of fluid conversations that IT needs to deliver business benefits. Social media is clearly of huge importance to global communications and disseminating information.  But just as email has its place, social media is clearly not the tool IT needs to get up-close-and-personal with the business. 

This is why collaborative tools such as Slack and the incoming Facebook at Work are becoming more popular because they allow two-way/group conversations which are more dynamic than email.   However, these tools are still largely about managing projects and relationships within teams, rather than connecting with others in the business.

What’s the solution?  Face-to-face communications.  IT professionals must speak to people – in meetings, in corridors, by the water-cooler – basically, anywhere that is conducive to genuinely open conversations.  Only by having open and frank conversations will IT learn how it can improve, and in doing so, learn how to fix its own internal communication woes.

Unified aims and increased Business IQ
It’s much easier to communicate with people who have the same aims.  Ask 20 IT manager and department managers about their key business targets and you’ll be given 20 different answers.  Some of these goals and aims might be directly opposed and deliver anything but value to the business.  For example, networks and third line support might be driven to protect the integrity of the IT infrastructure, while the projects team, and perhaps a visionary service desk manager who recently attended a course on Agile, might be trying to do the polar opposite by creating a more flexible environment.  Another case may be that due to pressures completely unaligned to business outcomes, changes are undertaken by IT that should have been given a lower priority; the lack of transparency of business strategy and true business value causes IT to work on the wrong things.

ITIL and other process frameworks were designed to give IT professionals a common language, but if they are pulling in different directions, communications will break down with or without a language barrier.

IT must create over-arching aims that are in agreement, compatible, and measurable against business strategy to create communications harmony.    And yes, the only way they will agree these aims is by TALKING.

I’ve talked about it extensively before, but this is why Business Relationship Management has become such a crucial topic within ITSM, because for the first time, we have a process and methodology for tackling communications.  I don’t mean BRM as defined in IT Service Strategy alone; I am referring to the Strategic BRM thinking as described by organisations like the BRMI (Business Relationship Management Institute).  Excellence in Service Management is a crucial step in the IT/Business relationship maturity journey; to become a trusted advisor, strategic partner and true peer in business, IT must first excel in Service Provision aligned to strategic plans of the business and the associated measures of business success.  

Get a common view
Every department within IT has a different view of IT, often because they use their own legacy software tools. To truly solve the communication crisis in ITSM, we must fix this, no matter how painful.  Replacing old point solutions and creating a single console view of IT operations isn’t a simple thing to do – far from it.  But until IT can centralise its ITSM and operations into a single view with transparency of Business IQ, the type of unified communications I’ve talked about in this article won’t happen.  With all good intentions, talk of effective communications within ITSM becomes rhetoric the moment people head back to their desks and confront their own limited view of what is happening.     

The need for this single view of ITSM, combined with visibility of relationships and communications, is the reason we’ve built a platform that combines both.  Learn about it here and get in touch if you have any questions about ITSM communications or Business Relationship Management.

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Simon Kent
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