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ITSM: People are the problem, but people are the solution

Smart people doing dumb things

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I just spent most of this week at the annual itSMF conference called Fusion, held this year at the sprawling Gaylord National Resort below Washington DC.

As always, it was a wonderful gathering of some of the finest people I know. When you've been involved in the IT service management field as long as I have, you get to know a lot of these people very well. In fact, when I delivered the closing keynote of Fusion in 2009, I opened by saying, "This feels like a family reunion... except I like you more!"

I was only half joking because many of these people are like family, and I do indeed like them.

As Forrester’s "automation guy" I often make statements about the flaws of the people in IT. I always try to inject some comedy into these statements because we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. There is a serious side to this position, however. There are now just under 7 billion idiots on this planet and none of us is exempt from that characterisation. People do dumb things. We all do. Hopefully, we do more start things than dumb things. Since we do dumb things, we need to protect ourselves from ourselves.

ITSM is one of many mechanisms that offers such protection. We need ITSM because IT has rightfully earned an awful reputation for chaotic execution. It seems that IT is one of the most egregious demographic groups exemplifying human error and sloppiness. It is full of smart people doing dumb things. We in IT have a very serious problem.

One of my guiding principles in life is that every problem is a golden opportunity. Such is definitely the case in IT, especially in the I&O function. A stereotype of I&O is that we are smart, but narrow-minded. We don’t see the broad picture. We are "locally brilliant but globally stupid" as I like to say. There’s a reason we have this reputation. We’ve earned it. We can do better. I know, I’ve seen better. In fact, I’ve seen excellence and excellence is a beautiful thing.

At Fusion 11, excellence was everywhere. This crowd of nearly 2000 is a collection of some of the brightest movers and shakers in today’s IT landscape. The collective brain power is truly humbling. My acceptance into this community is one of my greatest honours and joyous delights in my life! As I ran all over the Gaylord, I think I engaged in more handshakes and hugs than a presidential candidate!

I filled lots of hypothetical ITSM Rock Star bingo cards with the people I met. On it, you can see people I am fortunate to call friends not just acquaintances. You will recognise many of them, including my esteemed fellow analyst, Eveline Oehrlich. Don’t tell my bosses, but some of them are even my competitors. My competitor is not my enemy unless they choose to be! Who’s on your bingo card?   

So, you may be thinking I’m just a sentimental sap. Maybe I am, but what I aim to show here is that IT is a people business. We get all hung up in the geeky technology. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. People who know me know I’m a geek. I compete at ham radio, so that should be proof enough! Still, I recognise that we geeks tend to be rather antisocial. We are not people people.

This aspect has to change. Indeed it will, whether we like it or not. In fitting with my guiding principle, if people are the problem, people are the solution. Everything we do requires good people to either do it, hire others to do it or automate it. Yes, automation needs people. Obviously, good automation replaces people, but people need to develop and set up the automation itself, at least for now. Some jobs will be eliminated but some new ones emerge.

This is called progress. We cannot cling to "old school" methods. Technology is the DNA of our profession, so technology will always be the core of what we do. That said, the most successful IT people of the future will focus more on the people than the technology. The right balance of process discipline and freedom to create and adapt new business capabilities is our future. That’s certainly not language common to traditional IT operations.

It is however language at the heart of ITSM. This is why ITSM is a good IT career path. Our new research proves this.

If you want to play a role in this ITSM-centric future, get involved with the community. Participate in the activities of the itSMF and better yet, join. I don’t have to be a member because of the relationship Forrester has with itSMF, but I choose to pay the dues out of my own pocket. I believe in the community to accomplish far more than any one of us can ever hope to. You will learn incredible lessons from your peers. Like me, you will also be privileged to forge friendships with spectacular people who are rock stars of our profession!

Posted by Glen O'Donnell

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