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Interview: ITIL is no longer just an IT best practice

Miroslav Hlohovský, CEO of our partner company OMNICOM, has been in IT management for over 15 years. In addition to hundreds of training courses and consultations, he recently co-authored ITIL 4 manuals. We talked about empathy in Service Management, customer service mapping and the future of ITIL.
Jan Škrabánek

30. 9. 2021

You have co-authored two publications of the new ITIL 4 library. How does one get to do a job like that? 

Before Axelos even started preparing ITIL 4, they issued a public request for participation in developing the new edition. The call stipulated one had to show certain competences, like having published professional articles in English and having a good knowledge of the prior version. So, I related my experience with ITIL implementation, having trained hundreds of participants through our courses, and my ITIL expert certification. Based on the application, Axelos then asked me if I wanted to cooperate on the Service Desk and Service Request Management professional Practice Guides. Subsequently, a working party of 3 was put together for each Guide. All communication took place remotely, using MS Teams. Axelos coordinated the team and provided practical instructions on the publication formats. But the team worked autonomously.

You’ve worked on two publications: The Service Desk Practice Guide and the Service Request Management Practice Guide. What are the main changes in these practices Guides compared to ITIL 3? 

The most important shift is that ITIL looks at the whole thing more holistically. It is no longer just a set of steps that need to be taken, but we are dealing with everything that people need to know in practice to manage things assuredly. Each Guide has 4 chapters, and the process or value stream is only one of them. Companies often think that it is enough to draw a process flow and the process is dealt with. However, the process will not work if we ignore the human aspect or instrumentation support. In larger companies, teams that address processes are often separate from teams that address the tools. And human skills and abilities are completely overlooked. Our philosophy is to connect these three things. That’s why the remaining three chapters are given much more space than before. We deal with people, tools, partners and other entities. For example, if a company is preparing to bring in a new tool, we show them the tool will not serve them well without a matching change of culture and habits.

Service Desk is a term that comprises a number of meanings. Can you zoom in on how you perceive the Service Desk job? 

In ITIL 3, the Service Desk was a job function: a team of people who deal with incidents and requests. In version four we had to make it clear from the very beginning that we were abandoning this concept. A Service Desk is not just a team of people. A Service Desk is all about interaction. Users contact the Service Desk through a whole range of channels, then engage in dialogue with its agents and at the end of the interaction a completely different action is initiated: typically incident or request management. The Service Desk has its own value stream, mostly dealing with interaction. Therefore, the Service Desk is crucial for the success of any service provider. In interacting with users, much can be attained and much can go wrong. It depends on attitude.

Interaction is all about communication. What does ITIL 4 teach us about communication on a Service Desk? 

ITIL 4 places great emphasis on communication. One of the concepts we deal with in the Guide is the what we call Service Empathy. People are emotional beings, and when they turn to support, they expect understanding in response. The Service Desk worker should know the customer’s history, recognize their mood, understand cultural nuances. Empathy should also be incorporated into artificial intelligence, form-filling, and interactions where a human agent is not involved.

Another concept that we mention in the manual is Omnichannel Communication. It is not enough to get communication from different channels. You must recognize the user’s identity and link-up their communication. In consulting practice, I usually encounter situations where a person addresses a Service Desk by phone, say, and later sends additional information by email, but the Service Desk staff do not link these interactions together. Two people are working on the same problem, and neither of them has complete information. It’s quite a waste of time and effort.

One of the frequent problems when managing a Service Desk is the high turnover of employees. Is there a solution? 

First of all, I would like to point out that one can’t generalize things this way. I’ve also met people who have been working on the Service Desk for 10 years and are absolutely contented there. Yet it is true that many companies are struggling with staff turnover. It is not always possible to reduce it, but substantial achievements can be achieved by speeding up the onboarding process. I personally know of a company that operates a Service Desk in the ‘follow the sun’ mode (24/7 support handled by three regular shifts in different time zones) and thanks to good knowledge management has managed to shorten onboarding time from 3 months to 3 days. Indeed, after three days, the new Service Desk worker was able to resolve 80% of the requests. For anyone is interested in this topic I highly recommend looking at the Knowledge Management Practice Guide.

What are the pitfalls for a company introducing the Request Management practice? 

Request Management has two components: 1) what you see on the portal, 2) what happens to the request subsequently, i.e. workflow. Before starting to digitize and automate, I need to think carefully about the workflow and then standardize it. For example, a classic problem is a request for a new piece of equipment. The company staff can request a new phone through the portal. But the scoping definition of such a request may be missing completely. The IT department then relays everything the network operator is offering. Imagine how you could handle technical support in such a situation. By standardizing the process and narrowing the options down to two phones, you’ll save hours of technical support work. When assessing the economics of such a situation, we need not only to look at the price of the device, but also the cost of labour when having to deal with incidents on some device or other you’ve never before seen in your life.

ITIL 4 places even more emphasis on value for the end customer. How do we know that our work really brings value? 

The entirety of ITIL has moved to an end-to-end value stream model. There are moments of truth in that process. These are the moments when the customer experiences something that will significantly affect their impression of the quality of the service provided. Such a moment of truth may be, say, just the confirmation of receiving a request. These moments of truth are important in how the customer experiences the whole service and whether their experience is positive. To help us find these moments of truth we use the technique of Customer Journey Mapping. It’s kind of like a ‘mystery shopping’ experience in an ITSM setting. I put myself in the customer’s shoes and try to map the whole process from start to finish. Typically, a customer’s contact with us starts long before they even reach out to us.

How do you see the future of ITIL and what are your other plans? 

Throughout the whole ITIL Foundation 4 publication runs a storyline example, that of a car rental. It is no longer just the IT department but the entire company that provides services. ITIL is no longer just an IT best practice. It can help all companies that provide services. It seeks to transform old-style services and bring them into the digital era. As far as I am concerned personally, and in our company, the main goal is to offer all components of ITIL 4 through consultation and training to our clients. Work on ITIL 4 is still not complete. The ‘Strategic Leader’ section is just coming out and we are adding all new courses to our portfolio straight away.