By Tim Roberts, Kepner-Tregoe

IT service management (ITSM) tools are a mainstay of companies’ overall IT management capabilities as the home of asset and configuration data; the system of record for changes and releases; and the workflow enablement system for incident and request management. The information reported out of the ITSM system is used for financial management, technology planning and to enable operational decision making. If the ITSM tools are so valuable and so widely used already, it raises the question: Why are companies not adopting problem-solving capabilities in their ITSM tools?” There may be a number of reasons, but here are some of the most common ones:

Fear of what might be exposed

Problem solving and problem management are essentially all about risk. As companies go about normal business, things happen and events are observed that create a potential for a non-desirable situation in the future. ITSM tools provide a means for these problems to be captured, classified, prioritized and maintained to provide an informed perspective on the technology problems that have been identified and what is being done to address them. Not all these problems will be realized but they each represent risk to the organization.

For a long time, IT organizations have been able to manage (and manipulate) perceptions of technology quality and risk by controlling and limiting the information available to management and business stakeholders. Data about problems with the IT systems has been closely held and in many cases passed by word-of-mouth without being written down. Exposing the “dirty laundry” of IT is something that many IT leaders are afraid of. While most acknowledge that the problems will exist whether they are recorded and managed or not, some leaders are still clinging to the strategy of limiting what others can see.

It is hard to quantify the benefits of what didn’t happen

IT leaders struggle to justify investments in solving problems because the benefits are often tied to avoiding a potential situation that may (or may not) happen. When comparing these investments to other options such as improving helpdesk performance, lowering asset costs or adding a new business feature, problems tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list. Tools, processes and people to support problem solving likewise tend to be classified as low-value overhead. 

What these leaders are failing to realize is that they are in a “chicken and egg” situation. By adopting the problem-solving capabilities in the ITSM systems they already have, they will gain the ability to make more informed decisions about what problems represent sufficient organizational risk to justify investment of resources. 

Nobody really “owns” problem management

Everyone in the organization can agree that solving problems is important and is a good thing. What they can’t agree on is who should be doing the work. Problem management sits at an awkward crossroads of IT process, serving as the “traffic signal” between incident management, defect management, and requirements management – activities typically falling under the responsibilities of different teams and managed in separate IT management tools. 

A holistic approach to IT service management would support problem solving and problem management capabilities residing in the ITSM system. For many organizations, fragmented processes and systems along with organizational politics create ambiguity and conflict regarding where this capability should reside. Resolving the question of primary ownership of the problem management process could address this.

Continual Service Improvement is an afterthought

When implementing ITSM tooling and ITIL processes, most companies start with incident management followed by configuration management and change management. Problem solving (which is most closely aligned to continual service improvement) is often one of the last process areas to be adopted and implemented in a structured way with tooling support. 

De-prioritization of CSI in ITSM tool implementation initiatives is consistent with near term operational cost savings being used as the primary justification for ITSM tooling. ITIL best practices take a more strategic perspective in focusing on the goal of improving service quality which will in-turn lead to lower operational costs.

Most companies are paying for problem solving capabilities within their ITSM systems today – but few are using those capabilities to their full potential. The reasons why this is happening vary, but in most cases come down to people, process and behavior – all things that can be easily changed.

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