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Five steps to becoming a service broker





By Felix Fernandez


Felix Fernandez is the CTO of HP Software Professional Services.


Becoming an IT service broker is a lot like becoming a high-wire artist. You need to balance competing forces with skill and grace. On the one hand, you need to grasp the complex mosaic of the lifecycle of services on offer. On the other hand, you need to think about service delivery in a very granular way. All the while, your job is to shield the business from the complexity of this high-wire act. In other words, it has to look easy.


How to start? The five steps below have helped a number of clients become full-fledged service brokers who deliver IT services to other departments in their company.


Step 1: Establish lines of communication


Shadow IT often happens when there’s a lack of communication between the business and IT. Effective communication with the business means making sure that the LOBs know they are being heard, and helping the business understand that IT can be a source of innovation; that IT can meet and even anticipate business demand for internal and external services, and can minimize risk by ensuring compliance. IT can also handle the complexity of sourcing, managing and delivering services. IT has to be able to speak in terms that the business understands. If the business does not see IT as the source of innovation, the business will more likely than not source externally.


The business also has to be able to give feedback to IT, so this communication channel should be bi-directional. All of this helps the business understand that IT wants to become a valuable partner that can deliver on its promises.


The companies that are most advanced at doing this make sure that the IT department treats the business like a customer. There are dedicated customer relationship managers that set realistic expectations and help translate business requirements into technical standards and SLAs. They are doing whatever is needed within IT to serve the business and reaffirm that IT wants to help business innovation, not hinder it—as is sometimes the perception whether justified or not.


A key question is—where should these relationship managers sit? These relationship managers should have a global view, and should be thinking in terms of the overall service portfolio, which brings us to the second step.


Step 2: Define the portfolio


You want to define what services IT is delivering, and what services it should be delivering. What’s the impact those services have on the business? For example, if you’re in banking, you want to know what the branch offices need to function effectively, what corporate banking needs, and how to best support treasury and accounting functions.


Having that portfolio of business services is important because when you have a new demand coming from the business, you can understand how essential this requested service is. And, you can understand whether this is a business service you want to deliver internally because it’s critical, or if it’s better to outsource that service.


Understanding and defining the portfolio—in terms of how IT can better support business needs—leads to the third step.


Step 3: Help the business choose wisely


IT can demonstrate value and enable the business by providing a way to evaluate, source, and onboard different options for external services. These include:


  • Selecting external service suppliers
  • Negotiating and managing SLAs
  • Ensuring compliance with internal policies


Depending on your maturity, IT productivity can grow. In a very productive mode, IT may have already potential candidates for some services that the business may demand.


Step 4: Use a reference architecture


The IT4IT reference architecture provides a common set of best practices and vocabulary for service delivery, to be able to onboard services and manage those services once they’ve been sourced. An aggregated service catalog such as HP Propel is the way we expose those services to the business, and deliver services through different suppliers.


Functions such as request management and SLA management become very important. The reference architecture supports classic IT functions as well as the emerging service broker role. We call this bifurcated way of doing things bimodal IT, and it’s definitely a topic that many people are dealing with right now.


Just like we saw in the early days of the Internet with the publishing and banking industries, a part of the organization will work in the traditional way, and a spinoff will work in the new way. As we’ve seen, in time these two ways of working merge back together and become the “new normal,” so it’s important that the reference architecture support that shift from the current bimodal IT to a more unified future. One of the strengths of IT4IT is that it supports this process, so it’s something you can live and grow with for a very long time.


Step 5: Measure to ensure quality of service


Finally, you need to measure the consumption of the services that you’re getting from different suppliers. That’s why the active subscription model becomes more and more useful in these environments.


Going back to the beginning, you need to be providing the right information and right mechanisms so that when you are communicating with the business, you’re also ensuring that the expectations and the service levels are being executed as expected, and that you’re not delivering services that the business is not using. Maybe, for instance, a service is growing so much that you need to review the contract, because there are now options in the market that can deliver a better quality of service for the same price.


These steps are of course just a framework, and subject to constant revision and change. But, we’ve found them a useful way to manage the mosaic of service delivery while shielding the business from all the complexity this entails.


To learn more, read The New IT: Managing and Delivering Services in a Multi-Vendor Environment.



Felix Fernandez is the CTO of HP Software Professional Services covering IT4IT, ITSM, PPM and SIAM. He is @ffromero on Twitter.



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