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The shocking truth about continual service improvement

MylesS ‎03-18-2013 04:38 PM - edited ‎09-27-2015 08:33 PM

State of IT improvement

Right after Peregrine Systems joined HP, I was given the honor of being a reviewer for the third version of ITIL’s Service Strategy book. Two things really surprised me about ITIL Version 3: the emphasis on business service and the whole notion of “continual service improvement.” Continual improvement surprised me because so many of the IT organizations that I had worked with were, in fact, not showing improvement in their IT organization’s people, processes, and technology. The truth is, most were good at the establishment of process, but that was as far as things went—shockingly, not much improvement was going on.


Seeing the forest for the trees of service management

But with a service orientation, the quality of service management and delivery is more exposed. While many organizations have some form of operational reports, real and substantive process improvement is still not taking place—even though now customers are taking notice, as their service requirements get more sophisticated. One CIO, who was evaluating new service management solutions, actually blamed vendors by saying, “They tell us how much we are going to save and present compelling ROI models, but none tell us how to get there.”


I want to suggest that improvement has not occurred because IT organizations cannot see the forest for the trees. Looking at the trees is operational reporting, but continual improvement demands two things be done differently. The first is the ability to measure things that are key performance indicators (KPIs), and the second is the setting of concrete improvement goals against which you can measure each KPI. Armed with this, service management leaders can determine their performance gaps by tracking performance against indicators over time across various dimensions—in the case of incidents, incident type, organization, time of month; the list goes on. What is amazing is that ITIL Version 3.0 actually does recommend that KPIs can be put into a balanced scorecard, and IT can prove to itself and business management that it is, in fact, improving.


ITSM key performance indicators

What would be on my list of ITSM key performance indicators? I would obviously look at aggregate performance over time for service delivery—availability, downtime, performance, etc. But I would also select leading indicators for all three. This would include things such as change success rate, patch success rate, emergency changes, and so forth.


Each of the IT processes within ITSM should have KPIs of service delivery—service desk, incident, problem, change, configuration, and service-level management. Clearly, these should be focused on the delivery of service availability and performance. Here are a few suggestions for each category:


  • Service Desk/Request—first call resolution, incident aging, mean time for handling each type of service request
  • Incident—percent of incidents resolved within agreed-on period of time, percent reopened incidents, mean time between failures
  • Problem—decrease in the number of recurring incidents, percent of major incidents for which problems were logged, percent of problems resolved by due date
  • Change—percent emergency changes, change success rate, percent unauthorized changes, rework cause by failed changes, age of backlogged change requests
  • Configuration—number of deviations between the configuration repository and live configuration, number of discrepancies relating to incomplete or missing configuration information
  • Service-Level Management—percent availability of service, percent met service performance, percent met SLAs


Changing course

The questions for you as an ITSM leader are: “Are you ready to move your service management to drive substantive improvement? Are you ready to set concrete goals that drive real improvement?” If you are, then concrete process improvement goals can be found in ITIL Version 3.0 and COBIT 5.0. All that is missing is your leadership, measurement, and goal setting.


Related links:

Solution page: IT Performance Management

Twitter: @MylesSuer

Tags: IT Service Management, KPIs, Balanced Scorecard

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About the Author


Mr. Suer is a senior manager for IT Performance Management. Prior to this role, Mr. Suer headed IT Performance Management Analytics Product Management including IT Financial Management and Executive Scorecard.

on ‎03-19-2013 11:20 AM



I am catching up on a few HP ITSM blog posts. I just read Mary Rasmussen's on KPIs and made a comment asking about the relationship to CSI. And you have addressed by comment/question in the next post I came across. Serendipity!


Reflecting my comment in Mary's blog, I submit that the cost pressures of the economic turmoil of 2008 and beyond put many IT and service desk organizations into survival mode. Gartner wrote a lot on service desk maturity in 2012 and I think that you can make a reasonable arguement that a lot of organizations actually went backwards over the past 5 years. I further submit that there is a bit of an epiphany going on related to the benefits of pragmatic maturity improvements.


Your most seems perfectly aligned.



‎03-19-2013 11:31 AM - edited ‎03-19-2013 11:33 AM

This makes sense to me. Dan Ariely, who has written some great books and is a behaviorial economist at Duke, has written a HBR column entitled " You Are What You Measure". I contend that for all the service management leaders listening that if you do not actively measure against improvement goals than your IT organization is like a sail boat that is three sheets to the wind!

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