Applications are not IT services

2015 12 15 Applications are not IT services IMAGE

Why do those of us who work in IT organisations need to define the services we provide?   It’s because we have to be in a position to align the things we do in IT with the value these activities create for our customers. This is what enables us to have sensible conversations with customers about what IT does.  It allows us to demonstrate how IT supports business outcomes, how it creates value, and how we are managing costs and risks.

Many of the organizations I work with have great difficulty defining their IT services. The most common mistake that people make is to think that each application they support is a different IT service. The result of this is that they view themselves as providing a large number of very technically focussed ‘services’, which are seen as ends in themselves.  This way of working tends to create little real value for customers, and rarely engages them.

So here’s my advice.  Don’t define a separate IT service for each application you support.  Here are two very good reasons why you shouldn’t.

1 Single applications don’t align neatly with business outcomes

Most business processes make use of many different applications, and it is these business processes that create value, not the underlying IT applications.

For example a factory may have three or four different applications that support the manufacturing line. The business doesn’t particularly care about the individual applications; what it cares about is whether or not the manufacturing line is running well. So it makes much better sense to have a single “Manufacturing support service” and not four distinct services, one for each supporting application. This “manufacturing support service” will need to take responsibility for all applications that support the manufacturing line, as well as any other relevant aspects of IT. If you plan and manage your IT support, and then report what you have achieved, in terms of “Manufacturing support” your customers will know that you understand what they need and you will be perfectly placed to deliver great customer outcomes and great customer value.

2015 12 15 Applications are not IT services IMAGE2This idea can be applied to IT support in almost any industry. For example, a bank may have an IT service called “Online mortgage support” which uses many applications, and a different service called “Online current account support” which uses some of the same applications and some different ones.  The point here is that a truly effective IT organization will manage its work, its reporting, its cost analysis, its risk management and everything else it does around facilitating these services.  This will ensure that what IT does is directly aligned to how the bank creates value for end customers.

Of course, it isn’t easy. When every application can be part of multiple different services, maintaining awareness of, and managing, all the different business outcomes isn’t trivial. But this is no different to the situation we are familiar with when we think about managing infrastructure. Each router may be part of many different services, but we don’t report router status to our customers, we talk to them about the services that are of interest to them. The same should be true of applications.

2 Great services need to offer many things in addition to the applications

Applications are necessary for delivering value to our customers, but they are by no means sufficient. A great customer experience depends on many different things that the IT organization does, as well as on things done by suppliers or other third parties.

Even in the case of a single app that runs on a mobile device, the service will probably depend on a number of other components, such as:

  • A hardware device, purchased and owned by the consumer
  • Network connectivity, purchased separately by the consumer as part of a mobile contract
  • Back end servers that provide content or other data to the app
  • Provision of the app, and of upgrades, via a third party app store
  • Management of user registration and login
  • Instructions on how to use the app, whether provided as documentation, or online videos, or a built in help function, or all three

Applications that are provided by an IT organization to its business customers might also require:

  • Processes, tools and people to manage incidents and problems
  • Contracts and processes to manage suppliers
  • Knowledge management to ensure that required information is available to IT staff and to customers so that they can maintain and use the service
  • Agreements, metrics and reporting to help ensure that customers understand exactly what is being provided, and what this is costing them
  • Provision of end user computing devices and network connectivity
  • Infrastructure to host the applications, either managed by the IT organization or sourced from a third party
  • Processes, tools and people to backup and archive data
  • Processes, tools and people to plan and manage availability, capacity, continuity and security
  • Governance and financial management, to provide business oversight of IT

So when you provide an IT service, you need to think beyond the application.  You need to ensure that you consider everything needed to provide a great customer experience. Because this is what IT service management should be about – delivering great experiences to customers.

In one organization where I helped IT migrate from an application focus to a business process focus, I had a conversation with a business relationship manager that summed up the difference. The customer had been saying for years that the time to onboard new staff was too long. But because the focus was on applications rather than on business requirements, all the SLAs were focussed on different applications and there was no measurement and reporting of what was, in fact, crucial information. When IT moved to a business process focus, reducing the time taken to onboard new staff became a feature of the improved SLA. The customer was delighted that they could finally get reports (and improvements!) that reflected the things that were important to them.


If you think that applications are IT services, then it is likely that your customers won’t see the value that IT brings to the business. If on the other hand you think of IT services in terms of the business processes that you are supporting, you will find it much easier to focus on creating value for your customers while managing costs and risks, and ultimately on delivering great customer experiences.


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