The Service metaphor in IT has steadily become pervasive over the past eleven years. Back in 2001, the term was just beginning to percolate around the concept of the Web Service—software that was accessible over a network using Web protocols with metered usage. As Web Services grew in popularity an entire methodology for designing and building them emerged and became known as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).
The cornerstone of SOA was a focus on aligning with the needs of business versus the typical engineering-based focus. It also was the foundation of a new economic model for delivery of software called “software as a service” (SaaS). The popularity of that economic model was readily leveraged for metered usage of other aspects of IT, such as providing infrastructure. The entirety of the learned body of knowledge stemming from this entire continuum is now ready to be applied by IT organizations under the moniker of IT-as-a-Service or ITaaS.
However, as pervasive as the term “service” has become, an understanding of what a service is has become more elusive. After all, what does it mean to deliver IT-as-a-Service ? More importantly, what is the difference between what IT organizations are doing and ITaaS? These questions are not only intriguing, but answering them is also a key objective for IT executives. Chuck Hollis, EMC’s Global Marketing CTO wrote a very detailed blog outlining the benefits of IT Transformation and ITaaS, which is really important, but still leaves the unanswered question, “so, what does it mean to deliver a service?”
In an attempt to develop a more cohesive explanation of a service, I have been reviewing much of my past materials from over the past twelve years, as it has been a fundamental element of my work. What I’ve identified is that the service has fundamentally become a way of encapsulating a set of user expectations with regard to the acquisition and use of IT resources. Hence, instead of a user gaining access to a discrete IT resource without guarantees for support, availability, costs, instruction, etc., the service metaphor now provides users with clear, understandable boundaries regarding how to turn that IT resource into a tool of productivity.
ITaaS is the culmination of this service understanding into a set of practices to be followed by IT organizations. I’ve stated elsewhere that ITaaS changes IT from being a landlord—the building owner and ultimate authority—to the concierge—making the user’s experience as positive and beneficial as possible. I also believe that the concept of service has matured to the point where there’s a consistent set of attributes encapsulated within the promise of a service and measured and monitored as part of ITaaS. These attributes include:
- Valued (priced)
- Advertised / Catalogued
With regard to each service delivered by an IT organization that has committed to ITaaS as a practice, these attributes should be measured via a customer satisfaction survey on an ongoing basis. Moreover, inherent in these metrics is an understanding that IT needs to be proactive to ensure that these attributes meet a high level of customer satisfaction. Hence, configuration management, capacity management, systems monitoring, network monitoring, etc. are critical to meeting an expressed and agreed upon level of service.
ITaaS is an important and positive direction for IT organizations. Those that commit to the practice and use it as a means to spur transformation internally will find many tangible benefits, but will also realize that the intangible benefits of enabling business users to be more productive and more quickly meet emerging business demand, are equally important.