Leadership

IT service skills: Why this gap needs urgent plugging

The jobs of IT service managers now extend well beyond their old fiefdoms of helpdesks and maintenance. But that shift has created an urgent need for relevant skills.

Sitting at the point where technology meets wider business development and strategy, IT service managers have come a long way since the time they manned helpdesks and performed routine maintenance.

They now have a vital role to play in helping their organisations understand the potential of IT as the tool for future commercial growth, improving customer relations and delivering significant improvements in operational efficiency.

The opportunity they have to change outdated perceptions of IT's role in business were demonstrated by an e-skills UK report at the end of last year, which suggested that service management skills will be the most pressing learning need in IT over the next decade. The report estimates that of the additional IT skills required by UK plc, 40 per cent will be in service management.

With such a focus on the IT service managers' role, it's concerning that awareness of their function and duties is low and outdated.

IT service management skills shortage

A lot of these flawed perceptions are down to how fast IT service management has changed, leaving in its wake not only the perceptions of colleagues, but also the training and personal development infrastructure to grow future professionals and meet the skills gap identified by e-skills.

In response, The Open University has teamed up with IT training firm Global Knowledge to create a new postgraduate certificate for service managers.

During the development of the new qualification and conversations with professionals and their employers, it's evident how much the role of service managers has widened.

Responsible for the monitoring, reporting and ongoing improvement of services, they face the challenges well beyond simply, "Can we buy some new email servers?" and much more, "How can we use the latest email server technology to improve our communication with customers?".

This is a significant change and requires them to be great communicators, people managers and strategic thinkers. Unfortunately, until now this shift hasn't been reflected in how we develop people in the role.

Addressing real-life business issues

ITIL is the worldwide service management education standard. Owned by the UK Cabinet Office, it provides best-practice guidelines that are great in principle, providing robust methodology and the fundamental building blocks for skill development.

However, when it comes to addressing real-life business issues such as delivering commercial value, the guidelines fall short. In the past, IT service managers looking to developing their broader management and business skills to increase their value to their organisations have had to start from scratch on an MBA.

A new approach was needed and that's why the new postgraduate certificate in Advanced Professional Practice for IT Service Management came into being. The certificate focuses staff development on broader business objectives while offering the individual a transferable academic qualification.

IT service managers have come far in a short space of time. From manning helpdesks and choosing new hardware from a catalogue, they now deliver tangible benefits for their organisation's reputation, service and bottom line.

With an education infrastructure updated to reflect this shift in responsibility, IT service managers can start to bridge the gap between IT and the decision makers above them.

As the voice of IT to the wider business they can change perceptions of IT more broadly from the infrastructure that supports the day-to-day operations, to the tools to drive growth, reduce risk and improve customer service.

About

Kevin Streater is executive director, employer engagement for the IT and telecoms industry at the Open University.

15 comments
jkameleon
jkameleon

Just give us the salary and unemployment figures.

derbypicks
derbypicks

I have been a service manager in the last five years, and it is a very crucial role - here is why? Working on large IT projects, business tends to put out fancy future plans for new products and their roadmaps. Project Managers focus on "functional" requirements to deliver projects. Developers focus on writing code to provide functionality. The last thing these teams focus on is the service side; operational readiness; non functional requirements, production support hand off, vendor readiness among others. Who is going to fill in these gaps? Service managers. To succeed in this role, you have to have the number one skill (in my opinion): relationship management. You have to build a solid relationship (communication/coordination, second skill)) with these teams, gain trust and influence and drive (rigor, third skill) to plug the above gaps. It is irrelvant if your background is technical or business focued, having a basic understanding of the business and technology, and leaning/ensuring SMEs do their job, you will succeed.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Back in 1996 I saw this perceived problem, and got involved with fixing it, but it's a perceived problem and not an actual problem as it's not something that can be resolved in the way they think it can. The reason being is you have a conflict between four different skill sets and a senior management that has a totally different set of skills and view on everything. Add to that the situation where some of the needed skill sets are mutually incompatible, and you have a real concern about dealing with this. In short, you have to decide do you want a tech savvy person as the manager or a management savvy person who can deal with techs. The majority of the good techs do not have the needed management or interpersonal or business skills needed for middle to upper management and most have the wrong mind set and background to develop them. If someone is a good manager they usually do not have the high level tech skills or the mind set to develop them either. It takes several years to gain the relevant technical information, skills, and experienced to be a good IT tech. It also takes several years to gain the same level of expertise and experience as a manager, and again as a business manager as they are two different skill sets. A good tech does not need high level fine interpersonal skills to do most of their work, while they are needed for the other two. Nothing exists for a person to get the relevant training or work experience for all three at once, and it would be very counter productive to try and teach all three skill sets at once as they often have conflicting needs and outcomes. If a person takes time to become skilled in one area and does the training for the other two, by the time they finish they're behind the curve on on of two of the skill sets and being told their knowledge and skills are out of date. This is especially true today where many educational institutes and businesses do NOT recognise qualification more than a few years old unless you've been working full-time in that industry since obtaining them. The Real Life Situation Early on tech savvy people were promoted in to management roles and found to be lacking in the management, business, and fine interpersonal skills needed to do the job well. The result was the MBA types they were dealing with started employing other MBA and management types who had a little tech savvy to be the IT managers. This worked in some cases, while others resulted in major issues between the managers and the techs they were trying to manage - mainly due to a lack of understanding between the two. The best result is to have a manager with good business and interpersonal skills who trusts and accepts the technical answers and info from their senior technical staff. However, we continuously see the MBA and management types making technically based decisions on information provided by sales people who have no understanding of the underlying technical aspects involved - this has resulted in many billions of dollars being wasted world wide. Nothing can or will change the difference in mind set between MBA type senior management who's only concern is the maximum short term profit with the cheapest answer and the mind set of a good tech who's main concern is the best technical solution to a problem, they're always in conflict and always will be as they rely on two different approaches to life and problems.

cmaritz
cmaritz

The 'IT Service Manager' is required to become more and more of a 'superman' since they need to: - be in the middle of the battle between strategic vs. day-to-day requirements; i.e. we need to change it to survive in future vs. we need to keep it running to survive today, and - represent the IT service department / organisation to the greater business that it serves; i.e. understanding the business requirements and then negotiating with the business about how IT can meet those requirements within acceptable cost/quality/time Summary: Genuine flack from every side for the IT Service manager. Requirements for the job are, must know business, must know IT, and must have double-thick later of rhinoceros skin. :-)

Tiger_Cane
Tiger_Cane

I have to agree that the Organization Change Management is the toughest part of implementing good Service Management and it starts and ends with communication but it also has to include the attitides (a lot of this), behavior, and culture. In order to overcome the ABC's you have to train the folks in the processes, involve them in the development of the porcess, incentivize correctly, then retrain, retrain, and retrain folks that the new processes are the way of the future and if that isn't or can't or won't be someone's way then they should be given the freedom to find thier way. I am very much encouraged that the priSM credential has been created to help foster improvement and credentialling of Service Managemetn professionals (see http://theprisminstitute.org/Global_priSM_I/Global_priSM_Institute.html). Hopefully it will continue to foster continual improvement in the education of Service Management professionals.

Gisabun
Gisabun

The last few places I worked at [2 were contracts] didn't really use the latest technologies. So job hunting, I am lacking skills in those areas. Skills such as VMware ESX or SharePoint or System Center tools can't really be self taught and most recruiters don't care for self-taught recruits.

Professor8
Professor8

What is lacking is not the ability to provide good tech support, but appropriate and sufficient incentives (rewards) to overcome the many disgusting aspects of this kind of work. Today, there are great incentives to avoid such work -- you're not respected, not paid, prospects for advancement or even a career in place are non-existent, most most bosses up the line have no appreciation for what you do or what is difficult about it or what is easy or what sorts of things you do that are not good versus what things you do that are downright brilliant. To them, tech support is a drag on the firm or institution, a cost they'd love to be able to totally avoid, but for reasons they don't quite grasp, they're stuck supporting. So they resent you. They generally dislike your way of thinking, dressing, work-habits, your office knick-knacks and mementoes, your vocabulary... But they've been taught at the B-school that if they make empty compliments they can save thousands in compensation and office facilities, so every once in a while they will say something nice... usually when they've come back from spending $50K per exec going to a posh rah-rah conference in Hawaii in February and heard one of the presenters repeat the suggestion to praise more and pay less... and just before they tell you that, after all, there's nothing left in the budget for up to date reference materials ($3K per year) or training ($4K per week), for you, least of all for the nuts and bolts class by that nationally renowned expert who developed x that you find most intriguing and enlightening ($5K). (This is the voice of experience.)

sboverie
sboverie

I once had a manager tell me that it was easier to train someone with good communications skills how to be a technician than to train a good technician how to communicate. My experience is that it is possible to be both. I have been accused of not communicating well but I was not given any information on how to improve by those managers. I concluded that communications is seen as vital but no one knows how to explain what they want because their communication skills are also deficient. The problem is the lack of empathy coupled with arrogance. It helps if you can empathize with the people you are helping and show that you are interested in fixing their problems rather than blaming them for those problems. It helps to improve listening skills and hear what people are saying instead of what you think they are saying.

derbypicks
derbypicks

ITIL is a framework or roadmap - it is up to you how you want to define your operational procedures, metrics, reporting, etc..... I agree that you can't learn this in a classroom setting, since it will require real life battles and scars to achieve operational success

cybershooters
cybershooters

ITSM is such a fluffy field, I'm not sure how you could teach that in a degree. It would be outdated very rapidly. I think an MBA with some sort of understanding of IT is the more logical approach.

farhad4uk
farhad4uk

This is a mith, not only there no shortage but we are facing with too many unskilled certified people who can't get a job to gain the experience. The companies has to realise this and open their doors to MIDDLED AGED new graduates, who are very keen and able to fill the gaps soon.

derbypicks
derbypicks

I have never believed in the "Superman" role - this is nothing but a term sold by organizations to employees to do more with less. You cannot be strategic and tactical as the same time - you will fail in one or the other, if not both. I have been a service manager in the last five years, and it is a very crucial role - here is why? Working on large IT projects, business tends to put out fancy future plans for new products and their roadmaps. Project Managers focus on "functional" requirements to deliver projects. Developers focus on writing code to provide functionality. The last thing these teams focus on is the service side; operational readiness; non functional requirements, production support hand off, vendor readiness among others. Who is going to fill in these gaps? Service managers. To succeed in this role, you have to have the number one skill (in my opinion): relationship management. You have to build a solid relationship (communication/coordination, second skill)) with these teams, gain trust and influence and drive (rigor, third skill) to plug the above gaps. It is irrelvant if your background is technical or business focued, having a basic understanding of the business and technology, and leaning/ensuring SMEs do their job, you will succeed.

Menopausal
Menopausal

Cybershooter, let's hope your wisdom percolates into the heads of the current decision makers. I say that as a person with an MBA and six lower-level IT certs (compTIA A+, Net+, Security+, etc.) and a background in corporate communication. ;-)

spdragoo
spdragoo

Although it's a little lean on details, it's not saying that there's a lack of IT skills (i.e. knowing how to use the programs & hardware), but a lack of knowing how to use those skills to provide service to your customers. And let's face it: aside from maybe the general non-major classes we took, CIS degrees don't usually include courses in how to interact with people, let alone more in-depth customer service skills. Sure, we can learn to be "ninja coders", but programming classes don't teach you how to soothe a customer that's spent 30 minutes on hold waiting for assistance because "Program X" isn't working & they need the report it generates in 2 hours.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

A Post Grad Degree to fill this gap. Maybe it's just me but the entire thing sounded like a Uni trying to sell a Degree to some people who should know better. Sure the Schools want money from Fee Paying Students but I seriously doubt that any Post Grad Degree is required in something like this but I personally wouldn't be surprised to see a [i]Doctor of IT Service Management[/i] which to me at least sounds about as useful as [b]Teats on a [i]Dairy[/i] Bull.[/b] ;) Col

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