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The opportunity they have to change outdated perceptions of IT's role in business were demonstrated by an e-skills UK report at the end of last year, which suggested that service management skills will be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such a focus on the IT service managers' role, it's concerning that awareness of their function and duties is low and outdated.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.
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.
Kevin Streater is executive director, employer engagement for the IT and telecoms industry at the Open University.