The IT department of any organisation has traditionally operated in a silo, viewed as a cost centre rather than a driver of value, and not seen as a customer-facing activity of the business.

However, as IT has become increasingly important for the daily operations for several of the most fundamental aspects of business, including communications, this line has begun to blur. The reality is that the business is the customer of IT, and IT service management (ITSM) is thus vital for improving business effectiveness, efficiency and profitability.

While the role of IT has changed, perceptions have not, and those in charge of managing IT services are often positioned several tiers down in the organisational hierarchy and generally viewed as part of operations.

This causes several challenges, not least of which is the fact that IT is not made up solely of operations, but of many different functions that need to work in harmony in delivering IT services. In order for IT to move from a cost centre to a driver of value, it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to appoint a service management officer (SMO) to take full ownership of the Service Management role, and to position this role correctly to enable the SMO to perform in a cross-functional capacity across the entire IT department to manage the delivery of IT service.

The role of the SMO
A SMO is generally mandated with ensuring that the IT department meets the requirements of the service catalogue, service-level agreements (SLA), and the service portfolio, and can deliver continual service improvement.

They are the owners of the processes, procedures and policies surrounding Service Management activities, which are cross-functional across all areas of the IT department. The SMO role is necessary for the development of a service strategy and culture, which in turn helps to ensure that IT strategy meets the requirements of the business strategy.

Without this, IT will continue to be seen as a pure cost to the organisation, whereas if IT can contribute towards achieving business strategy, it will be able to deliver increased value.

Without an accountable person responsible for service management, this function will continue to be fulfilled on an ad hoc basis and by employees lower down in the organisation. This ultimately delivers very little value and can never ensure that services are continually improved, since it perpetuates the silo model that IT has always been.

In today’s world, service management is very similar to human resources (HR) and finance, in that it cannot operate in a silo but rather across the organisation.

The SMO is also critical to drive good corporate governance, since IT forms such a significant part of the majority of businesses, which makes IT governance an important component of overall business governance. As part of achieving IT governance, Service Management must be able to report on incidents, security problems, resolutions and so on, in order to measure progress against IT governance objectives. If the role of Service Management is not cross-functional, this reporting will be ineffective.

The importance of IT to business
Without IT, many businesses cannot function effectively, and as such the business has become the customer of the IT department. However, IT has also begun to touch end user customers directly as well. Take for example a bank’s ATM. This is the domain of the IT department, but if it is not working, the end user customer is affected. Similarly e-commerce sites rely on IT to service their customers.

Service Management therefore is also highly important to customer service, both internally and externally, which in turn is vital in building a solid brand and reputation.

Happy customers will return and create more business, while dissatisfied ones look elsewhere and can, in this social media orientated world, cause a lot of damage to the company’s reputation. Effective service management ensures that if mistakes are made, the process of continual service improvement is in effect to correct the problems and ensure that they do not happen again.

Positioning of the SMO is critical
While the need for a SMO may be recognised, one of the biggest challenges experienced by those in a similar role is organisational positioning. If the Service Management function falls as a subordinate to operations, applications, networking, technology and architecture, the SMO will not have the authority required to make the necessary changes to the service strategy across the various functions of IT.

Without the support of top level executives, the SMO will only be able to perform their function in an ad hoc manner, and generally only within the silo they reside in, so any changes end up localised, failing to add value across the greater IT organisation.

The SMO is accountable for driving service strategy across the entire IT function. The organisational positioning of the role needs to reflect this, in order to give them the authority to make decisions across the various areas of IT, in order to execute a comprehensive service strategy that will add value to the business. The SMO thus needs to be a member of the executive leadership, uniquely accountable for driving service strategy and continual service improvement not only within operations, but across the IT department.

Before you appoint an SMO, consult the experts
Integrating the role of SMO into any organisation first requires that the job itself be clearly defined. The structure of the business needs to be examined, and an understanding gained on how this role will affect the organisational matrix.

Service Management experts can assist organisations to understand what the role should entail, the key performance indicators, activities and responsibilities, where it should be positioned within their organisation, and what similar companies are doing in this regard. Consulting with skilled and experienced Service Management partners can help organisations to ensure that the role of SMO is positioned correctly to deliver maximum value through continual service improvement.

Ultimately, the consequences of IT failing to work effectively can be disastrous to any organisation, causing loss of productivity, loss of revenue and even lost data, which is the lifeblood of the modern business. Business needs to understand the value that IT delivers, and a culture of Service Management needs to become pervasive across the organisation. Service management cannot be effective if it resides within one of the silos of IT, but needs to be positioned alongside it and work across all areas of the IT department. A SMO, correctly positioned with the right authority within a business, has become a critical role in not only ensuring effective IT service, but also effective customer service.