The Myth of the IT Service Management Upgrade

By Brian Shealey

In the IT Service Management space, it seems as though organizations are on a continual quest to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of their IT service management platform. And, like everything in life, newer is always “better,” right? Well… it depends!

An important question to this organizational pattern of perpetually upgrading that rarely gets answered is “Why are you upgrading?” What’s the purpose of upgrading today to version 7.x, when version 8, 9 or 10 will be released in the next six months? You know that the next version released will include even more feature functionality than is available today. So, if you are upgrading your ITSM platform to the “latest and greatest” version, you will not achieve a final state of “upgraded,” but instead you will be doing the next project in the life cycle of the system. There is no perfection in the world of IT service management tools. It is a myth!

Contradictions of Intent

If you actually pose the question “Why are you upgrading?” to an organization preparing for, or in the throes of an upgrade, the responses will vary. Many organizations will say, “We are adopting ITIL as a strategy and need an ITIL-aligned toolset.” Sometimes, you may hear, “We need to be more out-of-the-box because it is painful to move our customizations to the new versions when we have to upgrade.” And then, there’s my favorite: “Our vendor doesn’t support our version because it is too old.”

I know there are many other reasons, but the vast majority of reasons customers give for upgrading fall within those three categories. The real underlying question that is relevant to a successful upgrade is: “What is the business benefit of the upgrade?”

In other words, does this upgrade help us sell more widgets as a company, deliver our services better, or support our products better? In some cases it may, but I think to stop and ask this question along the way is done less often than you would think by IT organizations.

I admit—some upgrades do fix bugs and/or enhance functionality, making the organization more efficient through a better-performing toolset, alignment to a need, etc. From my experience, most organizations are continuing the path of upgrading with the hopes that the latest version/upgrade will fix all of the issues (perceived and otherwise) with their ITSM platform. Rarely do we see organizations stop and ask, “What is the business benefit of this upgrade?”.

Adopting ITIL Aligned Tool Set

ITIL is designed as a framework for aligning IT with the business. Therefore, an upgrade to “align with ITIL” doesn’t make sense. According to ITIL principles, the goal of an upgrade of any system should be to make the business more efficient. Upgrading for the sake of ITIL alignment is a contradiction in itself.

Need a More Out-Of-The-Box Solution

In the premise “We are too customized, and upgrades are painful,” there is also some inherent contradiction. If you are only upgrading to out-of-the-box ITSM because upgrades are perceived as painful. I would argue that the upgrade to ITSM definitely doesn’t solve this issue. ITSM tools are very complex. Upgrading from one version to the next, regardless of vendor, is often just as painful, if not more so, than upgrading a custom application that was aligned to the company’s needs from its inception. You not only have to deal with new tools, but also with major process changes from the way workflows were handled in the custom tool. With out-of-the-box ITSM apps, workflows are designed generically, with no thought of your company’s needs. Your processes must be changed to fit the vendor’s out–of-box ITSM platform workflows, or you are stuck customizing the new application, defeating the purpose of trying to be out-of-the-box. It’s a contradiction in intent.

The reality, in my humble opinion, is that this is actually driven by the ITSM vendor. With the right marketing and positioning of these out-of-the-box ITSM tools, they can appear to be a much better option to the company than the old, custom ITSM application.

Unsupported or Old Version Reason

This common reason for an upgrade has to do with supported versions of products. If a vendor discontinues support for specific versions of their software, and your organization sees the risk as too great to have an unsupported version of the ITSM tool, then you may be forced to upgrade. However, it’s important to really understand what you are getting.

For instance, if you upgrade the core component of your ITSM tool, and it creates more issues from a management, administration and cost standpoint than the unsupported old version, you may want to reconsider the upgrade. It is usually a smart decision to look around once in awhile to see what others are doing. Maybe look at alternatives to the upgrade, third-party support or another toolset altogether. It never hurts to take time and gain perspective prior to making decisions that are potentially very costly. In some cases, the cost of an upgrade may equal the cost of a complete replacement of the current tool set.

The Reality of the Upgrade…Happiness Is Not a Destination, and Perfection Does Not Exist

Here is the reality of an ITSM upgrade: An organization using an ITSM system is never going to be upgraded, or current, enough. Vendors will continue to put out new versions of their products to solve issues, fix problems, be more competitive, or just make their product “better.” However, is that version of better actually better for you? That is always an important question to ask.

Specifically, I believe that what’s best for Company A is: What is best for Company A.

Pardon the Yogi Berra-ism, but what I mean is this: Every organization has its own set of unique challenges. There are costs to those challenges, and problems to be solved specific to that organization. An upgrade is a concept that is driven into the mind of IT managers by their ITSM vendors—as a “must have” for whatever product they are using in pursuit of IT service management perfection.

There is no such thing as perfection in IT service management. Not in processes, not in technologies and certainly not in people. If you can invest in tools that allow you to continue improving your business and better deliver services both internally and externally, you are on the right track. A “good” upgrade is one that solves challenges in a cost-effective way and helps improve the business of the organization.

A friend of mine would always say, “Happiness is not a destination.” I think that certainly applies in the world of managing and maintaining ITSM platforms.

 

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