What the Shift from ITSM to ESM Means for IT Pros


For nearly 40 years, IT service management (ITSM) has shielded end users from the complexities of building, maintaining, and evolving computer systems. Your non-IT co-workers might take it for granted that they have working laptops and networks that fulfill their needs with few hiccups. But that is changing, with Enterprise Service Management (ESM).

ITSM—the processes, tools, and people that deliver internal services to an organization—has become so successful that it’s spilling outside of IT. This new phenomenon, called Enterprise Service Management (ESM), is about applying ITSM concepts to the rest of the organization to offer measurable, improvable, SLA-based services.

For IT pros, this is among the most profound shifts—and biggest opportunities—since ITSM debuted in the 1980s. It will change the way IT interacts with other departments in an organization. My goal here is to define the technology behind ESM, show how it fits into other departments, and illustrate how ESM will benefit organizations and your career.

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System of Record v. System of Engagement

Over the last decade, the rise of SaaS platforms has made IT critical to every department. HR, marketing, finance, sales, product, operations, etc. would be helpless without their platforms. Like IT, these departments often provide services to each other, and their workflows are increasingly cross-departmental. But they are not necessarily equipped to provide services to each other digitally.

B2B software platforms fall into two broad categories: systems of record and systems of engagement. Systems of record hold data and often bill themselves as a “central source of truth.” They include platforms like Workday, NetSuite, and Salesforce. In contrast, systems of engagement facilitate and measure interactions between parties. They include G Suite, Bill.com, HubSpot, etc. ITSM platforms are also systems of engagement.

Systems of record sometimes have a corresponding system of engagement, but it’s often a poor fit. For example, let’s say you email Jim in HR to find out how many vacation days you have left in 2020. Jim checks his system of record and uses email, the system of engagement, to send the answer to you. There’s no oversight nor any measurement of the quality of service Jim provides. How soon should you expect a response? What if Jim is on vacation, and you don’t hear anything for seven days?

The same dilemma arises if you ask finance about your reimbursement on expenses or contact facilities about getting access to Building C. They have a system of record for handling your request, but their systems of engagement—emails, phones, and instant messengers—aren’t ideal for service requests. They are not designed to track service, ensure accountability, or measure resolution time.

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Enter ESM

Enterprise Service Management (ESM) is about using ITSM as the system of engagement for myriad systems of record. When an end user needs service, there is an opportunity to facilitate, track, and measure the process. And as IT teams know, ITSM platforms are suited perfectly for that job.

Let’s take the case of you contacting Jim in HR about vacation days. What if, instead of sending an email, you submitted a service ticket, just like an IT end user would?

When a ticket arrives in the ESM system, it’s timestamped. Jim knows how soon a response is expected based on SLAs. He can compare it to other tickets in order to best prioritize incidents and deploy HR’s resources wisely. If Jim happens to be out of office, his team members in HR use the same ESM. They will know to step in.

Every touch in that process is recorded in the ESM platform so that Jim’s department can find patterns. Which tickets are most common? How quickly does HR resolve them? What’s worth automating? Now imagine that finance, marketing, and other departments are all using that ESM platform for their own purposes. What was once an IT-only system becomes an enterprise-wide platform.

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The Deeper Benefits of ESM

Measurability and visibility are good outcomes. ITSM systems repurposed for ESM are more than capable of achieving those. But it’s worth asking: what value can IT pros, end users, and the whole organization expect to gain from ESM?

First, ESM can significantly improve employee experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to submit requests through one portal without needing to know who’s in charge of the HR system, logistics data, or kitchen maintenance? When there’s one place to send requests, employees can get their needs met with less effort and stress.

Second, ESM minimizes uncertainty. The worst thing about requesting service is not knowing if anyone is paying attention or responding. Without a system of engagement, that’s the norm. You send an email to a random address and hope someone receives it. An ESM platform enables end users to check on the status of their request or at least see what the SLA is for their incident.

Third, ESM can reveal where to improve and automate. How adept is finance at responding to payroll requests? How well does facilities handle maintenance requests? ESM gathers the data to answer such questions. If a process takes 65 minutes to complete, and HR gets 1,000 such requests a month, it’s probably worth automating. When Jim in HR goes to his leadership asking for the budget to automate that process, he’ll have the data to make a strong case.

Fourth, ESM can mitigate crises. Systems and processes do break down. Picture a scenario where a glitch in the payroll software shortchanges employees $200 this pay period. No one is happy when their paycheck gets messed with. How soon would finance realize there’s a mini crisis? Not soon at all if employees are reaching out in disparate email threads and instant messages. And not soon if the usual payroll contact is on vacation or at a conference. But if there’s an ESM system in place, that issue is going to escalate immediately and get solved.

ESM Is Already Happening

My company SysAid’s data suggests that more than half the organizations that have an ITSM system already use it outside IT. The IT pros that haven’t delved into ESM may not realize just how applicable ITSM is to other departments.

This is a massive opportunity for IT departments to demonstrate their value and earn a bigger seat at the table. Again, most departments are not equipped to manage service requests like an IT department. This is a chance for IT leaders to say, hey, we can digitize those service requests that have been keeping your teammates bogged down in their inboxes. Put differently, ESM is an avenue for IT to become the driving force behind digital transformation.

If you’re in IT, you might feel underappreciated at times. You take the blame for what’s broken but rarely get credit for what’s working. It’s time to change that.

To start, pick your favorite department, gather them in a room, and show them how you could make their work better. And do it. That, more than anything else, will demystify ESM for your organization.

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