A humorous take on what you should know about ITSM

Rob England answers questions about his humorous take on service management for IT professionals in his book "Introduction to Real ITSM." England explains that "Real ITSM" is a tongue-in-cheek satirical look at the real-life processes of IT Service Management compared with the "official" defined processes published in authorized books of frameworks, such as "IT Infrastructure Library" (ITIL).

Rob England, IT Skeptic blogger, has offered a satirical outlook on service management for IT professionals in his book Introduction to Real ITSM. We asked England a few questions about the background, topics and ideas outlined in this creative take on how complicated service management processes have become, to give you a feeling of what the book entails. Rob has also provided a collection of excerpts from the book Introduction to Real ITSM for your viewing pleasure.

"Introduction to Real ITSM," is a satirical look at the modern practices of ITSM and ITIL. Why did you approach the topic from this perspective?
Rob England: Frankly, the whole project started out as a practice run for the process of Web-published book-writing. I wanted a book I could write quickly to learn Web publishing. Satire has always appealed, and there is a thread of it that runs through my blog, the IT Skeptic, such as the annual New Year awards. But as I worked on the book, it took on a life of its own and grew into a more substantial body of thought.

Real ITSM became a framework of Real Practice and realitsm emerged as the underlying philosophy. In my book I summarize it this way:

Real ITSM is a Body of Knowledge (BOK). This means Real ITSM collects together all the ideas, good and bad, new and old, as a compendium of knowledge for ITSM practitioners.

Real ITSM is a framework for implementation, which means it represents proven and generally accepted Real ITSM practices.

Real ITSM represents the leading edge in Real ITSM thinking, providing thought leadership to the industry and ensuring that it will remain fresh for years to come.

The fact that there is a fundamental contradiction between these three statements has not escaped us, but it doesn't seem to trouble ITIL so we won't let it distract us either.

What is Real ITSM good for? Through humor we can turn a mirror on our reality. And as one reader put it, Real ITSM "can serve a valuable purpose beyond stress relief as the null hypotheses for best practice". That is, by recording Real Practice we provide yet another benchmark to measure against. And sites can indeed benchmark themselves against Real ITSM on the Real ITSM website. The results might be enlightening as well as amusing.

What exactly is Real ITSM, and what are the biggest differences between Real ITSM and ITIL?
Rob England: Real ITSM is an amalgam of a cynical view of how it is done now, how not to do it, and how to do it so as to optimize the selfish benefits of the participants. Real ITSM is a tongue-in-cheek satirical look at what the real-life processes of IT Service Management might be, as compared to the "official" defined processes published in the authorized books of frameworks like ITIL. To better explain the distinction, let me quote from the book:

ITIL presents "best practice", an idealized model for us all to aspire to. ITIL is all very well for theorists, academics, consultants and IT managers, and all others similarly detached from reality.

Down here in the real world, at the coalface, an entirely different model prevails: Real ITSM, which represents Real Practice.

Real ITSM involves its own lifecycle, activities, roles and metrics, analogous to those of ITIL but entirely different. They differ because, unlike ITIL, they must engage with the real, physical world, populated by "wetware" -- those cussed, unpredictable and generally useless devices known as People.

"Arm wrestle," "firemen" and "superstar" are three of your index topics. How are these associated with Real ITSM?
Rob England: Indexes tend to be such boring parts of a book, so in this book I sparked it up by indexing only the most interesting words and phrases. I think this produced a much more stimulating index than the traditional approach.

Arm wrestle:

Most requests for new services are crushed by Service Demand practices, but at some point customers will become sufficiently irate that they demand new services, and take these demands to the highest levels of the organisation...

One tactic is to kill proposals stone dead. Since most business cases are flimsily constructed speculations, it is equally easy to construct a case which shows a negative return on a project.

However this then degenerates into a political arm wrestle, and IT departments practicing Real ITSM tend not to be well placed politically.

More effective is to demonstrate that the project does not align with strategic direction, especially if it can be shown to compete with funds for an executive's pet project.


Some organisations give high importance to how long IT is going to take to resolve incidents, and they write this into SLAs as a key metric. Usually high priority incidents are to be resolved quickly while lower priority incidents can take progressively longer.

This is akin to firemen promising to extinguish three-alarm fires within ten minutes but a backyard grassfire may take until tomorrow. It is absurd on three levels: extinguishing the fire takes as long as it takes, bigger fires take longer, and that little yard fire won't be so small tomorrow.

While we are on the topic of firemen, it should be noted that firemen spend an awful lot of time polishing the fire engine, rolling and unrolling hoses, and playing cards. Any manager who expects Service Desk and Level One Support people to be always busy ("fully utilised") does not understand what they do. Real Level One Support has plenty of spare capacity.


Research on the number of reference sites whose CIO went to the vendor's world conference at the vendor's expense as a speaker or regularly appeared on speaking tours to warm sunny countries would yield interesting results.

This works particularly well with a CIO about two years from retirement: apply love and glory, and then once they retire employ them on contract to be an overseas superstar keynote speaker at conferences in exotic places.

"Strategic planning is as futile as an umbrella in a cyclone." Why is this statement true concerning ITSM?
Rob England: ITIL V3 has a whole book devoted to Service Strategy. Real ITSM does not fall into this trap. As the book puts it:

The modern world is entirely too dynamic for any sort of medium or long term planning to be worthwhile.

Governments, laws, executives, competitors, technologies, recessions and fads come and go like the weather. As the old military saying goes "No plan survives the first encounter". Real ITSM understands this and prohibits all strategic planning as an irresponsible waste of resources. Better to sail the unpredictable winds of change, as flexible and unencumbered as possible.

What can customers and users do to enhance their ITSM experience?
Rob England: Customers and users are of course entirely incidental to Real ITSM. As we all know, Real ITSM is about enhancing the experience of the providers of IT services. In self-defense, customers and users would be well advised to read this book. That is, the book is aimed both at those who do IT, and those who have IT done to them.

What are the main reasons for the problems and complications associated with ITSM? How can this be fixed?
Rob England: IT, including ITSM, has been ruled by the geeks. Problems and solutions are framed in terms of technology. The great pioneering breakthrough of ITSM, the "paradigm shift", is usually seen as the service-centric approach. But another way to see it is moving the focus to process instead of technology. ITIL is pure process except for the absurd CMDB, a concept that I have regularly attacked and ridiculed on the IT Skeptic site.

The next step in IT's evolution will be to move the focus where it should be, to the people. From the book:

When any idealised model meets People, the laws of logic are suspended, and rationality flies out the window.

When ITSM frameworks go through this realitsm transformation, the output is Real ITSM. Most BOKs are process-centric. Real ITSM is people-centric: it understands that what really happens is dependent on the people, their motivations, culture, personal agendas, fears and desires.

For too long we have given only lip service to the People Process Technology model. People-centric IT will be my central message for 2009, across my IT Skeptic blog, the Real ITSM website, articles, speeches, and a planned book, He Tangata (New Zealand Maori for "The People").

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erin Kelly is an editorial assistant at TechTarget. Erin is a Northeastern coop student who will be working at the company until the end of June. She supports the Data Center and Virtualization and Storage media groups through a variety of editorial duties. Erin studies journalism and writes for the Huntington News, an independent print and online paper produced by Northeastern students. You can contact her at ekelly@techtarget.com.

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