How ITIL 4 can help you build a strategy to adapt and thrive in turbulent times

Sponsored Any organisation still standing after the last 18 months can reasonably say it has coped with change. But not all can say they’re thriving through these changes and ready for whatever the future brings. Many are surviving – simply hanging on.

The real difference between the organisations that survive and those that thrive, is that the former grit their teeth and react to change and uncertainty, while the latter put strategies in place to adapt to and drive change and innovative ideas, benefiting customers, employees and other stakeholders in the process.

ITIL® 4, the latest revision of the best practice framework for service management from AXELOS, is designed to equip technology leaders and practitioners with the skills to adapt to change. On one level, this means explicitly cementing change-focused methodologies into the core of the ITIL 4 certifications, such as DevOps, Agile and value-stream mapping.

But it also means helping leaders and other professionals develop a broader strategic view of what they and their organisation do, both from an internal operations perspective and in terms of how they deliver value to their customers, employees and other stakeholders, right along the service value chain (which visually shows how our organisation operates).

While this broader strategic focus applies across the entire ITIL 4 syllabus, it is at the heart of the new ITIL 4 Leader: Digital and IT Strategy core guidance and training course, co-authored by Erika Flora, president and CEO of Beyond20, a digital transformation consultancy.

The Digital and IT Strategy publication is aimed at professionals – in IT but not exclusively – who need to align digital business strategy and IT strategy, and to “ensure short-term results while planning for long-term viability.” This mission is particularly pertinent at a time when organisations are experiencing – and in some cases, enduring – seismic change, whether that’s organisational upheaval and a switch to an omnichannel customer experience delivery due to the pandemic or broader technology threats and opportunities, such as AI or the shift to cloud.

“We [AXELOS and the authoring team] wrote the publication to help organisations figure out ‘how do we affect change?’” Flora explains. “How do we get that change to last? How do we pivot? How do we remain relevant? All those things leaders are struggling with.”

As leaders, we can better anticipate, respond and lead our organisations through these rapid, seismic changes with a few, simple and effective manoeuvres.

It Starts with Defining and Communicating Your Vision

To achieve the above transformation, the organisation must have a vision. Full stop. Many existing and aspiring leaders respond to this with, “Well I’m a leader, vision and strategy is what I do.”

Great! But your vision is meaningless if it’s not well defined and compelling or if no one outside the C-Suite knows what it is or how it should guide their actions.

Over the course of researching the Digital and IT Strategy guidance, and on the back of more than 15 years of consulting, Flora has learned many leaders lack the ability to or interest in developing and articulating what they’re doing and why: “It’s not rocket science, but it requires focus and it’s not something we take the time to do.”

She says, “It is very rare that I go into a customer site, ask, ‘What is your vision?’ aAnd everybody knows.” Rarer still are organisations in which everyone knows the vision and can articulate what it means for them in terms of what they individually need to achieve. Flora says only a few customers stand out in her mind over 15-plus years of consulting for having reached that level of maturity before Beyond20 walked in the door.

More typically, organisations will have a business strategy (which should contain a clear vision), and “they might hire a Chief Digital Officer, who creates a digital strategy. And then they might have a separate IT strategy.”

But, she continues, “The really great organisations that go through digital transformation and come out stronger and better are the ones that look at all of those disparate strategies and use them to inform the overarching strategy at the organisational level.”

The Digital and IT Strategy guidance has a strong focus on techniques to help organisations articulate their vision, and help leaders develop a baseline to understand where they are, and how to set measurable objectives to begin moving to where they want to be. And it helps them understand their progress and keep up that momentum once they’ve met the original goal. Because there is no status quo anymore.

The essential starting point, says Flora, is “You have to get leadership physically or virtually to the same table, and everyone has to agree that this is our vision, this is what we’re trying to achieve.’ Otherwise, you have people rowing in a boat in five different directions.”

“One of the things we talk about in the Digital and IT Strategy book is that it’s not up to one magical, messianic person to make these calls,” Flora adds. “If you’re really going to change an organisation, it takes an army of people; it takes a team of leaders at the top saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this – we have to if we’re going to survive and thrive as an organisation. And then we’re going to enlist the help of all of our people.’”

While this can certainly be done independently, Flora notes, “The value of working with an outside organisation and outside facilitator is that they can ask provocative questions. I can often push organisations to think about things differently. But at the end of the day, you can’t outsource your strategy, you have to do it yourself.”

But even if the organisation succeeds in firing up its staff in this way, this will count for nothing, says Flora, if they neglect how this impacts other stakeholders and how to turn strategy into action. This ties into the broader ITIL 4 focus on realising value through value co-creation, not simply defining a series of processes and service levels.

Not just Vision, but Listening

“You must have a foundation of operational excellence to be able to support a compelling vision, but we can’t focus on that operational excellence alone. We have to be relevant to our customers, relevant to the marketplace. And we have to listen to our customers.”

For example, an organisation might have embraced DevOps, thereby achieving multiple releases to improve its online buying experience for its customers, but this will count for nothing if the team is building the wrong features or functionality – things our customers don’t want or need. As customers’ needs change, we must understand what those trends look like.

It’s a question of starting from the outside and working in, Flora says. “If we start by creating IT-enabled products and services without truly understanding our customers, it also tends to create a bad customer experience because we’re making assumptions about our customers rather than asking them.”

She cites the example of the University of South Carolina, which mapped out its on-boarding procedures, and found it took new staffers 32 days and 100 steps simply to register for employee benefits.

“They then asked, how do we want to work as an organisation? Are there activities we can pull out? And they put metrics to it.” This brought the number of steps down to 56, and the number of days down to 20, saving the organisation over 1,000 staff hours and eliminating 3,000 pages of paper.

This is where leaders must strike the balance between focusing on particular technologies and methodologies and, again, looking at the big picture. Value-stream mapping, for example, might help an organisation understand how to improve on-boarding for new employees or customers. But it also has to be looked at in terms of a broader customer journey that takes into account our ongoing services, for example.

And that ability to step back and see things in the round is essential, because any organisational change process is going to get tough. Flora cites the Satir Change Model, when she explains that whatever change you’re embarking on, at some point it might feel things are getting worse. (According to the Model developed by Virginia Satir, the pioneering family therapist, we move through four stages as we cope with unexpected or significant change: Late Status Quo, Chaos, Practice and Integration, and New Status Quo.)

“So, as leaders we have to both prepare people for the change and be prepared for the change ourselves, because it’s hard. And usually when we’re down in the Chaos, just starting to make progress, that’s where organisations give up and say, ‘it’s not worth it. Let’s go back to the way things used to be.’”

At this point, it’s useful to remember that many leaders and organisations have endured and overcome similar challenges. Which is precisely what ITIL 4 documents, says Flora, so organisations don’t have to learn these hard lessons over and over again themselves.

“Instead of wasting a bunch of time and energy and money we can turn to books like Digital and IT Strategy, learn from them, and figure out what’s going to help our organisation.”

Digital and IT Strategy, when paired with the ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan, and Improve certification and publication, can not only help us lead our organisations more effectively, but also equip those around us with the tools to execute our vision and strategy and continue to improve how our organisation works.

Discover how you can future-proof your organisation with ITIL 4 today

This article is sponsored by Axelos.