Thursday, 25 April 2013

IT Service? Welcome To The Social Sciences

Firstly, I must apologise for being such a diverse soul. There are readers who discovered this blog for postings about IT service management, others were drawn to it because they were interested in musings upon organisational (and other types of) psychology. I've even commented once or twice about social issues such as social luddism and racism which probably attracted others. The most recent posting was related to psychology, but touched upon phenomena currently considered to be at the far edge of the discipline - NDEs.

But buoyed by my recent talk at the Service Desk and IT Show in London (#SITS13) recently, I think it's time to go back to basics, or dare I say - back to ITSM (insert wink emoticon here). Although, with this particular post I'm going to have my cake and eat it; that is ITSM, psychology and sociology are all going to be wrapped up in one post, so it should keep all the diverse followers happy.

It amuses me sometimes to observe the way in which ITSM is treated as self evident truth. I mean the frameworks (e.g. ITIL) and some of the individual concepts (e.g. CMDB, SLA) are often challenged, but the entire ecosystem is very rarely questioned. If the great Thomas Kuhn (philosopher of science, 1922-1996)  were still with us, he'd probably recognise this state of affairs. ITSM is a paradigm.

In a nutshell a paradigm is the prism through which practitioners view their practice. It can become so entrenched that those in the field view the paradigm itself as an immutable truth. Yup, that's ITSM. The good thing is, Kuhn describes the method by which paradigms shift. Sadly I (and I'm sure you) don't have enough time for a detailed explanation, but it surprises many to learn that paradigms and and paradigm shifts are social phenomena.

And talking of social phenomena, the IT service world also happily fits into that category. To be clear here, I am mainly referring to IT service and not IT services - a point stressed by the Noel Bruton at #SITS13. IT service is the human aspect, the point of interaction between service provider and service user. It is service in the sense that most would understand. [Note: an argument could be made that the IT services organisation is also social (well it is; an organisation is a collection of people operating together), but because there's a larger element of tech involved, it gets complicated so I'll save that one for later]

The point is that to understand service, to get to a place where you are pleasing users and customers, it's not enough to listen to the consultants and vendors who are selling frameworks and software and solutions. You need to understand the social. You need to understand the way that people operate and what motivates them - individually and in groups. Mechanistic if-then thinking (which is what our process-centric frameworks are) can successfully be applied to computers and the inanimate, but as the great Immanuel Kant (philosopher, 1724-1804) said, it  can't be applied to humans because they have "human freedom".

This is why the best laid processes of consultants and managers often go astray along with the money you pay them, as I'm sure many of you have experienced. Indeed as industrial disputers are well aware, the easiest way to cripple a company, is to do nothing more than mechanistically follow processes, i.e. work to rule. And that's why I laugh sometimes listening to vendors, consultants and some managers. We fool ourselves into thinking that mechanistic (or cybernetic) processes are the answer, when in fact it's the other stuff that happens in organisations - the chaos - that really gets things done.

This is why IT service needs to be based on a new paradigm, one that reflects the reality of human and social functioning. Modelling the organisation as a mechanism, or the organisation as a system have proven over the last 30 years to be inadequate to the task of delivering great service (not services). Yes I know great things have been achieved by the machine paradigm. But great things were achieved in the stone, bronze, iron and steam ages. Luckily homo sapiens are always keen to seek out the next, better thing. We've tried to put the human and social round peg of service into the square hole of mechanistic process framework for too long. Time now to embrace a fuzzier, chaotic and complex social paradigm of service.

1 comment:

  1. I often think that in the IT world, and I'm not going to single vendors and consultants out, our problem is we remain trapped in a mechanistic world view even when we think we've broken out of it