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The Service Management Office and ITIL 4

  • Update: 30/08/2021

How mature is the service management office (SMO) concept in 2021 and how can ITIL® 4 give organizations the foundation for an effective SMO?

SMOs – from my experience working with a select group of companies – are either not properly developed or simply don’t exist. And yet this function offers a central point for consistency and governance in organizational best practice – including ITIL.

Historically, in IT service management, organizations and technology tool vendors tended to pick and choose the “easier” bits of ITIL. For example, adopting the workflow elements of a service desk such as logging calls for incidents, service requests, changes or problems.

In the context of ITIL’s lifecycle in v3, that covered about one third of what ITIL was about – and I think we’re still in a hangover phase of that, with organizations shuffling between frameworks including ITIL, DevOps, Agile and approaches based on DevOps and site reliability engineering (SRE) such as the Google or Spotify way.

As the SMO is still new to most organizations, there’s an argument that it could be called something else. With ITIL 4’s focus on value, maybe a more accurate description would be the “service value office”. This, I suggest, could improve leadership support for an approach that transcends management, especially as companies are now expected to provide seamless service experiences to customers, both digitally and otherwise.

Terminology aside, how can ITIL 4 help provide the basis for an SMO?

ITIL 4 and the SMO – an enterprise-wide vision

Once you understand ITIL 4, it’s possible to see its relevance across an entire organization.

Companies offering a “managed service” (which might be, for example, payments processing) often have gaps in their offer that exist between demand/opportunity and a delivered product or service. This is often the result of tribalism and silos caused by different cultures, systems and ways of working.

And this is the problem, I believe, ITIL 4 is trying to solve: how to create value through the different value streams that customers experience with digital organizations.

This has to work at an enterprise level, not just within IT, which is why an SMO exists to see the big picture and ensure everyone else in the organization recognizes their role as part of that.

Making ITIL 4’s Service Value System work 

If ITIL 4 operates enterprise wide, one of the key challenges I’ve observed with organizations deploying the ITIL 4 Service Value System (SVS) is service design.

If done in isolation in the planning stages – without involving service operations and business as usual teams – there’s input for the front end of a service, but none for the delivery end. The result: an inability to deliver on a customer promise.

However, ITIL 4’s Service Design practice insists on having the right people in the room from the outset, but is mindful that there can’t be blockers as the organization still needs to achieve progress.

Insisting that service value is enterprise wide, these concepts bring an organization together; putting people “on the same page” which makes for a successful business.

Embracing ITIL 4’s Service Value System

Many organizations are leaking value but won’t admit it until there’s a big red flag (such as a screaming customer), after which the problem gets attention. However, the remedy is often a quick fix. It’s like a caveman trying to move a block by hand and waving away the person who’s just invented the wheel because they’re too busy moving the block.

Embracing ITIL 4’s SVS is not about a quick fix but transforming the organization as a whole. Having an SMO to instil the importance of this and promote training and development is a step forward. Otherwise, making a commitment to transformation is likely to happen only when there’s sufficient pain across an enterprise.

After many years of seeing waste (time, money, effort) and erosion of human spirit in organizations, I believe people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, feel valued and give value to others. This is why ITIL 4 gives me hope that removing silos and fragmented work will also reduce needless stress.

News by Simon Kent – CEO, Quantum Twenty One

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