How ITSM Principles Apply to Running a Business

I have always been a big believer in IT Service Management; one could say it’s in my DNA.

I was first exposed to ITSM in May of 1980. That is when I attended my first Change Management meeting. What impressed me was the emphasis placed on ensuring that there’s was no disruption to IT services, in essence, the concern for the customer. I was hooked.

I spent the first 15 years of my career on the front line of ITSM as a Field Engineer then as a Customer Services Manager. I saw first hand the importance of Incident Management to customer satisfaction. I saw how Configuration Management was critical to solving incidents and getting to the root cause of problems. In the case of Change Management, I saw how it helped prevent incidents from occurring in the first place.

When my career shifted from a technical to management focus I became more intimate with the Customer Facing Processes, such as Service Level Management, Availability Management and Service Request Management. However, I never lost sight of how important the foundational processes of Incident, Problem, Change, Configuration and Release Management were to keeping the customer happy.

Yes, it is important to have a SLA or a Service Catalog place, but an SLA or a Service Catalog, without the supporting processes, is impossible to manage and support. In the mid 90′s I took what I had learned from my years in customer service and applied it to consulting on Enterprise Systems Management and IT Service Management.

Perhaps the most important thing learned as a consultant was the similarities between IT organizations, even though most of my clients were adamant that they were very different from the rest. Yes, each were unique based on their corporate culture, or due to the industry they were in, but frankly, an incident is an incident, a change is a change, and each of my clients existed to support their business partners, regardless what that business was.  It is the similarities between IT organizations that allow  “Best Practices” like ITIL to exist in the first place.

I strongly believe that… “Best practices, by their nature, cannot be implemented. They are devoid of corporate culture and the unique requirements of an IT organization.  A skillful practitioner must meld best practices and organizational requirements into a successful implementation of IT Service Management”.

OK, so what does this have to do with applying ITSM principles to running a business?

In 1999, along with my partner Karl Bietsch, we co-founded Consulting-Portal and now rebranded to Navvia. Our initial strategy was to develop an ITSM portal to provide help and guidance to companies looking to implement Service Management.

We developed a prototype of “the portal”, however, we ran out of cash before we were able to bring it to market. In order to keep the company going we shifted gears and focused on delivering ITSM consulting services.

While Karl focused on business development I concentrated on Service Delivery and the general management of the business. Together, over the next 13 years, we grew the company into a successful ITSM consulting boutique, but we never lost sight of our initial strategy, but more on that later.

It wasn’t apparent to me at first, perhaps because ITSM was in my blood, but we were also applying ITSM principles to how we built and ran the business.

To use ITIL V3 terms, our initial focus was in Service Design and Service Operation.

As a consulting company we first needed services to deliver. Through the Service Design processes of Service Catalog Management, Service Level Management and Capacity Management we were able to describe our services and develop an approach for their delivery. This included marketing materials, an engagement guide, sample deliverables and templates for project plans and “statements of work”.  Within our service catalog we also had pricing guidelines and information on service levels.

From a Service Operation perspective we were initially focused on Request Fulfillment and the provisioning of services to our clients. This included the development of engagement guidelines and all the operational processes required to deliver services and to manage the business. As the business grew we formalized how we dealt with service delivery “incidents” and also implemented post engagement reviews so that we could get to the root cause of delivery problems.

As our company matured we formalized our Continual Service Improvement processes while simultaneously developing and transitioning new services into our Service Catalog.  And within a few years we had a very robust catalog of offerings along with the software and systems to ensure we could support our clients in a consistent and high quality manner. We even used process design to drive the selection and the tailoring of our Professional Services Automation software.

We were also at a maturity level were we could focus more on Service Strategy as opposed to just “running the business”.

It was through the strategy work that we decided the time was right to revisit our initial “Consulting-Portal” idea, but with a twist. We decided to initially launch the “portal” as an internal tool to make our own consultants more productive through the automation of our consulting methodology. Once we proved the concept internally we would then launch the portal, or Navvia, as it’s now known, as an external offering.

What was interesting about embarking on the Navvia project was that it too followed the ITIL Lifecycle model.

We started with a strategy for the product, defined the service offering, transitioned it into production and created operational processes to support the software while simultaneously improving the product based on user feedback and business intelligence.

In 2007 we launched ITOptimizer, now called NAVVIA, internally and realized a dramatic productivity improvement.

Consultants no longer started an engagement using materials (word docs, power points, Visio docs…) from a previous project, but we’re able to load up-to-date templates from our repository (can you say CMDB or Knowledge Management) into a process modeler, then use the modeler to tailor the materials to a clients specific needs.  The tool then created standard and consistent output that became the project deliverables.

For the next year we continuously improved the product with feedback from our consultants who were using it on real life consulting engagements.

In December of 2008 we felt we were ready and launched ITOptimizer as a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering.  The launch not only included having the product ready but other aspects of the service design including a marketing website, a support portal, sales & marketing collateral, service level agreements, pricing as well as various procedures and process to support our clients.

Since we formally launched ITOptimizer we have released 5 major versions of the software as well as numerous minor updates.  We are pleased to report that as of October 2011 we have deployed ITOptimizer to just over 100 IT Organizations across 5 countries and 3 continents.

By staying true to the principles of ITSM we not only remain in business 13 years later, but we were able to realize the initial vision of our company – the development of our Consulting-Portal, or as we call it now, ITOptimizer.

What I find really exciting about applying ITSM principles to the business is that it works on so many levels:

  • From a macro level It helped us create and build a company where none existed and to take the company into new and exciting directions
  • From a micro perspective, ITSM principles were instrumental in helping us develop and rollout new services
  • From an operational perspective each and every service we deploy, be it a consulting offering or our ITOptimizer software product, goes through multiple passes of the Service Lifecycle in order to improve and enhance its capabilities

But the story doesn’t end here. We continue to apply the ITSM Lifecycle principles to our company.

Our Service Strategy is mapped out for the next three years and we envision taking the ITOptimizer product into new and exciting areas.

We also remain committed to applying the best practices of Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and CSI to everything we do, both on the macro and micro level.

So how does ITSM principles apply to running a business?  Well, I believe I bring a unique perspective to the conversation.

I’ve used service management processes in the field to fix broken hardware.  As a Customer Service manger I used ITSM to enhance customer satisfaction.  As a consultant I helped others take advantage of ITSM in their own companies.  As a business owner my team and I built a company from the ground up and transitioned that company from a pure consulting firm into a software and services company.

Take it from someone who has ITSM in his blood.  These principles can be applied at every level of the business, and when done right, can help you realize your dreams.

It definitely helped me realize mine!

David Mainville

David Mainville


David Mainville, CEO and co-founder of Navvia, is a passionate advocate of Service Management and a frequent presenter, blogger and well known member of the ITSM community. With over 35 years of experience, David has held progressively senior technical and management roles allowing him to "connect the dots" between the Business and IT. At Navvia, David leads the charge to bring innovative ITSM solutions to market focusing on Product Development, Marketing and Operations.