Service delivery is when an organization or service provider offers users access to IT services, including applications, data storage and other business resources. IT service delivery is different from IT service management (ITSM) as it’s customer facing, and typically relies on service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure customers are receiving a high level of service. The two terms are often used interchangeably, however. And while they should be understood as separate disciplines within an IT organization, ideally these processes would be well integrated to help improve mean time to detection and repair, as well as reduce the number of tickets coming into IT, ultimately lowering IT costs.
Service delivery aims to weigh and justify the cost of IT services against the benefits they provide. If IT provides a service to the business (or contracts with an outside IT service provider for that service), the business generally requires some guarantee that the service will perform well, and deliver at the level identified and formalized by the corresponding SLAs. IT departments that fail to meet an SLA will commonly face financial and reputational penalties.
In this article, we’ll explore how service delivery is evolving, the challenges it may present, and how your business can get started with the discipline.
Modern Service Delivery
Modern service delivery is a system that can provide enhanced visibility into the health of an organization’s IT services, thus improving related metrics. Full-stack visibility into IT operations includes the entirety of the enterprise’s infrastructure, from on-premises servers and network hardware to cloud-based services, online storage and virtualized applications. Modern IT service delivery also requires enhanced application performance monitoring (APM), cloud infrastructure monitoring and machine learning driven analysis of all event, metric, trace and log data from a centralized console to optimize and improve performance, system health and speed of service resolution.
One of the major goals of modern IT service delivery is continual service improvement, and making the IT function more proactive and predictive. Thus, well-defined KPIs are critical, and give business the ability to tie throughput, service quality and stability to business results such as profitability, productivity and user satisfaction. Enterprises that use a modern IT service delivery methodology with associated KPIs are more efficient and faster at remediating offline services while communicating their impact on the business.
Examples of Service Delivery
An IT service is any technology that provides benefits to its end users, and IT service delivery relates to the effective, high-quality provision of these services. In most organizations, these services are specified in an IT service catalog, which outlines the services available to end users in a well-organized, curated fashion.
Common examples of IT service delivery might include:
- Provision of accounts (e.g., email, storage) for new users.
- Credential resets, including password resets.
- Requests for new hardware, like a laptop or phone.
- Repair requests for various end-user equipment (such as a jammed printer).
- Implementation of a new software or cloud service package in response to user needs.
- Requests for additional storage resources, either on premises or in the cloud.
- Requests to initiate cloud-based computing services.
The day-to-day technical tasks of maintaining hardware, software, cloud services and the overall network — and ensuring that everything is stable and operating at a high level of performance — might not appear in a service catalog, however this would still fall under the purview of IT service delivery.
IT service delivery includes day-to-day repairs of printers, monitors and other office equipment
Service Delivery Frameworks
An IT service delivery framework (SDF) is a set of guidelines, standards and procedures used to evaluate, develop, deploy, manage and retire IT services to the enterprise. Essentially, the IT service delivery framework specifies the way your IT function works from day to day to provide services to end users.
More specifically, the IT service delivery framework defines and manages the service catalog, as well as manages the day-to-day of service desk and help desk operations, provides configuration management services, and monitors performance of all hardware, software, and services to ensure that SLAs are being met.
In a very small business, an IT service delivery framework may not be necessary. As the enterprise grows, however, it requires more formality around the distribution of IT services. What’s more, as cloud services have become more prolific, the IT department has increasingly provided more oversight around how these tools are selected, implemented and secured — a task that would be near impossible without a comprehensive services delivery framework. One 2019 report found that the average enterprise was using 1,295 different cloud services.
One of the most notable IT service delivery frameworks is information technology infrastructure library (ITIL), a set of guidelines that define processes and procedures for a wide range of IT activities. Additional ITIL service delivery frameworks include Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT), and Business Process Framework (eTOM). You can explore ITIL, including ITIL v3, in more detail in our primer on ITSM.
A continual service delivery strategy includes service operation, service design and service transition.
The role of the IT Service Delivery Manager
The IT service delivery manager is responsible for overseeing all IT service delivery operations, and the role can fall to any number of positions within the IT function. The primary goal of the IT service delivery manager is to ensure that stakeholders are kept happy by meeting or exceeding stated SLAs. This requires constant attention to performance metrics and other quantitative measurements.
The IT service delivery manager also operates and maintains the service desk, which includes IT service continuity management. They also manage the service catalog, which includes determining which products and services should be added to or removed. Ultimately, the IT service delivery manager makes broad recommendations to the business about resources, tools and funds needed to improve operations across the IT function.
Best Practices for Service Delivery
There are a range of recommended best practices that improve the modern IT service delivery process, including:
- Defining KPIs relevant to your business: This process should be done in collaboration with IT, business management and IT service continuity management to determine what KPIs matter most (i.e. page load speed, network uptime, help desk ticket resolution time, mean time to repair, etc.).
- Developing systems to collect and monitor these KPIs: These are developed preferably through a centralized dashboard that is visible to both IT and management.
- Developing workflows that emphasize meeting and exceeding KPIs: Hold departments and individuals accountable for achieving the required results.
- Reporting KPIs regularly, during daily scrums: These can be done in formal reports to management, and in broader reports to other enterprise stakeholders, ideally with the most current IT infrastructure data available.
- Leading discussions and focus groups to generate ideas about how to improve KPIs when they’re not being met: Identify ways to improve operations, service support, timeliness, optimization, operational level agreements, as well as simplify workflows, or implement new technologies that will lead to tangible business results and better customer experience. Develop root cause procedures for errors and problems through a blameless investigation process and prevent them from recurring.
- Using mobility whenever possible: KPI information should be available on any type of device at any time, including mobile devices, in order to promote a culture that values real-time data availability.
Common IT Service Delivery challenges
IT service delivery is fraught with challenges. Some of the most notable problems include:
- Failure to properly establish KPIs: It’s impossible to optimize a process if you don’t know how well it is performing.
- Failure to align KPIs with business outcomes: There is no point in measuring network reliability if you don’t measure the impact of network outages on the business.
- Failure to communicate KPIs to stakeholders: Too many organizations have access to KPI data but then fail to put that data to effective use. Improving service delivery means that everyone needs to be on the same page.
- Failure to work toward service delivery improvement: IT services may have relevant KPIs, but you also need methodologies to improve processes when KPIs are not being met.
- Failure to focus on success in addition to failure: While organizations tend to focus exclusively on shortfalls, it’s also important to celebrate wins as often as you as you address problems.
How does IT service delivery compare to IT Service Intelligence (ITSI)?
IT Service Intelligence (ITSI) gives an organization many of the tools it needs to ensure high-quality IT service delivery. ITSI provides capabilities that monitor business-critical IT services, keeping a real-time eye on SLAs via a web-based dashboard. By monitoring SLAs in this way, IT professionals can understand the health of software and hardware devices, receive alerts to issues, and undertake root cause analysis to determine why something went wrong. Machine learning and predictive analytics are commonly used in ITSI to improve the quality of analysis and to help prevent issues before they take place.
IT service delivery vs IT Service Management
While the terms IT service delivery and ITSM are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle distinction between the two disciplines.
It is perhaps easiest to think of ITSM as the mechanism by which IT services are provided and, as the name implies, managed. ITSM is a wide-ranging discipline that concerns the selection, design, and operation of IT services, ranging from service desk operations to request fulfillment systems. ITSM underpins the organization’s strategic direction for these services, using a framework like ITIL to implement best practices. Ultimately, ITSM is designed to promote efficient and responsive operations, with automated tools increasingly key to managing service requests. ITSM concerns itself with the productivity of the IT staff and the satisfaction of the organization’s users.
Conversely, IT service delivery is primarily customer facing, concerned mainly with the quality of services delivered, and is more quantitative in nature than ITSM. IT service delivery revolves heavily around monitoring KPIs and ensuring their related SLAs are met, and in that regard, can be considered a subset of ITSM.
Common IT Service Delivery Tools
A variety of tools are available to streamline IT service delivery operations. Many of these tools are also part of the ITSM arsenal and meet the needs of both functions. Commonly used tools include:
- Help desk/service desk tools: These tools provide the basis for managing service requests from end users, handling day-to-day administration for end user support, new equipment requests, ticket management, and service request escalation as needed. They often have built-in KPIs around mean time to resolve (MTTR) incidents, mean first response time, and cost per ticket.
- Service catalog management tools: These tools help the IT team manage the catalog of software and services available to end users as well provide insight into the overall usage levels of each service in the catalog.
- Knowledge base management tools: These tools help organize documentation, FAQs, and other institutional knowledge held by the enterprise with the goal of making it easier to find answers to questions, or help users find solutions by themselves without the need for IT.
- Configuration management tools: These tools are used to configure an enterprise’s various computer systems in a consistent, secure manner. They are used to analyze end user equipment to determine when updates or patches are required and can often be used to update systems via automation.
- Workflow management tools: Workflow management is the process of streamlining business systems. These systems are used to route data and documents appropriately — both within and outside of the enterprise — ensuring that proper procedures are followed and approvals are received at every step.
- Performance management tools: These tools monitor the performance of hardware, software, and external services and are key to helping an enterprise set appropriate KPIs and monitor a wide variety of SLAs.
- Log management tools: These tools help analysts make sense of the often vast and complex sets of logs collected by various devices across the enterprise, improving visibility into operations across the enterprise architecture. Log management tools are vital for improving IT service delivery because they can provide significant insights that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Don’t be tempted by all the software and cloud service tools out there — it’s important to begin with a clear strategic plan designed with business results in mind.
Developing relevant KPIs is step one. What is important to your business? For an online retailer, ensuring website responsiveness, uptime and reliability may be the most critical KPIs. For a manufacturer, ensuring that machine telemetry data is available and able to be processed quickly may be the most important business metric. Establish what information matters, and the acceptable KPI values.
With KPIs in mind, you can build systems to collect the required data for monitoring them. This can be done via IT service delivery tools (outlined above) although you may need to spend time investigating and beta-testing a variety of applications and/or services to find the one(s) that fit best. Ultimately, you’ll need to create a dashboard that offers a real-time look at all KPIs, which is freely accessed by all relevant enterprise stakeholders. KPIs should be reported frequently to management and refined regularly.
Last comes the hardest part: acting upon KPI data. If KPIs are not being met, the organization will need to develop an action plan to correct the issue. Who is accountable for these issues? What workflow changes can you implement to improve the situation? What technologies can help resolve bottlenecks or other problems? The investigation and continuous improvement process is a major part of developing an IT service delivery program that best serves the business needs of the organization.
The Bottom Line: A strong IT service delivery program can drive business results
Monitoring the performance of your IT services is only the beginning. Smart businesses tie IT services to business outcomes through the use of KPIs, which provide visibility into how your IT operations impact revenue, productivity and customer satisfaction. By aligning IT metrics with business goals through an IT service delivery program, you can give a tech-centric organization the means to improve its most critical business outcomes.
What is Splunk?
This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.