Business Service Management Dos and Don'ts

An experienced practitioner and author recommends BSM best practices and suggests how you can avoid the most common mistakes.

by Linh C. Ho

Although business service management (BSM) is still not a mainstream practice, it has certainly caught on over the last few years as questions have been asked -- and answered -- about its value and viability.

BSM is a category of IT operations management that enables IT to move up the business and management stack by mapping those IT services that support critical business processes (hence BSM), sharing meaningful information with many management layers.

This article provides critical do's and don'ts for BSM, addressing some of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the marketplace. Early adopters of BSM have already achieved significant benefits that are encouraging for the early-majority pragmatists and late-majority conservatives.

Having been in this business since BSM's conceptualization and worked at a pure-play BSM technology vendor, I've gathered these do's and don'ts from talking to enterprise customers and service management practitioners over the years -- and around the world.

If you do nothing else, seek out those established BSM references!

DO: Take a Top-down Approach

When implementing BSM, consider critical business needs. Identify one or two critical business process(es) or one that causes current pain with your business counterparts. Understand the performance needs of these processes and of the underlying services and technologies supporting these processes. Capture those requirements and map them into your BSM solution.

Why: Using a top-down approach gets IT to engage with the business from the beginning. This helps everyone involved to be on the same page. During this strategic planning phase, it is critical for IT to balance business needs vs. client demand and understand the impact any new services introduced may have on IT as well as on the business.

DON'T: Get confused

There are many definitions for BSM in the market place. Some include Configuration Management Data Bases (CMDBs) in BSM; others include service catalogs and some everything under the sun in their BSM definition. Don't get confused. Many enterprises, from the early adopters to existing practitioners of BSM, have achieved economic success without a commercial CMDB or a service catalog. Homegrown or commercial CMDBs add value to a BSM solution but are not a prerequisite.

Some enterprises have used BSM to create a type of CMDB that only holds critical, business-relevant configuration items (CIs) instead of canvassing the enterprise with all types of CIs that may or may not add value to the business.

Why: It is too easy to get confused with a market segment crowded with players from service catalog vendors to automated discovery to self-learning technologies, all touting a BSM message. The key is the ability to map critical business processes to the supporting services and technology components, so as to understand the relationships and business impact of various components.

Add to this the ability to tailor dashboards/reports that are fit for purpose and useful to the targeted business and IT users. Lastly, you must be able to display meaningful, business-relevant metrics. In short, BSM is the business layer that should sit on top of an IT service management environment.

DO: Measure and Report

Ongoing measurement and reporting are critical in any service management activity to capture performance metrics. However, measuring and reporting on relevant metrics targeted at the recipient is also key.

Why: Measurement and reporting provides a mechanism to:

  • Set a baseline quality levels
  • Capture historical data for trend analysis
  • Gain visibility into performance at any given moment and where it impacts the business
  • Communicate (via reports) with the business to prove IT's value

DON'T: Replace existing systems-monitoring products

Business service management does not replace infrastructure products. BSM is a complement to these solutions by correlating these data feeds and others (such as service desk data and business data) so users can make sense of them.

Why: BSM is a way to help IT move up the maturity and management stack -- towards the business and executive level. Traditional network and server monitoring products are no longer adequate for multi-million/billion-dollar companies. The need for IT to be aligned with the business is ever more important. IT enables critical business processes, and for some, IT is the business and business is IT.

DO: Prioritize and focus

It is too easy to lose focus in any strategic IT project. BSM is no exception. Keep your focus on, and prioritize, the critical business issues. For every activity of the plan, ask "why" and ensure it relates to the objectives of your BSM project.

Why: Emphasizing priority and focus helps ensure activities are in line with the project goals, within the budget and resource allocation plan.

DON'T: Keep saying "We're not there yet"

BSM is not a one-off project; it is a continual process of managing services that support critical business processes. Certainly there is a tendency from IT to be overly conservative in "showing off" their metrics to the business. Often times IT says "We're not there yet." The obvious question is: when is a good time? Showing progress is a wise practice.

Why: The more time passes without visible progress, the more likely the business counterparts will think that IT is struggling and as a result will lose faith in the BSM project. Communication and feedback loops are key to getting established with the business. This is a joint venture with the business. Don't wait for the business to say "show me the metrics!" Be proactive and a good ambassador for IT.

DO: Consider end-user experience as part of BSM

End-user experience is an often neglected yet critical measure of the quality of IT's service delivery to the business. Consider your end-user experience metrics in your BSM solution, since that's where your staff first feels the pain. Whether it's grief from the customer for not completing a business transaction or unhappiness with their own productivity, IT is to blame and the business bottom line is impacted.

Why: Considering end-user experience provides IT with a way to baseline service levels to set more realistic quality-performance targets, and provides IT immediate insight into the true delivery performance straight from the end users perspective. This helps bridge the gap between perception of quality by the users/customers and the actual service being delivered to the business.

DON'T: Ignore executive management

BSM is a strategic project that requires management buy-in and commitment. It is a mistake to believe that BSM can be done without management or business buy-in.

Why: Without upper management support, it is more difficult to build the necessary teams from other business units to participate in critical conversations about strategic plans, approach, key business-relevant metrics to include in the BSM solution, and more.

DO: Start small

BSM is a strategic and complex project. Start small and avoid disappointment. Begin with a critical business process or one that is currently causing pain, and map the process to the underlying services and technologies supporting it. Once one is successful and offers value to the targeted users, map a second process, and so on. The more value IT achieves from BSM, the more the business will want their processes or unit mapped into the overall BSM solution.

Why: A "big bang" approach will only delay meeting project deadlines, increase costs and decrease confidence in IT and project success.

DON'T: Over-promise benefits to the business

Managing customer expectations is key in any business. IT is no exception. Over-promising value or benefits to the business can be detrimental to the relationship and trust in IT. Seek out proven success stories and references from those that have already achieved value. More importantly, learn from their struggles and approach to their BSM implementation.

Be realistic in your timeframes and ROI justifications. Base them on facts from your early-adopter industry peers that have "been there and done that." Create a compelling yet realistic case.

Why: Over-promising not only disappoints your customers, it decreases the level of confidence in IT and impacts future investment opportunities for IT projects.

The Bottom Line

BSM is a strategic project for IT when accomplished effectively. It provides an opportunity for IT to show the business its value and provides additional reasons for future investments in IT instead of cutting IT budgets. In the end, it is a joint venture with the business, so partner up and help make it a competitive advantage for your business' bottom line.

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Linh C. Ho is a senior product marketing manager at Compuware and has 10 years of experience in the IT service management market. She is a co-author of two itSMF books: Global Best Practices for IT Management and Six Sigma for IT Management. She has served on the review team for several itSMF books and pocketguides including ITIL v3 Foundations. You can reach the author at

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