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What Does It Mean for IT to Be Customer-Focused?

By John Worthington

worthingtonp-cropBy definition a service is a means of delivering outcomes that a customer wants to achieve, so it’s important not to forget where these outcomes originate in order for IT to be customer-focused.

Transforming IT from a technology-oriented to a services-oriented organization is at the heart of IT service management.  The “specialized organizational capabilities for delivering value to customers in the form of services” must be developed, refined, and continually improved with business outcomes in mind.

If IT is working well, with a true service orientation, your customer will see that:

  • IT actions align with the business, particularly in ways that help the business serve external business customers
  • IT costs are controlled and reduced wherever possible
  • Quality of end-to-end IT services is improved
  • IT agility in responding to business needs is improved
  • IT is focused on customer results
  • Prioritization of IT expenditures and actions is based on business priorities

For the IT organization, this service orientation starts with defining what constitutes a “service” in the context of the particular business and cataloging all the services available. Then the resulting service catalog, and the full service portfolio of which it is a part, become the means of ensuring that IT and the business are always completely in synch around IT services and their value.

What your customers want from IT
When I work with IT organizations that are building their initial catalog of services, I’m interested to see who views whom as the “customer.”  This is fundamental, however, since it is IT’s customer who defines value.

Frequently, service definition work is driven between particular IT groups, which can essentially put the entire effort within the boundaries of the IT organization, as illustrated in Figure 1.  This can result in an internally focused view of the customer/supplier relationship.  The focus is on supporting services, and parts of the IT organization itself end up being treated as “customers” of other parts of IT.

Figure 1 – Supporting Service Focus

Undoubtedly supporting services are important, since these are the building blocks that provide the capabilities that enable the customer-facing, outcome-oriented services.  But they are not what the business is ultimately concerned with.  Enumerating supporting services does not provide for the benefits the business expects – surely we don’t intend the service catalog to be limited to the IT organization!

Another approach I see my clients commonly take is to begin defining services that face the internal customers — the business — which establishes service catalog boundaries within the enterprise as illustrated in Figure 2.  Services are defined as what IT does for the business itself, without reference to the external customers of the business.

Figure 2 – Internal Customer Focus

This approach reflects a critical step in the evolution of an IT organization’s maturity as a service provider.  IT has begun to look at customer outcomes, with the customer being the business the IT organization serves.  I believe such an approach can lead to a more coordinated, collaborative way of working within IT; the various IT groups focus their attention on end-to-end service provisioning, not merely on their own IT silos.

So while initial service catalogs often start with the existing applications and infrastructure and package that for customers, a best practice approach that I recommend is to begin with the outcomes that customers desire and define services based on them as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3 – External Customer Focus

The truth is, there will need to be multiple cycles of service definition and re-definition that need to continue indefinitely, since customers’ desired outcomes and perceptions are under constant change.

Defining services from the top down, starting with external services, is also a recommended approach. But this is easier said than done, since it quickly exposes a need to define both internal customer-facing services and supporting services.

Accelerating the journey to IT as a Service
This is the exciting part of being part of VMware. By establishing re-usable supporting IT services enabled by a software-defined data center and transformation road maps that make sure people and process changes are in place to realize the IT-as-a-service vision, I can help the IT organizations I work with to accelerate their ability to be truly customer-focused.


John Worthington is a VMware transformation consultant and is based in New Jersey. Follow @jMarcusWorthy and @VMwareCloudOps on Twitter.

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