By Kai Holthaus
The Service Owner Role
The service owner role is central for an IT organization that is operating IT as a service (ITaaS). Why? Because the service owner is accountable for delivering services to customers and users, and accountabilities include:
- To act as prime customer contact for all service-related enquiries and issues
- To ensure that the ongoing service delivery and support meet agreed customer requirements
- To identify opportunities for service improvements, discuss with the customer, and raise the request for change (RFC) for assessment if appropriate
- To liaise with the appropriate process owners throughout the service management lifecycle
- To solicit required data, statistics and reports for analysis, and to facilitate effective service monitoring and performance
- To be accountable to the IT director or service management director for the delivery of the service
Please note that I emphasize “accountability” instead of “responsibility.” The service owner is accountable, meaning they set the goals and oversee the execution. The actual execution is performed by individuals or functions that have the “responsibility” for each activity.
Let’s take a closer look…
The service owner is the main escalation point for all service-related compliments, complaints, and other issues. You can think of the service owner as a sports coach, directing how the team should play a particular game, but not really participating by playing in the game. As the coach is accountable to the team’s owner for the team’s success, so is the service owner accountable to the customer(s) and the service management director for ongoing quality of the service.
Responsibilities Throughout the Service Lifecycle
The service owner role has accountabilities in each of the five lifecycle stages, as defined by ITIL:
- Service strategy
- Service design
- Service transition
- Service operation
- Continual service improvement
I recommend to my clients that they assign a service owner very early in the lifecycle, so that there is a single point of accountability throughout its creation and life. If we compare this to the product world, a service owner is like a product manager at an automotive company who is accountable as the new car model is designed, developed, and built—and ultimately for the satisfaction of the car’s buyers.
Shifting to an ITaaS Model
While the idea of the service owner role is just as valid in an ITaaS world as it is in a more traditional IT service provider world, there are a few important differences.
Service Owners Must Enable a Faster Time to Market
Moving to an ITaaS model typically requires faster development and release cycles than in a more traditional model. This is usually accomplished by moving to an Agile development model, such as Scrum. Using such models means that the full set of requirements for a service to be released will not be available at the time when development starts. Instead, development begins with the best set of requirements available at the time, and relying on future development / release cycles to address missing requirements.
The certainty of receiving a fully defined set of utility and warranty of a service is being exchanged for more rapid improvement of the service. Service design and transition activities are executed more in a spiral-type model than in a waterfall-type approach.
The service owner in an Agile environment becomes the Scrum product manager, representing the view of the customer in the Scrum model. As the product manager, the service owner is responsible for the pipeline of customer requirements driving the development of the service. Business decisions on whether to advance the service through another round of development and release is based on the available information at the time.
Service Owners Need a Better Grasp on Future Demand
Some services, particularly infrastructure services, such as providing CPU power or storage, become utility-type services, comparable with the utility services everybody experiences at home, such as electrical power, natural gas, or water. Instead of provisioning dedicated infrastructure at the time of service development or deployment, the service owners must ensure there is enough capacity when needed, e.g., storage should be available instantly available when required— similar to water flowing immediately when you turn on the faucet at home. This requires a much better understanding of future demand, patterns of business activity, and user profiles than is typically the case today.
Service Owners Will Give up Some Control to Enable Automation
Due to the nature of ITaaS, service owners will be required to give up some control over the configuration of the service. For example, automation tools already move virtual machines from one physical host to another based on current workloads, without any human control. To fully deliver on the ITaaS promise, this type of automation must increase. Increased automation will require either defining more changes as standard changes, which can be implemented without approval (and in this case, automatically, after the tool has recorded the change), or give up change control completely, and let the tools handle them. Such automation tools can also automatically update the configuration management system, so that valid information will always be available.
How Will Services Operate in the Cloud?
While today’s services are largely delivered from in-house data centers, the ITaaS model makes full use of hybrid and public clouds. Service owners must understand the ramifications of moving parts of the service infrastructure (or even the entire infrastructure) into the public cloud. This requires a better understanding of required service levels, and what will happen if cloud providers experience incidents or even disasters.
To conclude, the specific accountabilities associated with the service owner role don’t change dramatically when an IT organization moves to an ITaaS model. Primarily, a service owner will need to shift from defining architectures and infrastructure as part of the service design to defining the service in terms of requirements, and necessary service levels for supporting services. Also, traditional controls over the infrastructure may no longer apply when automation is used to fully deliver on the promise of ITaaS.
While the shift in the service owner’s responsibilities isn’t dramatic when transforming to an ITaaS model, the importance of the role grows significantly. If you haven’t already explored implementing or expanding this role as you transform to deliver ITaaS, be sure to include this as part of your roadmap for moving forward.
Kai Holthaus is a senior transformation consultant with VMware Accelerate Transformation Services and is based in Oregon.