Sunday, 4 December 2011

Tinker, tailor, soldier...vendor

For all the faults it might have the ITSM community is generally a rather nice place to be. I believe that in comparison to the wider IT community we are much more welcoming of diversity and of influences from outside our own little world. We even have a good word to say about the users.

Just occasionally though I become aware of a little bit of lazy "them and us" thinking, as if the ITSM world is divided into three classes:

Practitioners, Consultants and Vendors

This always reminds me of this famous Marty Feldman comedy sketch. Once upon a time I'm sure trainers would have been mentioned in the list, but for some reason they no longer do, which I suspect is more of a comment on the general view of the current  ITIL training scheme rather than on the trainers themselves. As for analysts....

Whenever I hear someone split the world into those three categories I can always hear a silent judgment being made in the background.

Practitioners think consultants swan around the world coming up with great but impractical ideas, and that the vendors are out to shaft them whenever possible in search of a sale.

Consultants think practitioners have a blinkered view of the world and the memory of as goldfish, and that the vendors are out to shaft the entire industry.

Vendors just wish they had more friends.

Seriously we can't help stereotyping both companies and individuals, but it is a dangerous view of the world. Whilst this article is, mostly, meant to be humorous in intent the catalyst for it has been some of the debates around #back2ITSM.

Let us get a few things straight first of all. At a company level the ITSM industry wouldn't be where it is today without a lot of support form both consultants and vendors. Some of it might be well publicised, like the sponsorship of major conferences, but a lot of it goes on behind the scenes with the commitment they make to committees and the IP that they release to the community via ITIL, COBIT and ISO 20k.  When I made the original comment to Stephen Mann, which prompted this blog, and in turn led to #back2ITSM, about taking into account vendor contribution it was because I was aware of how many tool vendors do give back, not because of a concern about the number who don't.

What they bring to the ITSM table is of immeasurable value. I was about to get all Bladerunnerish but the truth is both consultants and vendors get to see an incredible range of real life ITSM experiences. Let me emphasis the real life aspect. It is out in the real world that we make our incomes, both as companies and as individuals. And not only do we see things, we are intimately involved and invested in them.  Yes I have started saying "we" because ... no wait, I'll get back to that point later but yes I am a consultant.

At this point I'm sure the practitioners will be jumping up and down saying "What about the contribution we make?" and justifiably so. On #ITSMWPROW it is always a true privilege to have guests from practitioner organisations, and presentations from practitioners are key to the success of both the itSMF and SDI. Just like consultancies and vendors many practitioner organisations generously allow their staff time to do some of the boring behind the scenes work.

Consultants and vendors don't have a duopoly on IP, either. Charlie Betz' first edition of  Architecture and Patterns for IT Service Management, Resource Planning and Governance: Making Shoes for the Cobblers Children  written when he was a practicing IT architect stands out as both an  incredible example of practitioner IP and an incredibly long title. The link, incidentally, should take you to the current edition which really is a must read book.

I want to change track slightly here. So far I've mostly been talking about organisations, but mention of Charlie reminds me that I really want to talk about the danger of labeling individuals with these artificial titles.

The truth is that many of us move seamlessly between these worlds, often without anyone noticing. The practitioner might find themselves working on an ITSM project and in effect takes on an internal consultancy role, or they might develop their career by moving to work for a consultancy or a vendor. Don't make the mistake of thinking that traffic is all one way, either. I know plenty of people who've moved from being consultants or vendors to return to the coal face as practitioners. Heck, I did it myself a few years ago when I moved from QuintWellingtonRedwood to a financial services company.

Why do people make that sort of move? Well I would argue it is often because they still have a thirst to make life better for customers and users and to make a real difference to the way IT is delivered.  But, leaving that aside, the reality is that  many consultants spend considerable amounts of their working life doing a "real job" as interim managers or on a body shop basis. Likewise many vendors have staff who spend most of their time on site with clients. You don't need to spend long talking to the likes of Don Page, Pat Bolger and Ian Aitchison , for examples, before you realize how deeply embedded their experience is in the real world and the lives of practitioners.

From a very personal perspective I might have the word Consultant on my business card, along with a lot of other words  but I also represent an outsourcing vendor, and just because I'm not a practitioner anymore doesn't mean I've forgotten what it was like to be one, or that I don't still get my hands dirty whenever I get the chance. In fact, like all of us who do so much to make ITSM work, I could say

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