As you may know in February Rebecca and I attended the annual Pink Elephant conference in Las Vegas. Post-event there is always (as you would expect) a lot to talk about, such as how well the event was run, the content, the amazing people and networking opportunities. But I’ve done that already, so now I want to focus on something a little different for this article. I want to talk about the “ITSM community”.
We are a ‘community’
By “we”, I mean members of the global ITSM industry and, by putting the word “community” in quotation marks I’m asking, well are we really?
This topic came up on several occasions at the PINK14 conference (granted it usually involved bar snacks and a cocktail, but then again all the best conversations usually do right?). Not least when the topic of the future of SMCongress came up. There were daily conversations about how to “help the community” (be it in the shape of SMCongress or any other initiative). There were debates, and many ‘aha moments’ too, but one unanswered question remained throughout: What is it that we (the people who refer to said “community”) are actually trying to achieve?
Who is the “community”?
At ITSM Review we consider ourselves to be a “community” where ITSM professionals (and ITAM professionals over at the ITAM Review) gather to consume helpful content, discuss best practice, occasionally meet-up in person, and share opinions. Furthermore, my job title includes ‘community manager’, which means I manage the content, encourage discussions, arrange meet-ups, and try to get people to share their opinions.
Are we successful in delivering helpful content, encouraging discussions, organizing meet-ups etc.? Yes (our growth certainly doesn’t suggest otherwise). Are we a community? Yes, but we’re only a tiny proportion of the larger ITSM community.
When we (and by we, I now mean the ITSM industry) refer to discussions on social media, whether it be on Twitter, in back2itsm groups, LinkedIn or anywhere else, we refer to them as “discussions amongst the “ITSM Community””.
When we attend conferences such as PINK14 and ‘we’ meet up in sessions, at lunch or in the bar at the end of the day, we refer to ourselves as the “ITSM community”. Or we have discussions about how to help the “ITSM community”.
I’m the worst offender by the way, I use the term “ITSM community” like it’s going out of fashion. But the question is this: does the “ITSM community” (as we refer to it) actually exist?
Opening a can of worms
So I’m the community manager at ITSM Review yet I’ve just questioned whether or not an ITSM community actually exists. I could quite easily be out of a job by the time I finish this article.
I do believe that the ITSM community exists, I just don’t think it exists in the way that we think it does. We talk of the ITSM community as an intangible entity made up of people in different ITSM roles from around the world, who want to benefit from, and contribute to, the collective wisdom of other members.
You may disagree with my definition but bear with me while I look at a few issues: Is there really a need? Are we sharing? Are we global?
Then there is the issue with ‘people in different ITSM roles’. That is where our current “global ITSM community” really falls down. Consultants, check. Vendors, check. Analysts, check. Practitioners? Not so much check. At one point at PINK14 we were a group of 15 people discussing this topic, and only one of those was a practitioner. So that means 6.7% of the group represented practitioners, and what’s worse is that figure is quite high. Often there is no practitioner representation in these discussions at all.
Furthermore, we have to ask, what is the purpose of our community? To help others, right? But currently the vendors, consultants and analysts are trying to help without necessarily understanding demand. Whilst the people who we believe really need the help are usually nowhere to be seen? Do you think that is a fair statement? Probably not, but I think it isn’t far off.
When Stephen Mann kicked off the back2itsm initiative he said it was about “the reaping of the knowledge and experience held within the ITSM community (ITIL’s creators, publishers, trainers, consultants, software vendors, ITSM practitioners, and ancillary roles such as analysts) for the benefit of all.”
When I asked Charles Araujo what was the reasoning behind launching SMCongress he said “we formed the ‘RevNet’, which ultimately become SMCongress, to bring together some of the brightest minds in the ITSM community to explore where the future of our industry was going and what it would mean to ITSM professionals everywhere. Our aim was to provide valuable insights and ideas to the entire ITSM community.”
So many questions, so few answers
Thus far, I’ve highlighted several questions, none of which I have specifically answered. This is ironic, because none of us could answer them at PINK14 either.
This is the biggest flaw in any of our attempts to either build a community or serve/help an existing community. We don’t really know what it is that we are trying to achieve. We (i.e. those of us who actively take part in these kind of discussions) might think we know what we want to achieve, but then is what we’re trying to achieve actually of any value to anybody? For example the news announcements surrounding AXELOS was “big talk” in our group of 15 at PINK14, but one of those 15 people wasn’t in the slightest bit interested. Can you guess who? Yes, the practitioner.
You can see that I am going round in circles here with question after question. I’m dizzy, so you must be too. Apologies, but please bear with me.
The main phrase that kept reoccurring on this topic at PINK14 was “how do we help the community?” This was in relation to SMCongress, back2itsm, and the ITSM people active on Twitter. In my opinion, this question cannot be answered in our current position. Why? Because there are so many other questions that need to be asked (to our target audience) and answered first:
- Do you think there is such a thing as an ITSM community?
- Do you feel part of an ITSM community?
- Would you like to be part of an ITSM community?
- What would you expect to input to and receive from an ITSM community?
- How would you expect to communicate with an ITSM community?
The only thing that everybody seems to be in agreement on is that we want to help practitioners and that they are our target audience, but even that leads to further questions such as “are we talking about the people on the front line of a service desk say, or IT managers, or both?”
Where on earth do we go from here?
Wow, yet another question that doesn’t have a clear answer. There was a lot of debate at PINK14 about what next steps any community initiative should take, and one thing that was clear is that it’s not a one-man-band job. There were discussions about involving the likes of itSMF, AXELOS or other high-profile industry names. There was also talk of creating ways to encourage vendors to actively engage their customers on the topic.
I think all of the above are great ideas, and much needed, but I also believe that it is likely to be difficult to pull a united force together to drive any community initiative forward. I’m not saying that such an approach will fail, I do strongly believe said approach is needed and can succeed, but it will take a lot of time to bring it all together. In the meantime there are things that everyone can be doing to help.
Next time you meet with a practitioner (in my view, anybody working in IT who is not a consultant, analyst or vendor), ask them the five questions listed in the bullet points above. Take the answers and share them across any ITSM channel, with us, on social media, in forums etc, or ask them to complete our online form.
If you are a practitioner reading this, pretty please share your own answers with us.
Together we can start to crowd source the answers we need, because without answers from the people we are trying to help, how can we ever move forward and build the existing ITSM community into something more beneficial?
Where does ITSM Review fit in all of this?
A large amount of our readers and subscribers are practitioners and they keep coming to our site because they find it useful. We therefore already have an existing relationship in place with a small proportion of the ITSM industry. They might not all actively engage with us, but it is a huge starting point.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
We can ensure that we nurture the community that we already have. We can also utilize said community to gain the feedback required to help move any global initiative forward. We’re going to continue with everything that we already do, as well as push for more continuous feedback. We’ll start by pushing for as many responses to our online survey as possible. We can then feed this back into any larger initiative.
Unfortunately as much as we hate to admit it, we’re a small fish in a very large pond. It’s going to take more than feedback from our readers alone to get enough feedback to start being able to answer the long list of questions. This is why having other institutions and companies involved will be the key to success. Pink Elephant, HDI, SDI, itSMF’s… they all need to take the same approach.
It’s also worth mentioning here that ITSM Review isn’t looking to build something to go up against SMCongress, back2itsm or anything else. We don’t care what the initiative is called or who owns it – so long as it gets the job done.
Let me be clear here – I’m not trying to be harsh on the existing “ITSM community” (as we refer to it) and I am also meaning to sound negative. I realize that non-practitioners are always going to be more active in things, and maybe that’s fine? But then when “we” should stop saying that it’s practitioners that we are trying to help. I also want to stress that this post is not an “attack” on SMCongress and I fully support the official announcement (due out shortly) that will be issued about moving SMCongress forward.
Anyway, neither I, nor ITSM Review have all the answers or the power to drive any true global community forward alone. That said, we’re successful in what we’re currently doing in our own community and we plan to continue, because feedback leads us to believe that we are making a difference to multiple people around the globe. In addition to this we will do whatever we can to support any larger initiatives.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what all of this is about? Regardless of who has the answers, or who’s opinion differs to the next persons, don’t we all just want to help make the lives of ITSM professionals easier? You may not agree with all of my opinions in this article, but surely we can all agree on this?
It’s time to stop debating, and time to start gathering answers.