Tight IT budgets have forced CIOs to do more with less, said the paper's author, Jon Collins, principal analyst with the UK-based company. "But efficiency doesn't actually benefit the business, apart from saving money on the IT budget," Collins said. Rather, he urged, service delivery also has to be effective, meaning it must provide tangible business benefits.

Collins’ reason for why it often doesn't? A divide between the application development group and the group responsible for operations and maintenance, where developers build new systems without much input from the systems administrators who later have to run them.

A holistic view of IT service delivery would take into account the requirements of business processes on IT infrastructure and applications and incorporate that information into IT project decisions. "I don't believe there's this kind of nirvana when everything will work beautifully together, but organizations can work a lot better," said Collins.

He suggested a path to achieving IT service management maturity that is similar to models for good software development. As with software, the key to IT service maturity is establishing repeatable processes. Companies may begin without specific processes for managing IT service delivery.

Definitions key

Along the path to maturity, IT organisations define formal processes and service-level agreements with business users. At the most sophisticated level, IT adjusts its service delivery continually, according to business demands.

For example, a bank’s IT department might support a set of call centre applications. If the bank wants to add mortgages to the products it supports through its call centre, the IT department needs to be flexible enough to quickly update the call centre applications and adjust how it supports them going forward.

To get started, Collins recommends CIOs build a business case for investing in the resources necessary to improve service delivery: CIOs will need to identify the most important services that IT provides the business, investigate how to improve these services, and determine the related costs for technology, staff resources and training.