IT professionals need to develop business and service orientated skills in order to understand, and get closer to, the businesses they work in. IT service management (ITSM) and its related industry has been advocating this for 20 years or more, but it is only recently that this issue has become top of the agenda within many organisations.

I believe that this is due to the following factors:

1: Commercial Pressure – IT is now mission critical for pretty much every business. The ability to integrate business processes and technology is vital, yet the industry has discovered that it is not particularly great at this, as many high profile public sector IT projects would evidence.
2: ITIL – IT infrastructure library (ITIL) whether you’re an ITIL fan or not, the rise in profile for this framework of ITSM processes has identified the general lack of soft and business skills in the IT services arena.
3: Globalisation – we’ve all seen the dramatic rise in the global provisioning of IT services of all sorts. It’s far too broad to call it ‘outsourcing’ any more! Many organisations have their own people sited in thee or four locations worldwide to optimise service and support operations.

All this has led to the growing demand for professionals in the service desk area and people with business skills to work in IT generally. Hence it is imperative that staff have access to ongoing training that will help them to develop their careers and perform better in these areas, not just the technical IT areas.

A lack of these business and soft skills – in India, particularly – has been cited as one of the key reasons for high stress, dissatisfaction and high attrition rate amongst the rapidly growing workforce in the ITSM industry. But while India is the market-leading powerhouse, this effect is not just hitting employers there. At last month’s Service Desk Expo in London, seminar delegates, while being bullish about the improving quality of service they were able to offer their businesses, were also concerned about how they would manage to support the next generation of IT literate consumers that are coming out of schools and universities.

Better customer interaction skills, the ability to work as a team and increased efficiency are therefore essential to handle the demanding nature of jobs within ITSM. NASSCOM, the Indian Government’s IT skills body, has recognised that India’s burgeoning service desk community needs to gain expertise in soft skills as these skills have become an indispensable part of the job. The good news for NASSCOM is that India has an amazing talent pool, and with the demand for skilled manpower increasing, India has fully acknowledged just how vital it is to improve its skills to offer service delivery at a level that matches global standards. India is determined to overcome issues regarding its understanding of western cultures, language and accents and it will undoubtedly further improve its market share over the next few years.

Other countries, like Malaysia, the Philippines and several East European and Middle Eastern countries, are similarly investing to get their slice of the IT Service and Support business. This further increases our need to train our people to be the best in the world over here. All the countries I’ve mentioned are hungry for success and their graduates and new employees are desperately keen to learn and invest in their future. Unless we start to match that hunger, we’ll certainly get left behind.

The good news is that I think we’re starting to get the message! ITIL courses and qualifications, even MBAs in ITSM, are increasingly being taken up in both public and private sector organisations. However, there is still more to be done, and we need to push the Government to continue its ‘Skills and Innovation’ support for industry, so that we can make this country more competitive in this area.

So, when you next set your training budget, make sure you have put aside a significant chunk for ITSM or soft and business skills development. These are the skills which will not only equip your organisation with the right expertise for the future, they will also ensure your business and customers will appreciate you more.

About the author

Howard Kendall is the founding director of the Service Desk Institute (SDI). Howard was in the technology arena as a computer operator at 3M, followed by positions in IT support management at Citibank and the Prudential. During his career, Howard recognised that there was a need to boost the service desk and IT support professionals’ ‘image’ within business and help shape industry best practice. In 1988 he established the Service Desk User Group (now HDI) to meet this requirement.