Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to welcome Rob England (a.k.a The IT Skeptic) as regular columnist at The ITSM Review.
Railways provide a useful analogy for understanding what service management is and how it works.
What is a railway for? (or “railroad” for our American readers)
If you said “to move people and/or goods” you are only partly right. On the right track (pun intended) but not there yet.
How should it move goods and passengers? With maximum quality? Or at minimum cost? The answer to that is “it depends”. It depends on what the customer wants.
A customer is one who pays for the service of the railway. That isn’t always the same as the one who buys the ticket or books the freight. Many railways receive public funding, so the government or other body is effectively also a customer: they are paying for part of the service. Not all customers are users of the services.
The railway is answerable not only to its customers. It is also answerable to its owners and the governors they delegate authority to. The owners may not want the same things as the customers at all. For example, railways are often required to provide a passenger service as a requirement of gaining the right to operate. These passenger services are often unprofitable: the money is in the freight services. Guess how often such passenger services meet the needs of the paying ticket-holders.
So a railway exists to provide a service that moves people and/or goods to meet the needs of its governors and customers.
Your are in the service business
If you were operating a railway, what activities would you have to manage in order to ensure you meet the needs of your governors and customers? There would be some activities that are unique to railways, such as scheduling, servicing rolling stock, dispatching trains and so on. But the bulk of the activities involved in operating a railway are the same as operating any business: reporting, financials, HR, marketing, IT, procurement… and delivering your services. It doesn’t matter whether an organisation’s services are transporting goods, providing accommodation, building houses or catching fish. They all serve customers and they all perform a similar set of activities to manage that service.
Whether you build roads or map them, operate ports or use them, build houses or sell them, plan weddings or sing at them, care for kids or clothe them, sell PCs or scrap them, you are in a service business, even if you may not be in a “service industry”.
We aren’t talking about over-the-counter “may I help you?” service, how to develop the customer service interface, the experience of contact. Service Management is about the end-to-end process of providing services. It covers such things as:
|Service management activities||Rail examples|
|Delivering||Executing a service for users||Food service, engine drivers, shunters|
|Operating||running the infrastructure that makes the services work||Signaling, track maintenance, security guards|
|Supporting||Responding to user requests for service or help, and resolving them||Ticket sales, call centre, guard, repair crews|
|Cataloguing||Providing information about what services are available||Timetables, websites, brochures|
|Customer relations||Maintaining relationships with customers||Customer account managers, sales, public relations|
|Measuring||Monitoring and reporting service metrics||Punctuality, traffic volumes, profitability|
|Planning||Proposing, choosing and strategising new services, improvements and retirements||Routes, trains, schedules, freight deals, specialised cars e.g. refrigerated)|
|Designing||How the service will work, what infrastructure it needs||Developing anew schedule, specifying new equipment|
|Building||Creating the infrastructure, mechanisms, and processes to deliver a service||Ordering or constructing new rolling stock, laying track, hiring and training staff, printing collateral|
|Implementing||Rolling out the new service, going “live”||Commissioning new rolling stock, publishing new or changed schedules, deploying staff, rolling trains|
|Assuring||Protecting the organisation, its staff, customers and users. Making sure the service is safe for people, compliance and profits.||Track safety programmes, risk register, ticket inspection, financial and quality audits|
|Improving||Making service better: identifying, planning and managing improvement to efficiency and effectiveness||Quality programme, cost control, regular maintenance schedules|
|Governing||Direct, monitor and evaluate the management and execution of the services||Corporate vision and goals, high-level policy, risk profile, annual report|
Service Management says the most important thing you do is deliver services to your customers. Moreover, everything you do should be considered in terms of the services you provide to your customers.
Adopting a service management approach can have a profound affect on the way your business works and your staff think. It takes us away from that introverted, bottom-up thinking that begins with what we have and what we do and eventually works its way up and out to what we deliver to the customer. Instead, with service management we change our point of view from concentrating on the internal “plumbing” of our business, moving instead to a focus on what “comes out of the pipe” – what we provide. We take an “outside-in” view. Starting from this external perspective we then work our way top-down into the service organisation to derive what we need and what we have to do in order to provide that service.
Service management isn’t one subset of the business; it is not one activity at the end of the main supply chain. It is a different way of seeing the whole supply chain, the whole business that produces the services, by seeing it initially from the outside, from the customer’s point of view. Therefore any discussion of Service Management may stray into general business management topics.
Seeing our business in terms of the services it provides can’t help but make us better at providing them.
To a customer, “better” means more useful and more reliable, i.e. more valuable and better quality.
From the service-provider’s point of view, “better” means more effective and more efficient, i.e. better results and cheaper.
Follow along in this series of articles as we look at Service Management through the lens of railways and how they operate. We hope it will provide a fun and useful way to understand this thing called Service Management.
© Copyright 2012 Two Hills Ltd.