Service Portfolio Management: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

When it comes to running your IT operation like a business to deliver IT as a Service (ITaaS) and competing with outside providers, Service Portfolio Management (SPM) is where the rubber meets the road.

SPM is the process by which your IT organization makes sure your service catalog is providing the right mix of services that will meet customers’ needs and deliver business value while at the same time enabling you to be a financially viable service provider. Or, put in plain business terms, SPM is how you make sure you are selling the right product mix to meet your customers’ demands (and needs) at the right price to keep you in business–to keep IT relevant. It is basic supply and demand.

That said, achieving SPM as you transform your traditional IT operation to ITaaS has its challenges. EMC IT has been in the process of transforming to an ITaaS model for several years now. And just as our transformation journey has been a learning process, so has our journey to effective SPM.

Where we are:

SPM manages the overall lifecycle of the end-to-end sets of services IT offers, including creating new services to meet changing demand, retiring current services that are not in demand or are ineffective, and evaluating the health and welfare of the IT services portfolio. EMC IT has made good progress in establishing our SPM process.

We launched our service catalog with some of the more common sets of services, including virtual servers (IaaS), virtual desktops (VDI), and physical products like laptops, PCs and accessories. To this core of offerings, we have added some more complex sets of packaged services such as Business Analytics as a Service (BAaaS), which includes combining Big Data platforms, analytic workspaces in which to work, and potentially analytics, reporting and data science services.

As we continue to add services that go further and further up the stack, a key focus is standardizing our services as much as possible at a component level and combining components to create full-blown business services.

While our IT transformation and SPM are ongoing efforts, there are a few lessons learned in our SPM journey that you may find helpful.

What we have learned:

  1. Set up a services-based IT organization first: While EMC IT began offering basic services through a service catalog a few years ago, we didn’t achieve an effective focus on how to structure and evolve those services until we recently reorganized our IT operations according to specific categories of IT services, called Service Centers. We set up seven Service Centers: Cloud Platform Services, Security Services, Big Data Services, Third Platform Application Development Services, Enterprise Application Platforms Services, Purchased Application Services, and Consumer/End User Services. (Read more about IT Redefined)

By breaking out these key product segments, each with its own leadership and operations team, we are able to more clearly begin to evaluate capabilities, define customer demands, size up business value and determine what sets of products or services are needed over what timeframe. As I said, our ITaaS model is still evolving and our Service Centers are in the process of shaping their service portfolios.

  1. Establishing a network of Product Managers is crucial: Product Managers (aka Service Strategy Managers) are those experts who will closely oversee individual or groups of IT products and services on a detailed level to evaluate if they are meeting user demands, proving cost effective, and stacking up with external competitors (cloud providers), as well as strategizing on future market needs and dynamics.

Product Managers work very closely with the Service Portfolio Manager in determining whether the organization is offering the right mix of products and effectively managing service lifecycles as well as service quality.

Prior to our adoption of a services-based operations model, EMC IT had not fully developed an effective approach to establishing a Product Management network. We struggled with both finding the right candidates for the job and determining how they would interact within IT. The Service Center structure now provides a clear framework for utilizing Product Managers and we are currently in the process of establishing one or more Product Managers per Service Center to hone our product and SPM marketing strategy. The idea is that the Product Managers will know the state-of-the-state with respect to all of the service portfolios within each Service Center.

The challenge here is finding skilled employees to fill this new IT role, which requires skills that go beyond those traditionally associated with IT. Product Managers need to have a very good idea how IT functions, but at the same time have a product management mindset more typically associated with sales and marketing. Finding the right skill set that combines these two requirements can be difficult. The organization needs to continue to cultivate these important skills within your workforce.

  1. Expect a challenging journey from offering core IT services to building application development services: We have made good progress in providing users with component-level catalog services, or micro-services, but how do we then package these components to provide more comprehensive sets of services? EMC IT has found that this is one of the more difficult challenges as we tackle increasing complex service demands from users. Application development has traditionally been very customized, which makes it more difficult to utilize the standardized services central to the ITaaS vision.

Quantifying more complex services to set expectation for users ordering through the catalog is also tricky. While you can offer a small, medium or large virtual machine, can you offer a small, medium or large application? We currently use measures such as the number of screens a mobile app has or whether or not the service package includes a data base as a kind of estimate.

We are making progress in combining component services into larger service sets using less customization and more configuration. The goal is to get away from custom project management to more of an assembly of existing services to deliver higher level services. That means transitioning from a project portfolio management approach to a service portfolio management approach.

Project Management traditionally involves custom development of applications and functionality for a given project. Under the SPM approach, when a user requests a service, if it is available as standard offering, that request can flow through the appropriate Service Center to get fulfilled. If they are asking for something that isn’t in the catalog, SPM acts as a catalyst and traffic cop to determine which Service Centers need to be involved to build the required tool or functionality. As we package up standard capabilities into services, they become part of our catalog and our efforts to align services with demand.

EMC IT is currently straddling both–the traditional project portfolio management and the new service portfolio management approach in creating IT services. As we continue to advance our ITaaS model, SPM is an important part of the puzzle. It is how we are actually driving our organization to be a thriving business.

About the Author: KK Krishnakumar