Process or Tool, which should come first?

Just like the mystery of which came first, the Chicken or the Egg, those of us fortunate individuals that have worked in the Information Technology field for many years have also been dealing with a difficult question, "Which should come first, Process or Tool?  One of the changes in the IT Service Management arena that complicates this question even more is the recent onslaught of very mature and high functioning service management tools. Some of the new features in these tools are truly amazing, but if you don't stop to consider the "big picture" and what can happen without sufficient planning, you might jump the gun and purchase one of these tools. My advice is to slow down and consider all factors before making that decision. I agree that tools today have come a long way and can definitely enhance your services.  However, a tool is still just a tool and without the proper foundation being laid and the appropriate questions answered, failure is the likely outcome.  Let's look at a couple of examples using ITIL processes, examining tasks that a tool cannot perform. Keep in mind that without these tasks being performed, the process is doomed.

Service Catalog Management.  A tool cannot do the following: Help stakeholders understand the true definition of a service; decide who should access the Catalog; define routing of service requests; select team members with the appropriate skills; define the page structure and content; define the approval chain; and define the views of the Catalog.

Service Asset and Configuration Management.  A tool cannot do the following: Decide which assets should become configuration items (CIs); decide what information about each CI to track; select team members with appropriate skills; determine levels of authority and who can approve new or changed CIs; determine which CIs are most critical to the business; and conduct interviews with staff to find out where all asset information is located.

I would hate to imagine the outcome of implementing a tool to support either of these processes without first doing all of these tasks.  It would not be pretty!  Many times when implementations fail it is due to the desire of the organization to implement a process to support their tool, when in essence it should be the other way around. It all comes down to expected business outcomes.  The process should support these outcomes and the tools should support the process.

Good IT Service Management tools are a critical component to providing quality services.  Make no mistake about that fact.  However, don't let the shiny bells and whistles of a tool distort your view of what is really needed in your organization.  Ensure that you perform the due dilligence required when selecting a tool, and before you do that, make sure you have a good process in place.

If anyone is interested in viewing a webcast on this subject, here is the BrightTALK link: