IT governance and IT service management, are they the same?

Tools that used to be promoted as IT service management tools suddenly became IT governance tools. ITIL, which I will always regard as "the best practice for it service management", is mentioned frequently these days as an IT governance model.

These examples lead me to the following question: Are IT governance and IT service management one and the same thing? If not, what is the distinction between them, were does one end and the other begin?

To get different opinions for this article I visited the home of the IT Service Management Community: itSMF.

On the discussion forum I started a conversation with the title “The difference between IT Governance & IT Service Management”. This sparked a healthy debate which left me with a number of observations.

First of all, there is a strong association between ITIL and IT service management on the one hand, and CobiT and IT governance on the other. Very often people do not make the distinction between the field of expertise and the models used by the experts. This might lead to the conclusion:

If you know ITIL you are an IT service management expert; if you know CobiT you may call yourself an IT governance expert. Needless to say I do not agree with any such conclusion. Secondly, I recognised a number of the people who got involved with the discussion from my dealings with ISACA. - Members of ISACA and its integrated research think tank ITGI represent many of the leading IT governance experts.

The fact that I am not the only person who frequently visits these websites leads me to believe that there are others who consider both expert fields to be closely connected, if not partially overlapping.

The consensus in the discussion, however, was that these fields are not the same. Especially when looking at the focus of IT governance versus service management there seems be a difference.

Where IT governance is primarily concerned with facilitating (strategic) decision making, IT service management is more focused on operational excellence of the IT function. The ultimate goal of both disciplines, however, is to maximise the organisational value creation by achieving better business - IT alignment.

This is where the clarity ends; when trying to establish the split between day-to-day tasks, targets, goals etc. of those involved in the field of IT governance versus those working in the field of IT service management, any attempt to make a clear split seems to end in differences of opinion.

So far a nice theoretical discussion. However, if I have an organisational issue in my IT function, how does the above help me to decide if I should get help from an IT governance expert or if I should involve an IT service management expert?

Clearly it doesn’t. Even more so, I believe the question should not even be raised. If I have a problem with my car, I ask a mechanic to fix it. I do not have to choose between an engine expert or a brake expert. In parallel I would advocate the introduction of IT organisational experts who have a sound knowledge of both IT governance and IT service management.

Having a mechanic who can work on brakes and engines alike does not indicate engines and brakes are the same thing. Similarly having an expert who has knowledge of both IT governance and IT service management does accept the difference between them.

However it does also recognise that both are part of the same ‘car’. If the car does not drive according to its full potential I do not want an engine expert exclusively looking at the engine; the quick win might be to fix the brake that got stuck.

By Arno Kapteyn


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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