Application on multi-customer / multi-partner environments

Application on multi-customer / multi-partner environmentsIn times of outsourcing and partnerships, no IT department operates as an island. In both large and small organizations, IT integration has become more complex than on traditional centralized or single-vendor systems and applications. At the same time, budgets for supporting those systems and applications are under close follow-up. Compared to history, more and more organizations have chosen to deal with business complexity by increasingly working with external partners for tasks they do not consider as their core business. That also means that part of the IT support processes are operated with external partners. Those external partners, from their side, operate IT support processes for multiple customers. They operate in a competitive market, against other commercial businesses with their respective strengths. Today's IT support organizations indeed operate in a multi-customer / multi-partner environment. Obviously, this comes with specific challenges.

Which tasks, contracts or teams should be combined into one large structure, and which tasks, contracts or teams should be set up as a dedicated team? Where can economies of scale be realized and where would such scale rather be a disadvantage? How to find the best balance between standardization that can lead to economies of scale compared to respecting the specific needs of each customer? How to share experiences and knowledge across customers without compromising confidentiality and trust? How to guarantee appropriate priorities across customers, given various commercial and technical forces? How must tools be used and adapted to both respect the corporate standard frameworks and the specific needs and agreements with each customer?
Several commercially operating IT service providers have developed their own implementation approach to deal with such challenges while still respecting ITIL based terminology and interfaces with their customers. The way they make this work today, is at the core of how they operate their IT support processes. Some services are delivered as a blackbox, while others come with the need for joint optimization and integration, in collaboration with the customer and other stakeholders.

Given this complex chain or web or partnerships, effective collaboration may require linking or even integrating relevant support processes across organizations. For instance, a service tool in the first line may contain information that needs to be passed on to one or more second line support groups in other organizations, which in turn may need to involve specialized third line specialists.  Each of  these teams may be using one or more different tools from different vendors. How should they be exchanging information about the relevant calls and other support activities? The more advanced the implementation of ITIL within one of these teams, the more complicated such collaboration may even become. Calls may be classified according to some type and some priority, they may be linked to information about the user, the application, the service, and the respective infrastructure components. The database structure for managing comparable data in the other organization may be different.

Today, the way IT support processes are integrated and optimized across the support chain, is probably at the same level of maturity as e-mail was at the time of the traditional mainframe. Within one company or organizational entity, some specific agreements exist, but these frameworks and models are not adapted yet to working together across boundaries of organizations. Some individual companies have started to integrate directly with each other's systems. Making such cross-organizational support processes a reality is at the core of making IT support work in the most effective and efficient way. A common framework or standard could lead the way. ITIL acknowledges the reality of working together in partnerships, and also stresses the importance of clear interfaces and agreements about them. But it offers no practical platform for getting organizations to the next steps in the translation of these common sense concepts to real-life progress.