Service or Application? -Same difference! – Let’s Speak Value – – – – streams

On this blog a lively debate has been going on about whether using the term applications instead of services is an acceptable service management practice. Many may say we have reached the “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” stage here. But if service management is about managing services, would it not make sense to have some common understanding what these services are?

Reality is that neither Service nor Application are very well defined concepts. Most people agree they are related and often refer to the same thing. Development will call what they build an application while operations calls the same thing a service when they run it. But what is this “thing”?

The first question we face is granularity: Is Office the application or is Excel? And is the shared spell checker part of the application or not. And if we use the translation function, is that part of the application? ( while in reality it is a service running at either Microsoft’s or Google’s website?). And is the online training part of the application or is that only part of the service? Same for support, automatic patches and updates?

But more important than the answers to the above, is the fact that in reality nobody cares! Unless we are still trying to write down (defend) what we do, it makes no difference to anyone.

Is there an alternative that will make people care? I think there is.

It is the concept of value streams. Based on the concept of Value Chain as first described by Michael Porter in his 1985 best-seller, Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance (now we are talking), a value stream is an end-to-end business process which delivers a product or service to a customer or consumer.

Value Stream Mapping is a lean manufacturing technique used to analyze the flow of materials and information currently required to bring a product or service to a consumer. At Toyota, where the technique originated, it is known as “material and information flow mapping”. Wikipedia details the concept of Value Streams in an IT context further under Lean IT.

So what is the big difference between using service/application versus Value Stream?

Well, I for one would be very hesitant to sit down with a user and ask him to ‘define’ the applications/services he uses in more detail. I would however be more than happy to sit down and together with him map out the value stream he uses to service his customers and figure out where IT adds or can add value and where we see waste that can be eliminated by, through or from IT. But the conversation will likely be 80% around what our company does for its customers and only 20% about IT (and I for one believe that would be a good thing).

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