The concept of internal customer is an idea to increase quality by motivating people to serve other internal teams as they were their customers. In the model the various units form a chain or network of service providers who serve each other. The internal service model allows all employees to have some direct customers. Companies or organizations usually have a customer for their services or products. They work for the customer who pays the costs. Some of the work is indirectly related to the customer and in some cases the link is complicated.
IT used to have a distant connection to business. Data was entered via punched cards and input from IT to business or customers was via printouts, reports, invoices etc. It was natural to see IT as an internal service unit. In ITSM the concept of internal customers has been adopted very thoroughly. Instead of just using the internal service model for motivating staff, the ITIL books suggest that one needs to have a service strategy for creating and managing a service portfolio, as if the internal customers were real. An IT unit which follows the ITIL model acts like it is an independent business which can decide its own strategy. If that is right, then the corporation should check whether the IT service unit is competitive. If it isn’t, the corporation can switch to an outside vendor, if it is then the corporation can spin off the IT part as an independent business.
Most large corporations have several internal support functions: finance, human resources, legal, marketing and IT. It is common that directors of finance and legal are board members and it is relatively easy to become a CEO from those positions. CIO’s are much less likely to be included in the top management team. The reason for this is that finance and legal are involved in the business while IT can be seen as just a technical service.
Stephen Mann wrote a blog about how one should not limit ITSM models just to IT. http://allthingsitsm.com/enterprise-service-management-not-just-itsm/. I agree up to a point. The concept of internal customer is not harmful if applied with sense. It is a good idea that for example the service desk staff treat the people who ask for help as customers. It is a natural model in that situation. And the service desk model can be applied to many other situations. The ITSM tools can be applied to many other business processes. I disagree with the idea that the whole internal service model should be copied to other services. It is a better idea to move to the opposite direction.
It has become quite common that outside customers have a direct connection to the IT systems. A customer may check current information about availability, delivery times etc., they can enter their orders and update their information. The role of IT has changed or should change from internal service provider to a partner of the business.
There is only one real customer and there is only one real strategy. This means that a lot of the elements of the internal customer service model are unnecessary. There is no need for a comprehensive service catalog, service strategy, service level agreements for example. Instead of IT services to the business there are business services to the customer. This means that there is very little need for IT centered best practice models, instead IT needs to apply the business models.
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