What is a Service?

This is ITIL 101. ITIL starts, lives, breathes, swims and eats service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is everything in ITIL. For somebody getting into ITIL, understanding service is critical to make any further progress. If you don’t get the understanding of a service right, your ride through ITIL will get murkier by the second.

You will find that reading the official literature may not be very helpful in ITIL, well this is a common case in every field of study but more so in ITIL. I will prove it. ITIL definition of a service goes something like this – A service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.

Going by the definition, one can derive that customers are getting some value add, something they would like to possess, and they don’t have to bear the costs, and it seems that somebody else would own the risks for providing the value add. Huh!

This is one complicated definition and confusing too, and my mock interpretation is not what they are trying to convey. All this said, if you are appearing for the foundation exam of ITIL, you need to know this definition from memory. On the exam, definitions appear in verbatim, and you are required to choose the right answer from 4 possible choices.

I love to explain concepts with examples and analogies. Here’s the first one to explain a service. After the example, I will interpret the official definition the way they actually meant it.

We all use cell phones, and a cell phone service provider enables us to make calls from anywhere in the country. The ability to call people from the comfort of our choice of location is a service. In this context, you can call it a cell phone service. Here’s a non IT example. I have seen that people generally grasp theories faster through examples that they deal with day to day, and preferably non IT. Coming back to the example, we get our cars washed at certain outlets. The service these outlets are providing us is the car washing service. The input is a dirty car, and the output is a clean car.

A service is always represented from the customer’s perspective and not from the service provider. Going back to our cell phone example. To set up a cell phone service, the service provider will have to run network infrastructure in the background, certain applications for communication and routing, and he would need to setup towers to ensure you receive the service wherever you go. The service provider may as well call the enabling pieces as a network service, application service and a tower service to set up your cell phone service. But, what matters for a service to be called a service is the way a customer sees it. A customer does not see the towers, applications nor the topography used. He sees it in the form of making calls. Making calls is a service, and ITIL concurs.

Let’s try to understand the definition of a service. A service in ITIL is defined as a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks. The value for the customer is the ability to make calls, and this is definitely what the customer wants – referred in the defintion as facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve. Now the sticking point. Customers don’t own the costs? Is it free? I haven’t seen any cell phone provider offer free service. Something is wrong! Something is definitely wrong, it’s the interpretation. The customer does not have to bear the costs for what makes a service – read it as for the networks, applications and towers. Customer is charged at some rate for the service he leverages – say $39.99 for 800 minutes in a month. All the back end charges get absorbed for the service provider through this costing, but the customer sees it through the service he is obtaining – once again service from customer perspective.

Now the last part which doesn’t make much sense. Risks. There are risks associated with any service. The application might crash, a tornado could bring down towers. The risks associated with the service is owned by the service provider alone. It does not get passed onto the customer. Hey, two of my towers got ripped off last night, why don’t you pay up $150 for the repair costs… Nope. Risks associated with a service is borne by the service provider.

Now, after reading my mini sermon on service, I am quite sure that you are nodding at the ITIL official definition of a service. Comment below if you still have some questions lurking around your mind.

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A Very Brief Introduction of ITIL V3 Lifecycle Phases | Abhinav PMP | IT Blog January 28, 2012 at 12:15 AM

[…] phase of ITIL V3. It deals with the business end of service management – strategizing which service to offer to customers and opting for services depends on the market space, the ROI and the customer […]

What is a Service? | Abhinav PMP | IT Blog | ITIL Foundation Training January 28, 2012 at 5:45 AM

[…] breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is everything in ITIL. For somebody getting into ITIL, … This entry was posted in ITIL Foundation and tagged certification, courses, exam, itil […]


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