Deconstructing ITSM

17 February 2009

People – Process – Technology – The eternal triangle

The eternal triangle of “People, Process and Technology” is tired and overworked, especially in marketing literature. In itself, these facts don’t make it wrong. But is it good enough?

It’s usually invoked to back a claim that there’s more to consider than just [whatever it is that is already being considered – often a technical product]. And this is nearly always a good thing. Obviously each of the three words embraces a number of related concepts – for example, a consideration of people requirements should bring in questions of skills and motivation as well as sheer numbers of people. But can the triumvirate of People, Process and Technology claim to be everything there is to consider?



One thing I think is missing is the dimension of information or data. (Information and data are not the same thing, but we can understand them living on the same dimension, along with knowledge and wisdom. As does content, the term favoured in web-enabled business-to-consumer areas.)

Some people seem to regard information as a detail of technology, but I believe this view leads to incomplete solutions – in other words, information is very definitely something more to consider.

Consider first that people and technology are independent dimensions: if you change your systems, you don’t expect to have to change all your people. (If a change in people is required, it’s an undesirable cost of the new systems.) People and process, similarly.

Now: if you migrate to a new tool, be it service desk, procurement, access management, or any other “IT for IT” system, do you expect to have to replace all your information? No. And yet this is precisely what organisations are often forced into: costly and incomplete migrations of data, via difficult imports etc. Conversely, if you have information critical to the operation of IT – like your access rights directory – do you expect it to be accessible only through one tool? No. At least we shouldn’t put up with that any more.

Thus, information and technology are separate dimensions.

In Organisation X, a hypothetical but representative company built up of many that I’ve worked with, the People dimension is well considered. You can quickly find out who’s there (actual). You can find out who’s supposed to be there (plan) and how they’re organised. You can even get hold of a register of skills and there’s an audit of what skills are needed that don’t exist (except the audit was last done in 2007). The Technology dimension is well managed. You can kick the servers, you can drop a printer on your toe, you can log in to the applications. They’re relatively tangible. There is a technical architecture and an architecture team although no one’s quite sure what they do. They’re not so good on process management, as they still see processes only as sequences of activities and don’t properly manage outputs, but the issues are at least understood. But if you ask about information, the question can only be understood within each application or system; it’s only tangible if you log in; there is no way of determining what’s supposed to be there. As a result, new technology is procured with no more consideration of information needs than the vendor saying “we can import data” and “open SQL interface”. There are silos of information all over the place, even though People, Process and Technology are considered in every project and every management meeting.

I’m not even going to get started on Configuration Management in this post – but that is precisely information management for “IT for IT”.

For more on data management, look up The Data Administration Newsletter, or the dm-discuss list at Yahoo!. There are many other good sites too.



Another aspect of IT planning and management that could be introduced is architecture, or Enterprise Architecture. In fact I don’t think this is a separate dimension – instead, it’s part of all the above dimensions. Enterprise Architecture (whatever Wikipedia says) covers the frameworks and structure for each of those dimensions – principally systems and processes, you might say, but very much information architecture as well, and often organisation architecture. (Systems architecture is sometimes divided into technology and applications architectures. Process architecture is sometimes subsumed under business architecture, with some of organisation architecture.)

(Some add “partners” as another dimension, but I’ve always been happy to see internal organisation management as an aspect of people management, and further along the scale, management of partners as a further aspect.)

We can therefore view architecture in each dimension as one end of a scale:

People Resource levels; Skills Organisation planning; HR policy; Supplier / vendor / partner management
Process Actual processes Business Process Management; Process/business architecture
Technology Actual systems and tools Systems architecture; Technology policy
Information Raw data; Data flows Data modelling; Information Architecture; Knowledge Management

For more on architecture and data management as they relate to ITSM, see ERP for IT.


So, People Process Technology and Information, everyone. Remember these four things and consider them in all your planning and review activities. It won’t catch on, of course, because lists of three are far more memorable – and because tetrahedrons can’t be drawn in proposals as easily as triangles.



  1. A contribution to the debate


    Comment by Nick Milton — 17 February 2009 @ 20:17 | Reply

  2. Thanks Nick – a good video. I suppose there would not be much point in adding an information dimension in your field – knowledge management!

    Comment by Joe Pearson — 17 February 2009 @ 23:31 | Reply

  3. Hi Nick , I enjoyed the video and agreed that the picture has been presented in many ways, in my experience the picture talks to organisations about the reasons they need to integrate , People (Behavior), Process and Tools. Achieving the “sweet spot” is the objective , but it cannot be achieved if People don’t adopt the correct behavior, by embracing the organisations Vision, Mission and Values. People gain a clear understanding of their role in the organisation by defining the process, documenting the process and the expected output. Accountability is gained by understanding what is expected of you, in an organisation, very often we find people in organisations that do not have a clear understanding of what their role is or the process that is to followed, Finance is one function of many in any company. Integration addresses the whole organisation.Only after we have the right people , with the right behavior , and they understand the process , can an organisation specify the tool based on the business requirements. Too often 90% of companies select a tool to resolve a problem without addressing the People and Processes.

    Comment by Sean DuSart — 30 March 2011 @ 10:31 | Reply

  4. Nick, I appreciate the critical analysis of the P-P-T model. However, I’d say that information/data is sort of subsumed under the Technology aspect, in that the use of technology is often about how to better access and use data to turn it into information, and format the information in a way that turns into knowledge.

    I would add that the fourth leg of the stool is not real data/information, but rather its cousin: METRICS. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Unfortunately, we live in a world of information (and therefore metrics) overload, so often in change management we go from not measuring enough (or at all) to measuring TOO MUCH.

    Metrics (and incentives tied to such metrics) drive behavior. The key is understanding what behavior is desired, and then decide which metrics drive the appropriate desired behavior.

    Just my two cents.

    Comment by Alex Panelli — 26 October 2011 @ 21:05 | Reply

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