The Role of the Service Manager

Tony Baer joined the SOA Consortium on one of its working group conference calls this week to discuss his research on connections between ITIL and SOA. Both he and Beth Gold-Bernstein have blogged about the call, Beth focusing on the broader topic of SOA and ITIL, and Tony talking about the topic of service ownership, as these topics were the meat of the conversation between Beth, Tony, and myself.

I’ve spent the past few years thinking about all things SOA, and recently, I completed the ITIL v3 Foundations certification and have been doing a lot of work in the ITIL/ITSM space. When you move away from the technology-side of the discussion and actually talk about the people and process side of the discussion, you’ll find that there are significant similarities between ITIL/ITSM adoption and SOA adoption. Tony had a diagram in his presentation that illustrated this that Beth reproduced on her blog. Having looked at this from both the SOA world of the application developer and the ITIL/ITSM world of IT operations, there’s a lot that we can learn from ITIL in our SOA adoption efforts. Foremost, ITIL defines a role of Service Manager. Anyone who’s listened to my panel discussions and heard my answer to the question, “What’s the one piece of advice you have for companies adopting SOA?” you’ll know that I always answer, “Make sure all your services have owners.” I’ve decided I like the term “Service Manager” better than “Service Owner” at this point, but if you refer to past posts of mine, you can think of these two terms synonymously.

So what does a service manager do? Let’s handle the easy one. Clearly, service management begins with the initial release of the service. The service manager is accountable for defining this release and putting the project in motion to get it out the door. This involves working with the initial service consumer(s) to go over requirements, get the interface defined, build, test, deploy, etc. Clearly, there’s probably a project manager, developers, etc. helping in the effort, but in a RACI model, it’s the service manager who has accountability. The work doesn’t end there, however. Once the service is in production, the service manager must be receiving reports on the service utilization, availability, etc. and always making sure it meets the needs of the consumer(s). In other words, they must ensure that “service” is being provided.

They must also be defining the next release of the service. How does this happen? Well, part of it comes from analysis of current usage, part of it comes from external events, such as a merger, acquisition, or new regulations, and part of it comes from seeking out new customers. Some consumers may come along on their own with new requests. Reading between the lines, however, it is very unlikely that a service manager manages only one service. It is more likely that they manage multiple services within a common domain. Even if it is one service, it’s likely that the service has multiple operations. The service manager is the one responsible for the portfolio of services and their operations, and trying to find the right balance between meeting consumer needs and keeping a maintainable code base. If there’s redundancy, the service manager is the one accountable for managing it and getting rid of it where it makes sense. This doesn’t negate the need for enterprise service portfolio management, because sometimes the redundancy may be spread across multiple service managers.

So what’s the list? Here’s a start. Add other responsibilities via comments.

  • Release Management (a.k.a. Service Lifecycle Management)
  • Production Monitoring
  • Customer (Consumer) Management
  • Service Management
  • Marketing
  • Domain Research: Trends associated with the service domain
  • Domain-Specific Service Portfolio Management

Think hard about this, as it’s a big shift from many IT organizations today. How many organizations have their roles strictly structured around project lifecycle activities, rather than service lifecycle activities? How many organizations perform these activities even at an application level? It’s a definition change to the culture of many organizations.

7 Responses to “The Role of the Service Manager”

  • Todd,

    Am I restating the obvious, but you’re describing a PRODUCT manager; though, you’re name is more appropriate. My point is, and I fully agree with you, that project lifecycles don’t allow for change over time that supports long-term sharing and reuse (and the growth of the service that they require).

    Perhaps… and I’m motivated by a fantastic team here at Actional, but one of the things companies can do with their software vendors, as part of their “partnership” (I’m only being partly sarcastic, some companies do have a culture of partnering with their customers, most just give it lip service) is have access to benchmarking how we (software companies) do products. It is a big change for most organizations. Which, of course, begs quite a few other questions…

    Nice post. And, right on the money.


  • You’re exactly right. I’d be interested to know whether you think there are any differences between a product manager and a service manager. I think there are some subtle differences, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Perhaps Neil Macehiter or Neil Ward-Dutton will comment and shed some light. I know when I’ve used the term product management before, they’ve pointed out that there is a difference, and perhaps it’s that service management really puts the customer/consumer first, while product management has a tendency to put product first, and convince the customer/consumer that it’s the right thing.

  • The devil’s in the details. A penny for your thoughts on the role and responsibility of the service Manager while in Production monitoring role. e.g., when there’s an SLA issue that turns out to be infrastructure-related, what’s the Service Mgr’s role with regard to trouble ticketing and interfacing with the ITIL Service Desk, and of course, triggering incident, problem, and change management?

  • […] While the last thing that the IT organizations needs is yet another layer of management, it may need another layer of responsibility. UPDATE: Todd Biske has provided some more detail on what the role of a Service manager would entail. […]

  • I think you make some good connections between Service Oriented Architectures and Service Management. While the role of the individual “service manager” is important, I think that Service Management is actually a much bigger area that encompasses the physical, virtual, and IT worlds. I wrote about this in my blog at Our team has just finished writing extensively about this in our book Service Management for Dummies that puts this all into perspective.

  • Tony & Judith, thanks for your comments. I certainly agree that Service Management is a very big area. It can easily fall into the area of big, enterprise-wide adoption efforts, and therefore is at similar risk of becoming a stalled multi-year effort if not carefully planned.

    Tony, to your comment on production monitoring, clearly, there are other roles involved that deal with the day-to-day responses to SNMP alerts, etc. For incident, problem, and change management, the service manager is unlikely to be involved unless it’s a major problem. They should be the face to the consumer in those situations. Outside of that, they should get regular summaries of incidents and problems, so they can turn that around into changes that need to be made to the service.
    Ultimately, the service manager is the one that needs to deal with the consumer who calls up and wants an explanation. In other words, the accountability buck stops there. Even when we’re not talking about problems, the service manager also needs to be seeing some summary of usage information so they know when changes need to be made, consumers need to be contacted, etc.

  • […] During this portion, Dr. Zhou emphasizes having a services, rather than underlying resource, point of view.  IT is offering a service to its constituents.  The end view of that service is an application.  In the usage view slide, the application manager is what some would refer to as a service owner or product manager. […]

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