ITSM Skills – Skilling Me Softly

This year the itSMF (and the various stakeholders they consulted) have chosen Skills as one of the four major topics for 2014

The itSMF have a particular interest in the world of skills, with their involvement in SFIA® (Skills Framework for the Information Age), wherein different types of skills are described at 7 levels:

  1. Follow
  2. Assist
  3. Apply
  4. Enable
  5. Ensure, advise
  6. Initiate, influence
  7. Set strategy, inspire, mobilize

These are not just about technical (hard) ITSM skills, but incorporate elements of soft skills, such as communicating, influencing and negotiating. At first it might appear that the soft skills are more related to the higher levels, but the ability to communicate is just as important for the Service Desk Agent, the 3rd Line Support Team Leader, the Project Manager or the CIO.

Skills in the ITIL® framework are classed as capabilities rather than resources, but in fact skills link these two kinds of service assets together. People are key (human) resources, but the skills of the people form part of the capabilities of an organization.

One type of resource is infrastructure, (for example: a server). Without the capabilities such as knowledge and skills relating to the selection, deployment and support of the server, that resource is of little use. The skills themselves are also of little use unless applied to something (a resource).

Different levels of skills (hard or soft) can be linked to the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom sequence within ITIL Knowledge Management, for example:

  • Data: today 100 incidents were logged. This takes very little skill to record.
  • Information: of those incidents, 32 relate to application A; 13 to Server S; 32 to Department D; 16 to new user U; 87 logged before 12:00. On average there are 40 incidents each day, so 100 today is significant. This takes more skill in analyzing the data to refine into information.
  • Knowledge: certain incidents have particular underlying causes (problems), and these can be linked to specific workarounds. It takes considerable skill to relate these together, to understand how something has been caused, or how to prevent it, or how to deal with it if it happens again.
  • Wisdom: this is the element which is not stored in the system, but relies on the instinct, the intuition, the contextual awareness and ultimately the skill of the people involved, so that they know when to apply some particular knowledge.

ITSM Skills are more than qualifications, although such external or objective measurements can be very useful. Knowledge, such as “What is the definition of an Incident?” or “Which of these four options would be ITIL best practice?” can be tested by a written or multiple-choice examination. Skills are the combination of knowledge plus situational experience and are often tested more in a competency-based assessment such as “Give an example of where you had to…” so that the understanding and reasoning behind the knowledge can be checked. Some skills can only be judged in action “Please play me Beethoven’s (Moonlight) Sonata in C#Minor”.

When we are training people for a particular certification, we focus on the knowledge. When we give examples or experience, or get the delegates to work through examples, we focus more on the skills. Only when the delegate comes to apply the knowledge gained does the development of such skills really ensue.

Post-certification training and practice are also vital. The delegate knows what a Service Level Agreement is most of its structure and hopefully also its benefits, but they need practice in the communications and (particularly) negotiation and influencing skills in order to get one proposed and agreed.

Hard and soft skills are not just complimentary, they are symbiotic. At Fox IT, we use the soft skills of training and communications to teach the knowledge for subjects including COBIT®, ITIL, and ISO/IEC 20000. Conversely, the actual material requires the knowledge of the subject and the training platform being used. When work on consulting assignments, we apply the knowledge we have learned from training and years of experience to the assignment.

Alas with regard to the Beethoven assignment, I retain the knowledge of it but without sufficient repetition my skills here have somewhat lapsed!


Alan Nixon
Director of Training
Fox IT