OTRS ITSM Part I: What is ITSM?

[A couple of boring paragraphs about why I’m writing these posts. Skip to next set of brackets to ignore. :]

What seems like a long time ago now, I wrote a few posts on how to configure the online ticketing system OTRS. While it’s a great system with thorough documentation on how to install the system and configure it, I felt that there were some gaps in the official documentation. So I made some up and wrote a brief manual on the basics of getting started with OTRS, split up over three posts. To my surprise, those posts have brought a consistent stream of traffic to this blog ever since. I’ve received quite a few kind and encouraging comments, which I really appreciate.

In addition to those comments, I get questions. The question I get most consistently is this: Will you do a similar series on ITSM? I promised I would, but in the meantime I had changed jobs and was no longer working with OTRS on a daily basis. On top of that, I started going to school part time. So while I’ve had it on my to-do list to write these posts for well over a year, it took until now for me to work in the time to write them. But it’s finally happening. For those who have been waiting for these posts, thanks for coming back. Sorry for making you wait so long…

[Okay, on to the meat of the subject.]

Introduction

This post will cover the basics of what ITSM is and why you would want to use it. It’s not meant to be a replacement for the official ITSM manual (which is really well done, btw), but since you were nice enough to stop by and see me here, I’m going to give you my take.

Scope of Application

I won’t be going into a lot of technical detail here, but just so you know where the starting point will be on the technical side, I’m now running OTRS 4, patch level 9 on an Amazon EC2 instance. The OS is RHEL 6.6, which means all the following should apply to CentOS, as well. I’ll be working with OTRS::ITSM 4, patch level 9.

IT Service Management

That should clear up what ITSM stands for. (If you don’t know what IT stands for, you’ve come to the wrong blog–the wrog, maybe.) But what is it?

The official documentation gives a brief reminder of ITIL and the standards that exist for IT best practices. If you’re in a shop that is or wants to be ITIL certified, you’ll be well versed in this. If you’re not part of one of those shops, you still probably want to employ industry best practices whenever possible. A big part of the appeal of OTRS is that it is (or at least claims to be) fully ITIL compliant–meaning it will help you enforce best practices. Being open-source and fully customizable means that you’re not bound by those practices and can implement your own strategies, but you’ll start with an ITIL compliant foundation.

“But Tyler,” you say, “I don’t know what ITIL is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t care. I just want to know that IT Service Management is.” Okay. Fine. From here on, I’m going to assume that if you’re looking into OTRS::ITSM, you’re already familiar with the OTRS ticketing system. If not, check out my series on that.

Incident Management

If you work in IT, there aren’t a lot of standard days at the office. That’s what attracts a lot of people to the work–the only constant is problem-solving. There’s always a problem. In the last few weeks, you’ve probably had to reinstall someone’s printer driver, reset a password or two, flushed some caches, imaged a couple machines, etc., etc.

If somebody asked you to write a job description for your position, it would either be incredibly long, or it would just say this:

  • Ideal candidate will know everything about computers and all peripheral technologies and be ready to fix every possible problem at a moment’s notice, likely under duress.

This is why you have a ticketing system like OTRS. Requests are constantly streaming in, and you need some way to organize and prioritize them. This is incident management, and it’s one part of ITSM. But wait… there’s more!

Asset Management

You may have a storage room somewhere that looks like this:

If you were lucky enough to be in that shop before anybody started thinking about asset management, you may have even been lucky enough tog et to catalog everything that was in that storage room as you asked yourself, “Why in the world are we hanging onto this?” Well, part of ITSM is establishing (and hopefully following) the policies and practices for things like tracking equipment, deciding when and how to buy new equipment and who’s responsible for approving it, etc. It’s not usually fun to walk into someone’s office to help them with their printer problem and find out that they bought their own printer and want you to make it functional on the office network.

Change Management

This is a big one, and it’s too often neglected. When you are making changes in production, no matter how sure you are that everything will be fine, there’s a good chance that some edge case you weren’t ready for will interfere with your plan. Change management is planning what the change will be, when the change will happen, who is responsible for the change, and, probably most important, the roll-back strategy in the event that the change fails or breaks something. OTRS::ITSM provides tools for handling this whole process.

Conclusion

I’ve covered some of the high-level categories for IT Service Management as an overview of what OTRS::ITSM aims to help with. But to get even more general, ITSM covers any of the policies and practices that help IT deliver the services needed to help the business reach its goals. That’s a pretty broad task, which means that OTRS::ITSM has a lot of features. My goal isn’t to cover them all. I’m going to do with these posts what I did with the original OTRS series and make recommendations for the initial setup while also trying to elaborate on any “gotchas” in the system. Hopefully it will be useful to those who find the official documentation overwhelming.
Love and kisses,Tyler

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