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How to Build a Service Management Office (SMO)

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Over the past decade or so, organizations worldwide have begun creating Service Management Offices (SMOs) in an effort to better centralize and improve the results of their IT Service Management (ITSM) efforts. When done well, SMOs can transform organizations. When done, um, less than well, they can do more harm than good.

Let’s try to avoid that latter scenario, yes? This article will help. Specifically, you’ll get an idea of what an SMO is, reasons you may want to build one, a few all-too-common pitfalls and challenges, and the steps you’ll need to take to be successful.

Basics First: What is an SMO?

A Service Management Office can take on many forms. Like with Project Management Offices (PMOs), they can have a lot or a little control within an organization (Fun fact: SMOs are often patterned after PMOs). An SMO can be as simple as a single person who oversees Service Management initiatives. It can also be a team that periodically meets to talk about ongoing and future ITSM efforts within the organization. It can include a place to collaborate and share knowledge, a central source of templates and other process-related documentation, or a way to coordinate ITIL and other training options.

On the other end of the spectrum, an SMO can be a formal, full-time team that oversees the entirety of an organization’s ITSM efforts, including projects, processes, services, ITSM platform implementations, and/or improvement programs across the enterprise.  SMOs can be set up to manage a scope of any size, and team members can be low- or high-ranking members of the IT organization.

Regardless of the form an SMO takes, the vision should include something along the lines of increasing the success of IT Service Management efforts across the organization. The reason for putting forth the effort to build an SMO is to get better at what you’re doing within IT.

Sounds great! So, setting up an SMO should be simple, right?

Let’s go with simple-ish. Making your IT organization better is a noble cause, but in forming an SMO you must maintain focus on either solving a problem or reaching a clear goal. Too often, teams run off without hashing out how to ensure success (which requires thoughtful planning). If you do this, or make your SMO’s goal too pie in the sky, you will:

  • never know whether you achieved your goal,
  • not be able to show Return on Investment to your leadership team, and
  • put a really bad taste in people’s mouths when it comes to ITSM and prevent any good work you hope to do in the future

Just like with PMOs, if your SMO is executed poorly and doesn’t immediately show improvement, it’ll be one of the first things to go when the organization is looking to tighten its budget.

When thinking through the creation of an SMO, be sure to answer the following questions:

  • What are we trying to realistically and practically achieve?
  • What problem(s) are we trying to solve?
  • How are we going to measure success? (eg. cost savings, automation of low-value activities, dramatic improvement in our relationship with our customers)
  • How will we categorically show we’ve made a positive and lasting difference within the organization? What does success look like in, say, two years?

Creating an SMO can be expensive. Even if it doesn’t involve purchasing ITSM tools or hiring additional staff, the time an endeavor like this takes from other high priority projects and programs is itself a cost. Thus, it’s imperative to define what success looks like (establish the “why”) and how you’re going to measure and report it. This order of operations – defining first what you’re trying to achieve – will help you better define the roles and responsibilities of your SMO team (even if that team is a team of one) and how they will be measured. Plus, if you can’t measure something, you can’t hope to manage, improve, or mature it over time.

A few keys to success when starting an SMO

Don’t start from scratch. Find the teams already doing great work and find a way to involve them. There will certainly be people who see the value in solving the problems you’ve defined and want to help. See the pockets of excellence in your organization (They exist –  I promise) as invaluable resources.

Other questions to answer up front include:

  • Who needs to be involved in this effort, both to get it started and to make sure it continues to be successful?
  • If SMO members are not part of the leadership team, how and when will they interact with leadership?
  • How will we capture and communicate progress and success? Partying early and often is key.

And that does it! Easy peasy.  Need help in implementing IT Service Management or establishing an SMO in your organization?  Request a free consultation with one of our experts.

Want to dig a little deeper?

This 45-minute SMO webinar recording gets into the weeds.
Stream the webinar

Originally published January 01 2017, updated July 07 2023