Je Vais Prendre Ta Douleur, or the Nature of Being a Service Provider


That’s a line from a song I really like by a French artist named “Camille” and basically means “I’m going to take your pain.”

This is really what a service provider does for its customers. They take on “pain” for a customer so that the customer can focus on the business activities that are important to them. This prevents the customer from having to worry about mundane details like how much memory a server has or where that next megabyte of storage will be found.

Technical details such as these (and there are numerous others that we worry about in the world of IT) are mundane, esoteric, and sometimes arcane. They’re painful for people, especially the business, to worry about because they take the business away from where they need to focus, which is on their core activities.

Take, for example, an organization where I once worked that had a server provisioning process that was intended to get servers promptly installed in the data center at the request of the business. We weren’t very good at it because at one time it took the IT organization about a hundred and ten days to get a new server commissioned.

We weren’t a very good service provider in this case because not only did we not take pain away from the business, rather, we caused pain that didn’t need to be there. In fact, one quote I remember from a prominent person in a business unit was:

Working with the IT organization is incredibly painful.

That statement wasn’t hyperbole or kidding. He was serious. Perceptions like that, especially when they are reality, are difficult to overcome.

When a service provider causes pain for its customers, what it does is encourage customers to find other approaches that are less painful. In the case of the example I gave here, the incentive that we gave the business was to go and buy their own equipment and install it under their desks. As many in IT have experienced this, we all know that the business doing that is a recipe for disaster, primarily because they are taking on much of the cost of IT and all of the risks associated with it. That’s what a service provider is supposed to do. When the business is forced to do that, it distracts them from more important business activities.

Over time we became much better at provisioning servers for business needs, but the improvement was largely driven by an incident where we had significant business impact, representing even more pain for the business.

Good service providers literally take on pain for their customers because they’re adequately equipped and skilled to manage that pain at a lower cost than their customers are. This is key to being a service provider and offering something that’s recognizable as a service. Service providers that create pain for their customers incentivize their customers to find other, less painful options.

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