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Outcomes and Outputs

July 25, 2012
Michael Scarborough

Previously I discussed service providers and their risks in the example of my involvement with a landscaping company.

ITIL clearly states that services, “…deliver value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve…” However, sometimes organizations and people focus on outputs as opposed to outcomes, which sacrifices some of the value of the service. This leads to a question, what is the difference between an outcome and an output?

As ITIL indicates, an outcome is:

The results of carrying out an activity, following a process, or delivering an IT service etc. The term is used to refer to intended results as well as to actual results.

The official ITIL glossary does not specifically define the word output, however, the Table 3.3 in the Service Strategy book provides some insight. Basically, an output is:

What a service provider delivers.

This is a subtle distinction, however, it’s an important distinction to consider. In the context of my landscaping work, some of the outputs are:

  • A raised play area for my kid’s swing set

  • Flagstone and decomposed granite installed on one side of my house

  • Stone flowerbeds in my front and side yards

  • Cleaning out and stabilizing the French drains in my yard

The outcome is then what I do with those outputs. For example, some of the facilitated outcomes are:

  • My child plays daily in his outside play area, enjoys it, and the outcome I want is for him to be happy, which in turn makes me happy

  • Improved drainage on the west side of my house, resulting in fewer mosquitos, less standing water, and a pleasurable outdoor experience

  • Improvement in overall appearance of the yard with flowerbeds, increasing the intrinsic value of my home

Service providers sometimes spend too much time focusing on outputs rather than outcomes, which often causes the customer to lose some of the value promised by the service. Some service providers involved in delivering IT services might be too heavily focused on the technology rather than how the customer uses the technology to facilitate outcomes. For example, a service provider might be focused on ensuring that a network is available for customers 24/7 without considering how customers use that network to facilitate outcomes. In this case, customers might have periods of peak volume where network performance suffered and periods of low volume for which the service is basically over-engineered. This is because the service provider is focused on the technical aspects rather than how those technical aspects are used to do something that the customer wants. The service provider hasn’t investigated patterns of business activity and how these are supported by the underlying technology.

It is imperative for service providers to understand clearly the difference in the outputs that they produce, and how those outputs are used by customers to facilitate outcomes. This is a subtle, yet important distinction.

Related Courses
ITIL® Service Capability: Operational Support and Analysis
ITIL® Service Capability: Planning, Protection, and Optimization
ITIL® Service Lifecycle: Continual Service Improvement