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Baselines and benchmarking to drive maturity


Performing structured assessments during an organizational change or improvement journey helps people to keep a focus on the best opportunities for improvement.  This article covers how to establish a baseline and the comparison of the baseline to an industry benchmark. This will help you to focus on the right areas for improvement.

Establishing a baseline

An assessment should establish an accurate baseline of the organization’s capability in terms of the business, organization, people, process and technology. It can also cover aspects such as the quality of service, workloads, customer satisfaction and cost effectiveness of both the service and service management processes.

Example metrics for customer support include:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Fix at first call
  • Remote fix
  • Incidents per user
  • Calls per user during migration/deployment activity
  • Support analyst productivity indicator
  • Unit cost of incident resolution

One of the challenges is deciding what to measure for the baseline. The ITIL Continual Service Improvement volume provides useful guidance on how to decide what to measure.  

Establishing a baseline helps us to understand Where are we now? This is step 2 of the ITIL® Continual Service Improvement approach  described in the first article.   

It is advisable to baseline before and after major improvement and change. The effectiveness of the change can then be judged compared to the status quo before the change was made. Similarly, the cost benefit of the change and the impact on the customer’s perception of the service can be measured.

Baselines enable us to determine if a service or process needs to be improved. Baselines can be established and compared to strategic goals and objectives, tactical process maturity or capability, and/or operational metrics. This comparison helps an organization to monitor and evaluate whether there are any gaps and opportunities for improvement.  

Comparing a baseline with other organizations is referred to as benchmarking.


Benchmarking helps senior managers to understand areas of weakness, risk and what can be done more efficiently. Benchmarking often reveals quick-win opportunities that are easy and low cost to implement. These provide substantial benefits in process effectiveness, cost reduction, or staff synergy.

The benchmark can be made against one or more of four types of information:

  • A baseline set of measures for the same system or department over time
  • Other systems or departments within the same company
  • Direct comparisons with similar organizations
  • Industry standards provided by an external organization.

Comparing the current situation with international standards and best practices is a good starting point for assessing current capability and planning improvement. This helps organizations to identify strengths and weaknesses in their performance and processes compared to the wider industry. Any gaps provide opportunities for improvement.
Typical benchmark comparisons include:

  • Compliance: The level of compliance achieved in accordance with international standards such as ISO/IEC 20000 standard
  • Maturity: The level of maturity achieved, in accordance with common maturity models found in ITIL®, CMMI® and COBIT®. This provides a more general view of process capability and maturity.
  • Capability: The level of capability achieved, based upon the ISO/IEC 15504 process assessment standard. This is a more specific and accurate measure of process capability than other more general maturity models.

Standards such as the ISO/IEC 20000 standard for service management are effective as a benchmark because they can be applied equally to all different types and sizes of service provider.
If a service provider does not have easy access to industry standards, comparisons can still be useful when done across different units within an organization. This is particularly the case for large, widespread organizations. Changes over time are also useful. It is essential that the differences between a benchmarking group and the service being benchmarked is understood and quantified if the comparison is to provide useful information. Inappropriate comparisons in benchmarking can be misleading.

The bottom line

Establishing baselines and benchmarking successfully enables an organization to understand, “Where are we now?” A shared understanding of the baseline and benchmark results helps to focus people's energy and efforts on the improvement initiatives that deliver the best results.
For a case study see - Case study: News International Group achieves ISO/IEC 20000

The articles in this series will provide more examples.

About the Author

Shirley Lacy is Managing Director of ConnectSphere. ConnectSphere provides assessment, baseline and benchmarking services to help service providers identify and prioritise improvement opportunities.  
If you want to find out more about ConnectSphere’s assessment services, contact ConnectSphere.  

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