The U.K. Office of Government Commerce created the Information Technology Infrastructure Library during the late 1980's. ITIL defines a set of processes and techniques for managing and delivering IT services.
With the release of version 3 earlier this year, ITIL is attracting more attention. It's been more popular in Europe than in the U.S. but that may be changing. Can it help you improve your business?
In earlier versions, ITIL focused on the needs of IT and how to effectively deliver IT services. With v3, ITIL has re-focused on business needs and the costs of delivering IT services. V3 also provides more detail making it easier for IT staffs to implement.
So, what is ITIL and why might you need it? It consists of a core set of five publications. They are Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement.
Every business adopts certain disciplines in its IT operations. Even small companies have routine processes they follow to keep things operating smoothly.
In larger firms, individual departments or facilities often adopt different approaches to delivering IT services. ITIL brings standards and structure to common activities.
You don't need to re-invent the wheel. ITIL provides a documented approach, industry recognition, education resources, and best practices. It is also closely aligned with, though not identical to, ISO/IEC 20000.
While ITIL is a framework that can be adopted in part or entirely, ISO/IEC 20000 is a standard. Being certified as meeting the standard means that your organization has proven that it successfully implemented ITIL across the organization.
The good news is that ITIL doesn't have to be a big bureaucratic solution. You can select the aspects that meet the needs of your business. The bad news is that implementing ITIL takes some work.
ITIL is not "IT in a box". It's not a procedure manual that you merely need to adopt and follow. It's a framework or collection of guidelines. You need to adapt the framework to your situation.
Many companies get started with ITIL because some part of IT operations is broken and a structured approach is needed to fix a process. Once the fix is in place, it often becomes apparent that other IT processes could be improved by following a structured approach. And so begins the journey toward full ITIL adoption.
Is adopting ITIL worth the effort? There are some clear benefits and many other subjective ones. Consider these:
ITIL provides a documented, repeatable, and scalable framework for IT operations with global recognition. It won't solve your problems but it will help you find the solutions.
It clearly identifies roles and responsibilities for IT service management. Defining job responsibilities is an area where many companies falter. ITIL provides clear guidance in this area.
Measurable service performance is an important facet of the framework. You've heard the saying that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. ITIL takes this to heart.
Most people think of IT in terms of systems and networks. ITIL redefines IT in terms of services. The focus is on delivering value to users not building an ever larger infrastructure.
It improves communication between IT and the organization's business units. Because the focus is on services, the business units develop a greater appreciation for the role of IT.
If you require your outsourcing partners to adopt ITIL, it will be easier to audit them against ITIL best practices. You'll have measurable criteria to monitor and evaluate.
Finally, if you choose to seek ISO/IEC 20000 certification, your employees, customers and partners will have strengthened confidence in the ability of your company to manage its operations.
Implementing ITIL is not easy. Whether you decide to select a few areas for improvement or go all out, following a few simple guidelines will make it easier.
Get senior management buy-in. Standard processes work best when the entire organization is committed to their implementation.
Create a clear vision and strategy for what you want ITIL to accomplish. Are you trying to solve specific problems, achieve a new level of performance, integrate disparate operations, or something else?
Involve the entire IT staff. Engage them in discussions around where the most problem-prone areas are and how to fix them. Many ITIL implementations fail simply because someone decides to adopt ITIL without a clear understanding of why and what results are expected.
Complete a self-assessment questionnaire to get a better idea of your current situation and where improvement is needed. (The IT Service Management Forum provides one such questionnaire.)
Don't hesitate to bring in outside expertise. Because ITIL is internationally recognized, there are many consulting and training firms that can assist you.
Establish a realistic timeline. A meaningful ITIL implementation is likely to take more than a year. Trying to get it on the fast track will likely create more problems than you can manage.
Be realistic about costs. You won't experience any short-term cost reductions. In fact, costs will probably increase in the first year as you buy materials, train personnel and create new procedures. The cost benefits will come later.
There are many ITIL resources on the Internet. A simple search will yield millions of hits. Try starting with Wikipedia instead. It provides a good overview and links to some excellent resources.
Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO. He helps companies avoid the subtle mistakes that cause missed deadlines, lost opportunities and fragile results. He shows them agile approaches that slash risk and cut development time so they get to market 25-50% faster. He helps them carry that momentum into the sales cycle using white papers and case studies that accelerate the selling process.
This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in November 2007.
To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.
This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.