Companies of all sizes continue to benefit from standard processes, thanks to the IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL. But is it really worth the investment in the current climate? Kevin White investigates.
“ITIL is a fantastic way of developing a real understanding of what ‘good’ looks like,” says Jim Grant, senior VP for BMC Software. “It’s much more pervasive in Europe, but I can tell you there’s nowhere around the world that ITIL doesn’t come up during discussions about business service management.”
In the US, interest levels have ramped only slowly but adoption rates have jumped in the past couple of years – it is now estimated that at least 45% of sizeable corporations there are now making tracks with ITIL.
First developed in the late 80s by the UK government’s procurement vehicle, the Central Communications and Telecom Agency (which has since been superseded by the Office of Government Commerce), ITIL been widely adopted by both commercial and public-sector organisations as the leading standard for best practice in the provision of IT services.
A recent report by IDC demonstrates why so many companies have looked at, have started or are now part way through ITIL adoption.
The analyst house notes that integrated IT service management programmes based on ITIL and other process standards like CobiT, ISO 20000 and Six Sigma, allow organisations to adopt standardised processes across IT.
Through this standardisation, IT shops can eliminate redundant processes, better streamline existing processes, remove stovepipes that exist between IT department silos, and increase IT efficiency by eliminating redundant steps in change or configuration management. IT shops can also optimise IT service performance and availability while improving operational efficiency.
From this standpoint any company that is interested in making process improvements is a good candidate for ITIL. That gives pretty much every site good reason to consider its adoption.
According to a survey by Axios Systems, optimising service quality and improving processes is currently a top priority for 61% of IT managers in 2009. Its poll also revealed that over two-thirds of IT managers will be implementing new IT service management projects this year, as the pressure to do more with less increases.
Quality of service
But organisations need to be mindful that the benefits of ITIL often relate primarily to quality of service rather than to costs. Some have jumped on the ITIL bandwagon without truly understanding what they are trying to achieve with it.
But most will have started small with projects to improve the effectiveness with which they deal with incident, problem or change management process and these have been proved to be good initial candidates.
Speaking to CBR about the release in May 2007 of ITIL v3, Sharon Taylor, its chief architect and president of IT services company the Aspect Group, confirms that this sort of adoption pattern has typified the approach people were taking to ITIL but that – with the releases of Version 3 – things were changing.
“Historically ITIL has been a grassroots discovered pathway. Now it’s also being looked at high levels of the organisation because it’s being looked at as a mechanism to solve business challenges. The objective was to move ITIL into the boardroom” she says.
It may not yet be the talk of the top table of every company, but discussions about ITIL have moved on apace from pondering the details of incident levels, change release schedules or service desk trouble ticket resolution rates.
ITIL is all about processes and the disciplines that surround them and these are going to be different in every organisation. But discussions about ITIL will commonly centre on architecting business change, on alignment and on business value.
“Business is interested in continuous improvement, and is always looking for ways to more quickly realise value” moots Barry Goodwin, a VP with Oracle. “Best practices do help.” Oracle reckons organisations stand to gain from the improved service levels that ITIL promotes, and better quality of service ultimately leads to increased customer satisfaction.
This stems from a closer alignment of IT services and processes with business requirements, expectations, and goals. Goodwin told us, “All our own service delivery personnel are trained to Foundation Level in ITIL, and the Oracle ITSM suite is Pink-verified.” Pink verification comes from the Pink Elephant IT service management consulting firm that offers an ITIL compatibility service for software and service providers.
ITIL is a framework, not a roadmap with a beginning and an end. And it is far from being a how-to guide of implementation steps, or a boxed set of ITIL-compliant software tools. Experts will stress that ITIL is nothing at all to do with installing software.
However, software does have an important supporting role to play. IDC maintains that a clear need exists for stronger integration between ITIL-based processes and the technologies that IT organisations are using to measure IT service performance.
On that front IT service management software vendors have over the past few years developed management systems that embed process standards such as ITIL into their operations. BMC has developed a business service management strategy that maps IT infrastructure performance to business services and links that to the IT Governance Institute’s COBiT framework.
HP has integrated key processes such as incident, problem, change, and service-level management and added software that manages the discovery and tracking of assets within the IT environment to increase accuracy and help ensure a less manually intensive process. Likewise, Oracle’s latest upgrade of its Enterprise Manager systems management suite, promises real-time configuration updates and reconciliation processes.
Oracles Goodwin explains, “We want to make sure that everything we do aligns with industry best practice. It’s the best way we can ensure efficiency in service management. It leads to a reduction in total cost of ownership. It also means we can de-risk business projects. These are the business outcomes we are looking for in adopting and adapting these recommended practices.”
Although version 3 defines the ITIL processes in more detail than ever before, it still does not map out exactly which process an organisation should use. Best practices differ, depending on how an organisation defines and operates its processes. The IT Infrastructure Library may have started out as a book, but all the experts warn against implementing ITIL by the book.
To bring a fresh perspective on its adaption, IBM has developed a Service Management Simulator. Although it is billed as a fun way of building service management and ITIL skills, users are still applying real-life processes and should gain a better understanding of the issues their business is facing and how ITIL-based process can lead the way to greater operational maturity and better customer satisfaction.
One of the key points is to signal what has been a wholesale shift with V3 of the IT Infrastructure Library towards a service-driven lifecycle approach.
How important is ITIL version 3? That depends on the enterprise. IBM suggests that specific business goals and challenges should be the primary considerations. Then consideration should be given to ITIL, as well as other frameworks, to determine the best approach to achieve the immediate business objectives.
IBM sees Version 3 as an important element of service management. It says that the increased scope of the industry best practices in ITIL V3 is a reflection of the increasing value of lifecycle integration and business integration to service management.
IBM’s own product portfolio has been developed and refined to incorporate ideas that are integrated into ITIL. One such idea, for instance, is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), which describes an approach to software development that emphasises abstraction and reuse. In this way, the enterprise can optimise technology for multiple purposes, delivered through multiple services, conceivably across multiple divisions. This helps enterprises make the most out of any given technology, rather than expensively reinventing the wheel every time a new variation on a given class of solution is required.
IBM’s SOA perspective, manifested in various products and services, helps businesses ensure that the road to service-centric management is successful. The vendor’s portfolio has been specifically tuned to support service management goals and is created using open standards whenever possible to maximize interoperability and simplify management complexity. All of these advantages translate into easier implementation of service management best practices.
Guidance given in Version 3 is intended to be more prescriptive and to clearly demonstrate how to approach service-oriented IT management. Previous service management improvement approaches gave little acknowledgment to the fact that business services are increasingly being provisioned from a blend of internal IT department resources, by outsourcing providers, from shared service units or as a software-as-a-service offering.
V3 points toward an evolution of this and shifts the focus away from the ten service support processes of incident, change, service level management and the like, and towards the support and management of a more dynamic ‘service portfolio’.
Development of a business-driven catalogue of services has become a cornerstone of best practice for service level management, and adoption of a service management lifecycle is considered advantageous. The intention? To finesse how services are built to support the business strategy. To perfect how to design a service, how to transition that service into operations, manage it well and then work to continuously improve its delivery.
From this standpoint, “ITIL does make for a fantastic blueprint for service management”, CA’s senior VP Chris Miller confirms. “But the reality is that it will normally call for some significant levels of business change. And if that business change calls for significant amount of investment, in the current climate there is the danger that it is going to stall. ITIL is very, very important to many organisations, but in many ways it is considered discretionary, and they may well have to defer some of their planned activities.”
It might appear that ITIL is something of a discretionary activity given the current economic climate. But industry analysts point out that certain core ITIL disciplines, such as configuration management, capacity management and problem management, can actually play an important role in an IT shop’s cost optimisation initiatives.
“It’s about the visibility and understanding that ITIL adoption delivers and how that provides organisations with the clarity needed to embark on a significant cost-cutting programme, while ensuring that such cuts can be implemented within a governance and control framework to mitigate associated change-related risk,” says analyst firm Gartner.
Also in this report: CBR looks at the general move from systems management to business service management here; and ask what the business case is for a configuration management database or CMDB, here.