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Easy ITIL: Getting to Done

By John Sundberg

Although the concept of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) has been around for twenty-five years, many organizations are just beginning to think about it. Thanks to our British peers across the pond, we have the benefit of their experience and hindsight to aid our own adoption of ITIL best practices.

ITIL originated in the 1980s by the UK Government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), which was later merged into the Office of Government Commerce (OGC)—an office of the UK Treasury. The CCTA documented a framework of best practices designed to facilitate the efficient delivery of high-quality information technology (IT) services. These supplier-independent management procedures support IT infrastructure, development, and operations for providing financial and operational value to business.

Amazingly, when I Googled "Easy ITIL" it returned 1,690,000 results. After reading them all (well, quite a few at least), I still wouldn’t describe ITIL as easy. On the other hand, you’re probably already using some combination of ITIL processes intuitively, especially if your service desk is operating reasonably well. Even though you may not be intimately familiar with the daunting 31-volumes of ITIL, if your IT shop or service desk has a formal process for requesting a change, it’s using an ITIL-recommended practice. Much of ITIL is straightforward, though portions can seem impossibly difficult. I’ll try here to sort out what’s most easily done and help you bypass some of the landmines.

To ITIL or not to ITIL?

Be forewarned that acceptance of ITIL is somewhat of a blind-faith proposition; there currently is no formula to demonstrate a return on any of ITIL’s prescribed processes. And while ITIL guidelines suggest methods for change management and problem management,

This is perhaps why the organizations that fully embrace ITIL are typically large, mature companies with the resources to invest in this monumental endeavor. However, you don’t have to be a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate to begin to implement ITIL. Though ITIL is vast, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Think of it as a framework from which you can select and integrate those processes you consider relevant for your organization. You can always revisit those that you initially skip as your situation changes.

Prepare for the Journey

This is the key to making ITIL far less intimidating. Like every major undertaking, it is easier when broken down into digestible pieces. Remember: a journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step. This article will help you with the initial part of that journey.

As you embark on your ITIL odyssey, think processes first, software second. It is preferable to rely on ITIL’s proven processes—rather than software—to help you establish or improve your service desk.

The IT Skeptic, Rob England, has it right: "Many methodologies, including ITIL, have aspects that are not applicable to small and medium enterprises."¹

One final, familiar caveat: Don’t blame ITIL for the change your IT organization will undergo. IT organizations evolve even without a disruptive force. But rolling out ITIL—moving from having no or few formal processes to becoming process-centric—may create additional pressure. This is yet another reason to take it step-by-step.

An Educational Process

Service desk software has not yet matured to the level of cross-vendor standards, and therefore frequently lacks interoperability. Make a few inquiries among your peers and choose an affordable package that can be used out-of-the-box. Consider it a learning experience to determine what’s appropriate for your organization and what’s not. As software evolves over the next five years you’ll be in a much better position to take the next steps.

Keep communicating with the vendor you choose, giving them feedback on their product. As they improve their offering you might find your requested enhancements in the next release.

The future may bring quality hosted ITIL-based service desk software and outsourced providers to manage service desks. But by choosing to wait for these options to materialize, you’ll lose the opportunity to begin streamlining business processes and improving your service desk now.

Less Is More—Making ITIL Easier

Here are some suggestions to make the early stages of ITIL adoption, a not-so-easy undertaking, as simple as possible:

Put training and experience on your side.

Before embarking on your ITIL project, have your project manager and team members undergo ITIL training. They will undoubtedly be "ITIL smarter," and, equally important, training will also bring consistency to the team with regard to nomenclature and processes. Everyone will be on the same page.

If you’re grumbling about the cost and time away from the job that training poses, hire somebody who has ITIL experience. This could be an in-house facilitator or an outside consultant who can analyze your current processes and plot a course to guide you to your destination. If you decide to hire consultants, make sure they are vendor-agnostic.

Forget about CMDB.

Few companies are currently using CMDBs for making decisions. Service desk professionals already have a firm grasp on the impact a change will make—and to arrive at more than an educated hunch is far too costly. After all, is spending tens of thousands of hours on building a CMDB and keeping it updated worth saving an hour or so on a phone call?

Wait until configuration management database software becomes more user-friendly. Currently it is unwieldy, especially in light of the debatable benefits and achievability of a CMDB. Simply put, no matter how much data you cram into a central repository, there will always be more somewhere else.

You’ll get more bang for your buck if you make people (cultural change) your top priority. Get everyone on board, then move on to process/change management.

Begin ITIL implementation with a service catalog.

Document the IT services that your service desk provides and give users the ability to request them via a service catalog.

A service catalog roll-out should detail incident management processes for all types of incidents, so users understand what to do in situations that require assistance. An incident is any type of disruption of service. Successful incident management processes restore normal service operation as quickly as possible and minimize the adverse effect on business operations to ensure the best possible levels of service quality and availability. It’s virtually impossible to anticipate every type of incident, but you can start by prioritizing your biggest pain points. Consider centralizing all of your customer calls through the service desk for a consistent, standardized approach to serving customers.

Problem management processes are required to resolve the root cause (errors within the IT infrastructure) of high-frequency incidents. Designed to reduce the number and severity of incidents and their business impact, problem management provides documentation for first- and second-line service desk personnel. A proactive process identifies and resolves problems before incidents occur by:

  • Analyzing trends
  • Targeting support action
  • Providing information to users

Change management processes standardize the methods and procedures used to control changes in order to minimize the impact of change-related incidents and improve day-to-day operations. A change is any event that results in the addition, modification, or removal of a configuration item in the IT infrastructure. These processes include: how a change is requested; who can request a change; the approval process to authorize a change; and how changes are scheduled.

This is where I would suggest you pause to shore up your early adoption of ITIL. With a solid footing you can confidently incorporate release management—the adoption of new services and upgrading of existing services; and configuration management—defining how services are related to each other and maintained. These additions are big chunks that require a firm foundation.

A Beginner’s Stance

In summary, think of these recommendations as a beginner’s manual. When you take up golf, you don’t start with a handbook for pros focused on the game’s fine points. You start with the stance and practice swinging.

Don’t get washed out to sea by the ITIL tidal wave. The disparity among surveys that report statistics about ITIL adoption indicates that there are many interpretations and iterations in play. I’ve seen results as low as 6 percent and as high as 71 percent. For example, Aperture Research Institute reports that 29 percent of "100 data center organizations across a range of industries including banking, government, insurance, healthcare, data services, retail, and telecommunications have implemented ITIL."² See what works for your business and do the best you can… like most of the world.

1 "ITIL Through the Looking Glass–What we can all learn from scaling down ITIL" by Rob England, May 2006.

2 Aperture Research Institute Report: "ITIL is Gaining Momentum but the Data Center is Slow to Adopt," August 2007.

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John Sundberg, founder and President of Kinetic Data, has designed and managed more than 100 information systems for medium and large enterprises. He is president of the Minnesota Chapter of AFSMI (Association for Services Management International).