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Friday, October 27, 2006

ITIL Crash Course

InfoWorld magazine cover Anyone involved with IT these days knows that ITIL is a hot topic, and one that seems to get hotter every month.

ITIL, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, has evolved from work sponsored by the UK Government in the late 1980's. According to the official ITIL site, it is "the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world". For a lot more detail, see the wikipedia entry for ITIL, which describes it as "a framework of best practice approaches intended to facilitate the delivery of high quality information technology (IT) services", and goes on to explain that:
ITIL outlines an extensive set of management procedures that are intended to support businesses in achieving both quality and value for money in IT operations. These procedures are supplier independent and have been developed to provide guidance across the breadth of IT infrastructure, development, and operations.
If you subscribe to any technical magazine, newsletter or blog written for an IT audience, then you have probably seen more than one story on the benefits of adopting ITIL-based approaches to IT management. The latest publication to jump on the ITIL bandwagon is this week's InfoWorld (October 23, 2006, issue 43) -- also available online -- which contains an excellent 5-page article introducing ITIL.

The magazine cover touts the importance of ITIL today: To keep pace with business strategy, IT need a blueprint for delivering services. That's where ITIL, the modern-day bible of governance, comes in. The article itself is arranged like an interview in which the authors, Randy Steinberg and Michael Goodwin, answer ten questions. I won't list each question, because often you have to read the answers for the next question to make sense. But here's a summary.

Ten questions
Question 1 presents three examples to show how ...
ITIL raises customer satisfaction, reduces waste in the IT organization, and lowers operating costs.
Questions 2 and 3 introduce the processes that together make up the ITIL discipline of Service Support, and the related idea of a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) that provides the foundation for storing and retrieving all information about the IT infrastructure, and making timely management decisions.

Question 4 moves to the equally important discipline Service Delivery, and includes an informative diagram showing the central role of Service Level Management as the function that regulates the interface between Business and IT. [Incidentally, this highlights a perennial issue we face in high tech, where the ever-shifting meanings of common terms makes it hard for people to communicate clearly. In this instance, ITIL's definition of Service Level Management covers a narrower range of activities than my previous use of the same term here.]

Question 5 introduces the other ITIL books: Introduction to ITIL, Planning to Implement Service Management, ICT Infrastructure Management, Applications Management, The Business Perspective, Security Management, and Software Asset Management.

Question 6 asks, ITIL has been around for more than 15 years. Why is it now taking hold in the United States?, and answers:
The United States has always lagged behind Europe in the discipline of IT infrastructure management. Go to a bookstore, and you'll find precious few books on the subject. Go to the universities, and you'll visit a lot before finding one that teaches it. One reason that this is changing is the increasing impact of European- and Asian-owned companies operating in the United States, all saying, Hey, get on board! You need to be ITIL-compliant. That's how we run our shops over here.
It also refers to something I have written about here. Whereas IT customers of the past were "internal staffers, managers, and auditors" ...
these days increasing numbers of IT customers ... are external -- actual customers of the business itself, interacting via public Web sites. If systems fail, potential buyers are likely to take their business elsewhere; potential damage to corporate reputation is high.
Question 7 deals with the needs of large and small IT shops.

Questions 8 and 9 address getting started and getting outside help with your ITIL implementation.

Question 10 talks about ITIL's relationship to ISO 20000. I will discuss the relationship between ITIL, COBIT, and some ISO standards in a future post.

Summing up
The article concludes that ...
Companies that have initiated ITIL efforts are already seeing higher customer-satisfaction levels and reduced costs and labor. Although not a panacea for all IT challenges, ITIL is a fundamental conceptual change for how IT will be doing business in the 21st century. Its time has come.
From all the evidence I see, this is an accurate summary. If ITIL's time has not yet come for your organization, maybe you should expect it to arrive soon. In future posts, I'll be writing a lot more about how ITIL applies to Web Performance Management. But if you just finding out about ITIL, I recommend this InfoWorld article as a good starting point.

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