What Is ITIL and How Do We Get Started?
Taking those first steps to embracing ITIL and aiming for quick wins
What is ITIL?
ITIL, formerly known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.1 It is internationally recognised and adopted by numerous world-class organisations. In figuring out whether ITIL presents a better methodology over some of the others in the market, you’d need to see what purpose it is intended to serve.
ITIL’s most meaningful contribution is to focus on the delivery of whole end-to-end services, and requires IT to act in a cross-functional way with the focus firmly on how (or whether) to create and facilitate desired outcomes for the business.
Patrick von Schlag2, an ITIL expert, with more than 30 years experience in managing IT and business organisations, believes that ITIL is intended as a descriptive framework of what to do as an IT service provider so that you can manage your resources, create capabilities and produce services that optimise value for your customer.
ITIL’s most meaningful contribution is to focus on the delivery of whole end-to-end services, and requires IT to act in a cross-functional way with the focus firmly on how to create and facilitate desired outcomes for the business.
“The best argument for implementing ITSM practices is the desire to both remain competitive and to add strategic value to your business. For example, it’s one thing to have capabilities to use cloud-based services, and another entirely to have the right collaborative relationship with your customer to enable them to take advantage of these capabilities in a way that helps drive mission achievement and strategic advantage,” Patrick adds.
Bringing ITIL to your organisation
When introducing ITIL in your organisation, however, it is normal to expect some push back especially from those who resist change, who do not fully understand or from those who fear the volume of work that it might entail.
There are ways you can address this.
Firstly, realise that the amount of work is fixed. The change in the medium term, according to Patrick, is that more of the work becomes proactive rather than reactive, and the value of the work is higher from the business’s point of view. People fear change for many reasons, but one is that we have ill-equipped our IT managers and staff to work in cross-functional process and service teams.
ITSM processes and tools enable visibility, situational awareness, and drive better and more efficient collaboration. In many cases, having better quality information and better visibility into cost, risk, and value is attractive to IT staff as well.
More than one methodology or framework to grapple with
If your organisation has implemented other methodologies already, TOGAF for example, you might wonder whether issues may arise in managing and aligning both methodologies.
ITSM processes and tools enable visibility, situational awareness, and drive better and more efficient collaboration.
Patrick says, “Most frameworks, models, and quality systems work effectively together, as long as it doesn’t become a political football (“we used to do ITIL, but now we do Lean”). The different approaches are targeted at different areas. PMBOK and PRINCE2 towards project management; COBIT for governance; Lean, Deming or Six Sigma for Quality Management; and it goes on and on. People often ask these as “either-or” questions, but the correct answer is inevitably “both-and”.
As can be expected, the problem areas are typically not around technology or methodology. Rather, the people side of things. There have been top-down efforts from senior management but there have also been “grassroots” efforts from various IT teams trying to improve their practices.
In general, executive management is concerned with questions around cost and value and they’d like to know that practices embedded are done to optimise risk, resource and value delivery. To that end, the more holistic the approach is combined with the appropriate management commitment from senior management (and supporting resources), the higher the chances that these will gain traction and, therefore, deliver intended benefit.
So, for those new to this, here are a few important things to keep in mind :
Most organisations try to do too much, or far too little. They choose to focus on tool implementation or process execution, and not on the value proposition.
2. ITIL is about services, not processes
While at times counter-intuitive, ITIL processes are a means to an end, and not the end itself. Don’t let a tool implementation get in the way of big-picture thinking, like how and why will I use my incident data to drive problem management, availability and performance assessment, service level reporting, change and release management improvements, etc.
3. Focus on governance
Having processes doesn’t mean people follow them. So work on governance and compliance metrics to ensure your processes are being consistently executed, and use Continual Service Improvement to drive improved maturity.
4. Win a Little
Be willing to make small, iterative improvements to processes and services. Use metrics and measures to demonstrate actual improvement, not just change, and communicate this over and over again to keep people “in the boat”.
Why do many ITIL adoptions suffer?
There are many reasons for failure, the majority of which are linked to the fact that :
- People don’t know why we need to change things;
- People don’t have buy-in from the key stakeholders in the organisation; and/or
- People don’t invite engagement from key IT management and staff.
Following good organisational change practices, like the Kotter model, helps with this. The issues raised here address the setting and managing of expectations for all of your stakeholders, the organisation’s tolerance for change “because the train is moving”, and the necessary focus on customer outcomes and value to ensure your customers see the value of your initiative and maintain their interest and support (and in many cases, funding).
The last word from Patrick : Build a high-level roadmap of what you’d like from your ITSM initiative, then break it into achievable chunks and get started!
Patrick von Schlag is President of Deep Creek Center, an IT consultancy and learning provider based in Maryland, USA. Armed with more than 30 years of experience in managing IT and business organisations, Patrick provides guidance on the adoption and implementation of best practices in IT service management, governance, programme and project management, requirements elicitation and management, Agile/Scrum, and cyber-resilience. Deep Creek’s customers include industry-champion organisations in healthcare, financial services, technology, manufacturing, civilian government, the US military, and small/medium business market leaders.
Check these out
- Deep Creek Center’s blog Making ITIL Work
- ITSM Solutions Training Guides
- Kotter International’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change
- Download Axelos’s free ITIL : The Basics White Paper
- An ITIL training video presented by Patrick on Release Control and Validation
2 This article is based on an interview with Patrick von Schlag.