Every day, questions about IT service management and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) cross my path. Some are very basic, while others are more complex and process-specific. Over the next few months, I'll periodically address some of these questions. So if you have a specific question about ITIL and ITIL implementations, please submit it to editor@searchcio.com.

Where did ITIL come from?

The United Kingdom's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency in Norwich, which at different times has been an agency of HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office, created the Government IT Infrastructure Management Method in the mid-1980s. The objective of this agency was to create a consistent, reliable model for IT service management that would promote operational efficiency. The intent then -- as it is today -- was to distill best practices from many sources in order to build a proven model and avoid "re-inventing the wheel." When the public sector began to take interest in this work, a name change was necessary. The result was "IT Infrastructure Library" -- or ITIL.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in the UK owns the ITIL trademark. Recently, the OGC announced that the APM Group and the Stationery Office won the competition for day-to-day stewardship over ITIL accreditation services and publications strategy. The OGC will continue to own the ITIL trademark and will act as steward over the direction of ITIL. The effect of this shift in responsibilities is not yet clear.

Why should companies consider implementing ITIL?

ITIL proposes that in order to improve service quality, IT must organize activities around standardized process and perform these activities repeatedly. By implementing ITIL, organizations can not only improve the level of service delivered to the business, but they can also realize cost savings through increased productivity and efficiency. Additionally, process standardization helps reduce the risk of errors. Even greater cost savings, efficiencies and risk reduction can be realized when ITIL processes are automated.

Where do I start with an ITIL implementation?

You can start implementing ITIL anywhere your IT operations could use improvement. You don't have to start with any one process in particular. Many organizations start with incident management, while others start with change management. Some focus on the relationship between existing processes, such as incident management and problem management. But ITIL doesn't dictate exactly where your implementation should begin. That's why it's a good idea to assess the current state of affairs in your IT organization and determine where your organization is experiencing the most pain.

Is ITIL the only best practice I need in IT?

No. ITIL is a very adaptable framework for designing and managing key IT processes in order to optimize the quality and efficiency of service delivery. But it is not a panacea. For example, if you need a better approach to project management, you should look at PRINCE2 or the Project Management Institute. If your organization has governance and audit issues, you should consider COBIT. You may also want to try the capability maturity model and application services library for software quality and maintenance, respectively. In fact, there are best practice frameworks for all aspects of IT. ITIL is just one.

Can I buy ITIL-compliant software?

Not really. ITIL is not a standard, and compliance implies conformance to some sort of industry standard. Vendor software solutions can support ITIL and be specifically designed to facilitate its implementation -- but technically speaking, there is no such thing as an ITIL-compliant product. Both the OGC and the IT Service Mangement Forum, the user group focused on IT service management, warn against listening to claims of ITIL compliance from vendors or "independent" authorities.

Standards such as ISO 20000 can be based, in part, on an effective ITIL implementation, but that doesn't mean you've achieved ITIL "compliance." It simply means you've implemented ITIL well enough to support your ISO 20000 compliance initiative.

How much money will I save by implementing ITIL?

The savings achieved by implementing ITIL can come in many forms. Much of it often comes from the automation of inefficient manual processes. Some of it can come from making better use of existing IT assets. Additional gains can be achieved by eliminating downtime and/or providing a competitive advantage to the business. Ultimately, the only way to measure return on investments in ITIL implementation is to capture baseline metrics from your current operations. How many person-hours does it currently take to resolve a given problem? How much downtime are you experiencing and what does it cost your company? By comparing your pre-ITIL baseline to your post-implementation results, you should be able to financially quantify benefits in a variety of areas.

Brian Johnson is one of the original authors of the first ITIL books and an ITIL senior practice manager at CA Inc. He has also authored more than 15 books on ITIL or related topics and is the founder of itSMF, a professional organization focused on IT service management and ITIL. 


This was first published in October 2006

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