The Real Niel

ITIL vs. MOF: Find the best IT framework option for the midmarket

I love ITIL … I just don't use it anymore.

Please let me explain. I have spent much of my IT career in turnaround assignments: Someone decides that IT needs to be "fixed" -- and I'm the fixer. This is grueling work. I often need to repair the IT/business relationship while improving methods and practices, all while keeping the wheels moving. The net result of this is that I am a very high-mileage IT practitioner.

The Real Niel
Niel Nickolaisen

In my first turnaround role, I looked for but could not find some type of IT framework I could use as a set of ready-to-use best practices. I toyed with the Capability Maturity Model, but it did not help me much with processes, tools and methods. I explored CoBIT, but its focus was (and is) too narrow. I needed something that would describe how I should deliver IT products and services to my business customers, something that covered the range from governance to implementation to maintenance to enhancement.

In short, I needed something that gave me a shortcut for running a reliable, credible IT organization.

As that assignment ended and the next IT turnaround started, a friend told me about ITIL version 1. I did my own research and liked what I found. ITIL, unlike other IT frameworks, was put together by IT practitioners: people who had run an enterprise IT organization and knew how to deliver high-quality information and

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technology products and services. These practitioners had, in ITIL, assembled a set of best practices I could use as my base line. I obtained the standard and immersed myself in the wonders of ITIL.

During this second IT turnaround, ITIL was my primary source for process and method information. When we realized we needed to improve our production change process, we implemented the ITIL model for change management. Rather than invent our own approach to service level management, we adopted the ITIL model. ITIL and I did a mind-meld. I viewed the world from the perspective of service management.

Then ITIL released version 2. Version 2 still had great stuff, but now the inherent simplicity that attracted me to ITIL was being lost in additional complexity. The standard started to bifurcate into exceptions that I intentionally wanted to avoid. My ITIL honeymoon was over.

I still wanted to use a recognized standard that I could give my IT staff members as a reference (at a minimum, so they didn't think that I had invented what I claimed to be best practices). But now ITIL was tending towards complexity.

I was explaining my predicament to a fellow CIO. He pulled me aside, looked around to make sure no one was listening, and whispered, "Look at MOF." I glanced over his shoulder, thinking he was making fun of someone in the room. Seeing no one else, I asked, "Look at what?"

He answered: "The Microsoft Operations Framework: MOF. I call it ITIL-lite. Same idea of a set of best practices but without the increasing complexity of ITIL. You can get a copy at the Microsoft website."

I thanked him but remained skeptical. It was hard for me to imagine Microsoft being so altruistic as to put together a set of practitioner-based best practices. A couple of days later, my curiosity overcame my skepticism. I went to www.microsoft.com and typed Operations Framework in the search box.

What did I find? The standard I now use in place of ITIL. It has all of the good attributes of ITIL but without the baggage. Here are some examples:

  • MOF is free, whereas with ITIL I have to buy a set of books (in British pounds, no less).

  • MOF has retained the simplicity that first attracted me to ITIL, whereas the glossary of terms in the recently released ITIL Version 3 -- just the glossary -- is 58 pages long.

  • Just like ITIL, I can reference MOF when I need to convince someone that my practices are standards-based. For example, during our first year of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, our external auditors required that our program-change processes be based on a known standard. I went to the Microsoft Web site, downloaded the pages on change management (a total of 26 pages), highlighted the sections that linked to our process and delivered them to the auditors. Not only did it shut them up, but I also figure it saved me quite a few hours of expensive auditor time because they had to read only a few pages instead of an ITIL volume.

Please don't get the wrong impression. I still favor the idea behind ITIL but find that, in practice, I need something that's more digestible and can be more easily explained to my staff and outsiders. For now, MOF gives me just that.

Niel Nickolaisen is CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He is a frequent speaker, presenter and writer on IT's dual role enabling strategy and delivering operational excellence. Write to him at nnick@wgu.edu.

This was first published in January 2008

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