I don't confess this to too many people, but to really understand this column, you need to know that my undergraduate degree is in physics. This is hard for me to admit because being a physics major with a career in IT makes me some kind of a double nerd.
In my physics curriculum, one of the most difficult classes I had to take was Thermal Physics. The only thing I sort of remember from two semesters of the course is the laws of thermodynamics.
The second law of thermodynamics applies perfectly to human beings. It states that, left to itself, the entropy (or disorder) of an isolated system will increase over time. In other words, unless something acts on it, a system tends toward disorder. The human form of the second law is that, left to ourselves, we humans will complicate everything around us. Why else would we attempt to have our IT systems handle every known exception?
A perfect example of our tendency toward complexity is the most recent version (version 3) of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Consider the glossary of terms in version 3 -- it's 58 pages long, up from 42 pages in version 2. I have no objection to continuous improvement, but I typically look for improvements that streamline and simplify, not expand and complicate.
Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of ITIL and was an early adopter. I love the concept of how ITIL was created. Rather than an academic exercise (like the Capability Maturity Model, COBIT and ISO), ITIL was created by assembling a group of IT practitioners (people like us) who worked together to define a set of IT best practices. ITIL assembles these best practices around IT processes such as configuration management, incident management and service delivery. In its early form, ITIL was an answer to my prayers, describing what I should be doing to make sure IT was a reliable, credible provider of services and projects. After adopting and using ITIL for six months, we improved system reliability from less than 92% to over 98% (and continuous improvement got us to over 99.5%).
Still, a few years ago I opted out of ITIL use, training and certification when I learned about the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). MOF is based on the same principles as ITIL but is on a more edible scale. I like the cost of the MOF documentation (free on the Microsoft Web site). I also like the fact that there is no such thing as MOF certification -- not only because I have never seen much benefit from ITIL certification but also because, too often, we humans try to rationalize complex process by dangling a certification carrot. For example, the MOF configuration and change management documentation is simple and concise (about 26 pages), whereas the associated ITIL documentation fills a book.
Granted, MOF does not handle all of the exceptions, but my passion is to eliminate as many exceptions as possible. I have used the MOF framework to achieve results at least as good as those I achieved with ITIL -- that is, dramatic performance and reliability improvements.
To make sure I do not miss a best practice breakthrough, I still review ITIL when it releases a new version. But so far, MOF seems to more than meet my needs. No exceptions.
Niel Nickolaisen is CIO and vice president of strategic planning at Headwaters Inc. in South Jordan, Utah. Write to him at [email protected].