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A practical approach to implementing ITIL practices

ITIL is most effective when not implemented "by the book." ITIL expert Brian Johnson discusses the practical and "less practical" approaches to successfully implementing ITIL into your organization.

Since the mid-1980s, organizations have been turning to IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to achieve IT service...

excellence for their businesses. Over the years, it has become clear that some approaches for implementing ITIL are more successful than others -- especially when it comes to delivering long-term benefits to the business and achieving staying power within the IT organization.

Ideally, a successful ITIL implementation means the people in the organization have embraced ITIL-guided processes and procedures into their corporate culture. The "new" way of operating becomes infectious to the entire organization and spreads virally, like a common cold. However, unlike the typical cold, ITIL should never go away.

The cult approach

One approach to ITIL is to implement it "by the book" in what could be considered a cultlike fashion that attempts to implement ITIL to the letter. This path to ITIL implementation typically means you read every book, hire a consultant who can translate the books into indigestible bits of process and procedure and then disseminate those processes and procedures throughout the organization. But is that a practical approach? Is it one that will readily be embraced by the typical corporate IT organization?

Perhaps "by the book" is indeed one way to go about implementing ITIL. But before taking that draconian approach, one should focus on several often-overlooked facts about ITIL:

Fact One: The books themselves are meant to guide; they are not steadfast laws. None of the authors, contributors or publishers ever expected organizations to adhere to every word of their publications.

Fact Two: You can't implement ITIL with just processes and technology. You must address the people involved as well. ITIL demands attention to three components: people, process and technology. Changes in process improve efficiency and effectiveness. Changes in technology reduce costs and accelerate responsiveness. But you ultimately have to change people to develop the culture you need to better support the business and optimize availability of critical IT services.

Paying close attention to the people element of ITIL and embedding cultural change in the organization ensures that IT improvements are widespread and lasting. If you neglect the people and use the cult approach of throwing a pile of books (or processes based solely on the books) at a workforce that doesn't have a proper understanding of what to do with them, you're wasting time and money. That 'cult approach' to ITIL fails to deliver a method of sustaining itself in the organization.

The practical approach

There is a much more practical approach to implementing ITIL -- one that offers a far greater likelihood of effective, sustained adoption. It is to first assess the needs of the organization and then integrate and automate ITIL, considering all three elements: people, process and technology.

This approach to ITIL is more customized to the unique needs of the organization. Because it considers the people and issues of cultural change, this approach makes it easy to spread and sustain ITIL processes throughout the organization. As ITIL becomes the default way of doing things, ITIL processes are selectively chosen from the ITIL canon and adapted appropriately to the organization's environment -- so they become part of the culture.

The "cult" approach only works for as long as the cult leader has influence; the practical approach works long term because ITIL is seen as a way of creating a common understanding of customer service.

When an ITIL implementation begins with an assessment of the organization's business needs and a plan is developed to help implement ITIL to address those needs, everyone benefits. The IT organization can be assured that the need to invest in ITIL is well-understood and that the implementation will be supported by the business. The business itself benefits because the IT organization is focused on its requirements, rather than the minutiae of implementing procedures.

In the end, the cure for the common cult of "ITIL by the book" is ironically practical ITIL, successfully implemented.

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

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