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ITIL V3 a 'substantial update' in approach to IT services

The new and expanded ITIL v3, released today, aims to put the emphasis where it belongs: on the business. CIOs especially should take notice.

Call it ITIL for grown-ups.

The U.K. agency that developed the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) some 30 years ago -- the industry's most comprehensive guide to IT services best practices -- issues version 3 today. The new ITIL is the first major revision in seven years and comes with its own drum roll. Vendors like Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) are treating the revised guide like a marketing event. The 10 authors of the five books are being hounded for interviews. Naysayers growl that imposing a new ITIL on companies struggling to get through the current version is maddening.

Don't be put off by the hype, experts say.

The latest version incorporates much of the content from v2, but recognizes that the practice of IT has matured. In V3, the emphasis shifts from enhancing the performance of IT processes, or self-help, to serving the customer. And because the approach goes beyond tactical improvements to strategic advice, CIOs especially, should find it of interest.

Jeroen Bronkhorst, IT Service Management program manager within the services consulting and integration group at HP, is also a member of the ITIL V3 editorial team. He said the shift underscores the difference between a processes-for-processes'-sake mind-set and delivering something of value to the business.

"If you look at what has happened so far in the world of IT service management, it has really only been focused on organizing the activities within an IT organization, calling them processes," said Bronkhorst, who developed ITIL V3 process maps.

"But if you only focus on how you organize the activities through processes, that doesn't say anything about the value that you provide to the outside world. You can have your activities perfectly organized and still provide rubbish."

One of the big differences in V3, Bronkhorst said, is the processes described now help govern IT and set a strategy that incorporates financial principles such as ROI.

"This a substantial update," agreed Gartner Inc. analyst Ed Holub, particularly in defining IT services in terms that are valuable to the business.

"Rather than being tactically focused on improving distinct operational processes, this version is more strategic. It will probably have more appeal to the CIO-level person, rather than just the people running infrastructure operations," said Holub, research vice president for ITSM at the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy.

Gartner is predicting that by year-end 2010, ITIL will be in use by 30% of companies with 250-999 employees and by 60% of companies with more than 1,000 employees. "We do see it as becoming the de facto best practice guidance for IT services," Holub said.

But fears that IT organizations that have invested heavily in v2 training and processes will have to start from scratch are unfounded, Holub said. "This is really an evolutionary approach, building on what is already there."

Implementing ITIL at big companies is often a two- or three-year effort, Holub said. IT organizations in the midst of implementing v2 probably will adapt to V3 as they go through the multiple-year process.

"We are expecting to see a shorter training, perhaps a one-day class focusing just on the major changes, for someone who has already been through the v2 foundation class," Holub said, adding that there is no requirement that employees who went through the "foundation level" of v2 of ITIL -- by far the most common certification -- go out and take another class or pass another exam.

A lifecycle approach

ITIL was developed in the 1980s by the U.K. Office of Government Commerce to help IT departments establish best practices for IT services. The advice aims to be ecumenical, using many authors from around the world to develop the content. The new ITIL version was written by 10 authors over the past 18 months.

The five V3 books, down from nine in the prior version, cover the building blocks of IT services using a "lifecycle" approach. They are:

  • Service Strategy, focusing on managing IT as an integral part of the business. The role and requirements of IT are defined to ensure overall business success.

  • Service Design, focusing on identifying and building services that align with business goals, work as they are intended to and are cost-effective.

  • Service Transition, offering a new approach to change management that acknowledges that change is more complex than previously described. Services should be tested and rolled out in a controlled manner. The aim is to mitigate risk, assure quality and make the IT department more agile and responsive.

  • Service Operation, focusing on the nitty-gritty, when services are actually delivered and supported. The new processes help IT services be both stable and nimble.

  • Continual Service Improvement, with measurements that monitor the quality and cost of services.

Trainers such as Burlington, Ontario-based Pink Elephant have jumped on the bandwagon. Gartner expects vendors to switch to the V3 curriculum during the second half of this year.

HP has refreshed its service management products, announcing Tuesday that it has "shifted from IT process-centric practices (ITIL v2) to a more general, overarching service-centric approach … so enterprises can be more effective and efficient at synchronizing IT strategy with business needs."

HP has played a big role in the refresh of ITIL. One of the five core books, Service Operation, was written by HP consultants David Cannon and David Wheeldon. Others worked on the ITIL V3 glossary.

You can have your activities perfectly organized and still provide rubbish.

Jeroen Bronkhorst, ITSM program manager, Hewlett-Packard Co.

Once the books were "stable," Bronkhorst looked at the 27 new processes across all five books and started to develop graphical representations of how these processes interact, or what are known as integrated process maps.

The bugaboo of IT departments -- measuring the value it provides to the business -- should diminish, Bronkhorst said. "Proving ROI has been difficult in the past, because the guidance that was provided for organizing IT was not complete. You didn't know exactly what you needed to change in your organization if you wanted to achieve a different ROI," he said.

"I always compare it to a factory. If you apply ITIL and software products and services to an IT organization and get them structured and organized, then you get predictable output. And if you get predictable output, you also know that if the customer wants to have less value or more value, what you need to change," he said.

So why shouldn't IT shops just buy the ITIL V3 books rather than go with a middleman like HP?

"Well, they probably will do that as well," Bronkhorst said. But the ITIL books give a "high-level" set of building blocks, not the details needed to make it happen, he added.

"Every IT organization has a unique set of technologies that it is managing and a unique organizational structure. I always say that if the perfect organizational structure would exist, everybody would have it right now."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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