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Implementing ITIL in the midmarket? Take a highly focused approach

If you're convinced your midmarket organization needs ITIL, then do it. But experts agree: It's pointless if you don't pick your spots.

When considering ITIL, you've got to ask yourself: Where's the return?

If you can't answer that question, then don't do it, advised Larry Killingsworth, an IT consultant at Pultorak & Associates Ltd., a Seattle-based consultancy firm.

This is especially true for midmarket firms, where resources are limited.

"If you can answer that, then go for it," he said. "To blindly follow because some guru said so is just foolish."

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a globally recognized collection of best practices for IT Service Management. It provides businesses with a customizable framework of ways to achieve quality service and overcome difficulties associated with the growth of IT systems.

ITIL is organized into "sets" of texts, which are defined by related functions: service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation and continual service improvement. In addition to texts, which can be purchased online, ITIL services and products include training, certifications, software tools and user groups such as the IT Service Management Forum.

But if influenced by all the hoopla, midmarket CIOs risk getting into hot water while implementing ITIL.

"ITIL is no panacea," Killingsworth said. "You have to implement the right parts to make it work. That's the only sane way to approach this. Otherwise, you'll be spending a lot of money for nothing."

Kathy Lang, CIO of Marquette University in Milwaukee, agreed. She said her successful approach to ITIL had as much to do with taking it slowly as it did good planning. Her group began with only three of the proposed ITIL frameworks -- incidents, change and configuration. Implementing them was still a huge undertaking, but Lang said the expectations among her staff of 75, as well as upper management, were realistic. And she did not promise anyone anything she didn't believe she could deliver.

Lang's team, which supports about 11,000 students and 2,500 faculty and staff members, began using the ITIL framework about three years ago. Lang, who reports to the vice president of administration, has been with the university for six years.

"We started with an assessment of current processes," she said. "Surprisingly, we found out we were doing better in something than we had actually thought. Not so good in others." Upshot: You can't make assumptions.

Despite the higher number of implementations in large enterprises, IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates Inc. (EMA) found that ITIL is likely to be more valuable in medium-sized enterprises than in larger ones. A key reason for this is midsized organizations have smaller IT staffs and also smaller budgets, and simply cannot always add resources to address IT problems.

While ITIL includes a huge number of best practices that cover all aspects of IT service management, the key for midsized organizations is to focus on those processes that are most relevant to their unique situation.

"The highest-performing IT organizations apply a vetted and repeatable set of processes that maximize the performance of their IT services. ITIL is a framework that defines best practices for these processes for organizations to leverage," said Steve Brasen, an analyst at Boulder, Colo.-based EMA and author of a report titled "Is ITIL Right for Medium Enterprises?"

Don't try to eat the whole thing all at once.

Steve Brasen, analyst, Enterprise Management Associates Inc.

"They need to do this if they expect to compete with large industry," Brasen said.

"Not only is ITIL appropriate for them, but it's probably better for them than the enterprise -- it's because they don't have the resources that [larger organizations] have to do it."

Like Killingsworth, Brasen recommends a phased-in approach when implementing ITIL, addressing only the things that are critically important at that point in time. "Don't try to eat the whole thing all at once," Brasen said.

Working through each problem then frees up resources to address other problems.

"ITIL never ends," he said. "The more you do, the more efficient your environment becomes."

In addition to working in phases, Lang said approaching ITIL as a special project was essential to success. "We implemented all those processes as a project," she said. "We had a project manager leading the implementation. Giving the responsibility to someone who isn't dedicated to the project is a bad idea. It doesn't work because they've got other things to do."

Lang said everyone's role was defined up front. "We treated it like any other project. That showed that it was a priority for IT."

Regardless, there will be obstacles. For Lang, it was cultural changes. Some people just couldn't cope with doing things differently --until they saw the benefits. Brasen said for the midmarket, it's that IT workers have to wear many hats. "Less money, more hats." 

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