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ITIL best practices and lessons for the new year

The value of implementing ITIL best practices is clear to IT, but not always to the business. Find out how some ITIL users increased ITIL adoption in 2009 and get tips for 2010.

Adoption of ITIL best practices continued to grow at a steady rate in 2009. However, many practitioners still complained that there wasn't enough IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) buy-in or support needed within their organizations to realize its full value.

Going into 2010, IT executives suggest focusing on identifying and implementing the ITIL processes that will bring you the quickest wins and most visibility to the business. In this year-end article, find out how three ITIL users are finding ways to slowly but surely integrate ITIL best practices into the business.

Leverage various best practice methodologies.

Many companies such as Spectrum Health System are using best practices from both ITIL Version 2 and ITIL V3. Although it adopted Version 3 when it came out in 2007, the IT shop still uses many of the practices found in V2.

"I have never been tempted to throw out V2," said Heather Strickland, a strategist in the office of the chief technology officer at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based integrated health system. Service management is one reason why Strickland's team leverages both versions. The guidelines laid out for incident management in ITIL V3 are 10-12 pages long. In ITIL V2, the service support book, which covers incident management, is more than 35 pages. So for ITIL users living in the service management world 24/7, it's better to have more information than less, according to Strickland.

In addition to leveraging guidelines from both versions, Strickland also recommends training users in V2 and V3. To fully appreciate the value both versions offer, it's best to be trained in at least the foundations level for both. This will provide a solid understanding of the best practices in both ITIL V2 and ITIL V3.

However, there is one area of expertise missing from both ITIL V2 and ITIL V3, according to Strickland. "ITIL doesn't approach any governance issues," said Strickland. "That's why it's best to complement your ITIL framework with more formal governance practices such as project management, Lean, Six Sigma, COBIT and ISACA methodologies."

Establish a functional service catalog.

Another IT manager I talked with earlier this year had a formal service catalog on his ITIL wish list. Laszlo Takacs, manager of service management at Canadian Tire Corp., said that earlier this year his group used SharePoint as its primary tool for service level support and to streamline processes for service management. Now in the planning stages for 2010, Takacs and his team are hopeful that their new IT strategy is better aligned with the business and will make the investment in service management and a service catalog easier.

Until recently, money was the biggest obstacle to adopting more formal service management processes and a service catalog at Canadian Tire. "Our stance is that the service catalog shouldn't be done half-ass," said Takacs. "To have a fully functional service catalog, you need to understand the services you offer, not just 2% of them." It takes more than one person to define all the services IT offers. Therefore, a big investment in resources is needed, added Takacs.

"I don't think we'll get to a significant state of understanding the cost of our services without a fully functional service catalog," said Takacs. In addition to the process and productivity benefits a service catalog will bring, Takacs and his team feels strongly that the service catalog will give IT the tool it needs to help the business understand service costing and consumption.

Improve your CMDB.

A configuration management database or CMDB is critical to the success of companies following mature ITIL practices. No one knows that more so than Al Lucas, division chief of IT at the Maricopa County, Attorney's office in Florida. In a conversation earlier this year, Lucas told us about his struggles to improve his organization's ITIL implementation, which included focusing on and enhancing its CMDB. The obstacles the office faced included lack of dedicated resources and tools. Lucas had to decide whether to use or upgrade an in-house program or find funds to buy new off-the-shelf products.

Since our last conversation, Lucas and his team made the decision to invest in a significant upgrade to their current ITIL software. Using a software product called FootPrints, from Numara Software Inc., Lucas' team was able to upgrade its inventory and asset control and log a number of things that had previously been done manually. "The new tools help us with automation," said Lucas. "Now that things are automated and updated regularly, our CMDB can verify that everything is accurate and automate the processes and workflows to ensure that people are updating things when they need to."

Don't just sit there. Do something.

Taking on ITIL in its entirety can be a daunting task. That's why experts and practitioners alike suggest not taking it all on at once.

People can very intimidated by ITIL. But it's very doable.

Heather Strickland, strategist in the office of the CTO, Spectrum Health System

"People can be very intimidated by ITIL," said Strickland. "But it's very doable." She suggests doing something, explaining that you don't need consultants or expensive tools to get started with ITIL. Because of the maturity of the industry, many vendors offer very scalable tool suites for most aspects of ITIL.

Lucas agrees and suggests users take on "ITIL lite." "Decide what areas you can get the biggest wins from and where your pain is," said Lucas. "Once you define your major problems, look into the processes to get a foundation to start."

Many companies start ITIL with incident, problem and change management. They produce the quickest wins and most visible results.

Continue to evangelize ITIL best practices

In the early stages of its ITIL implementation, getting buy-in from users and senior executives was a problem at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Even many of the technical people on staff saw ITIL as just the fad of the month. But things have really changed in the second half of the year.

"We even have a couple of people who have turned into such [ITIL] evangelists that we have to calm them down," said Lucas. Although not everyone became that passionate about the cause, there has been much more support from the top for spending and training for ITIL initiatives.

The goal, according to Lucas, is to get more people involved in the ITIL movement. People need to understand that ITIL will help them do their jobs, not just their managers' jobs. The best way to get buy-in is to "do it once and do it right," said Lucas.

Let us know what you think about the story; email

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