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Benefit from an ITIL model without going all the way

One CIO adapts the principles of a flexible ITIL model: How simple ways of thinking differently can save your IT staff time and expenses.

No matter the size of the IT shop, the problems are similar but exist at a different scale. In theory, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) model is a guideline of doing IT "right." This summer, I've been inspired to take some of the tenets of IT Service Management and put our own Westminster College spin on them. I'm working on reorienting my staff around a cost-based rather than tech-focused mentality as a way to modify our own operations for enhanced internal efficiency and, ultimately, provide better value to the business. It's not the ITIL model to the letter, but it is a different way of thinking.

Scott Lowe
Sott Lowe

Like many IT departments, we have a lot on our plate at Westminster College -- too few resources to accomplish everything and an organizational IT appetite that is enormous. Everyone has significant needs that revolve around IT. We are encumbered with a number of inefficient, outdated, manual internal processes that affect overall service delivery. Because we spend too much time reinventing the wheel, we aren't as able to focus on the business. Here are some examples:

  • As an IT organization that has grown very organically, we've often focused on the "latest crisis" at the expense of institutional priorities. For example, an IT staff member would drop everything to respond to the latest request from a user rather than stay focused on a priority. The result has been immediate user satisfaction at the expense of overall organizational satisfaction.

  • At times, we've simply "taken an order" from a user that simply didn't make any sense. For instance, a user didn't feel like entering 100 new records into our ERP system, so the user requested that IT write a one-off script to import the data -- the script took longer to write than it would have taken for the requesting user to enter the records.

  • Rather than questioning project requests with no defined or clear ROI, our IT department has just acted on them. Again, the users were happy, but the organization as a whole suffered.

  • Although major strides have been taken, many internal IT processes remain only semi-automated, and we're constantly reinventing the wheel. Further, because so many processes are still somewhat manual, there are many opportunities for error and inefficiency.

The ITIL model of thinking differently

We needed to change our ways and modify our mind-set from that of a very small, organically grown technology department to a unit focused on unlocking business value and improving processes across the campus. As such, we've made a number of changes and are continuing to do so.

Here's a look at some of the ITIL-esque efforts we've undertaken or are undertaking in order to meet this goal:

  • Tightened up the request process. We now review task requests to make sure the right people are working on it. If the request is for something repeatable that will ultimately have some kind of ROI, we'll probably do it. However, we no longer create a process for singular requests -- instead, we take a bit of extra time during the initial request to make the solution a permanent one so that we won't have to get involved in the future. If the request is for a unique need that is best handled by the requestor, we'll decline it.

  • Tightened up project requests. As requests come in, they must include a clear ROI. Recently, I received a project request that did not include an ROI figure and upon investigation, I discovered that the ROI was a few minutes per month for a project that would have taken IT more than a week to complete. After ensuring that the vice president of the requesting division understood this imbalance, I declined the project with the agreement of the other VP. All IT projects are reviewed by the executive team at least once per month in order to ensure transparency in how things are done.

  • Begun a top-to-bottom review and automation of our own IT processes. We've recently established a cross-functional identity management task force that is led by IT and includes all campus constituencies with a stake in IT's project management. Here's an example of one of the problems we're tackling: Although a good chunk of our student account creation process is automated, the faculty and staff accounts must be created manually. This leads to inconsistency, uncertainty in account handling and direct user impact when we're not notified in advance about staffing changes and movement. To counter this inefficiency, we're mapping out the entire account lifecycle to include every affected system, and implementing Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager to address this issue. By automating, we accomplish two goals: We eventually reduce the amount of time we spend managing this process, and we use better change management techniques, which are considered a best practice by any IT Service Management system.

  • Moving to a "cost-focused" mentality. My staff has been challenged to consider the soft cost of daily activities. For example, how much does it really cost the organization to manage accounts? Before we embark on a new project, does it make more sense to have an internal staffer handle the work, or should we outsource it? We're not just defaulting to an internal project list.

  • Modifying job descriptions and assessment metrics. This summer, I'm rewriting all IT staff job descriptions. It's been some time since they were formally reviewed, and I'm adding more business-focused assessment metrics. I need to make sure that people have an incentive to focus on the overall institution rather than the individual request. While I don't want to lose a personal touch and want to make sure we're meeting user needs, we have to make sure we're really focusing on those overarching business goals that can be too easy to push to the back burner.

Our efforts to improve our value to the organization by following the ITIL model are continuous. Some are already providing benefit and others have yet to be implemented, but they are all striving to meet the most important business goals placed before us. 

Scott Lowe is CIO of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Write to him at or

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