How ITIL can help cloud services

In just a few years, cloud became the dominant technology. Learn how a methodology like ITIL can help manage delivery of services through the cloud.

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Cloud-based services, in comparison to traditionally delivered IT services (i.e., implemented in-house), changed the way people consume content. That’s particularly true for small businesses, which gained significant value because the cloud enabled them to use services that would never be affordable if implemented from scratch inside their companies. Can you imagine the investment of implementing email or collaboration services inside a small company?

So the benefits for users are indisputable. But how about IT professionals, particularly the ones who are responsible for delivery of IT services? What changes does the cloud bring to them?

What is ITIL?

The best practice framework that IT service managers have settled on for traditionally delivered services is ITIL. ITIL originated and developed in practice, meaning it’s not a theoretical model, but rather the documented experience of many experts in the area of IT service management.

So, according to ITIL, services pass through five stages of the lifecycle – from service strategy and service design to service transition (where the service becomes tangible; i.e., where it physically exists) and service operation. Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is your tool to measure the service, as well as to improve it on a continual basis.

Each stage of the service lifecycle contains processes that enable an IT organization to manage and improve the service. More simply, ITIL can be described as a common sense approach to the management of IT services.

How does the cloud fit in?

There are two things that both ITIL and the cloud have in focus: services and processes.

ITIL sees a service as a way for the customers to gain value without taking on the ownership, costs, and risks of the service. And that overlaps with the philosophy behind cloud technology. By using cloud services, an organization does not have ownership of the services, along with the associated risks or costs. They simply agree on certain functionalities, the characteristics of the service (e.g., bandwidth throughput or mailbox size), and the price that they need to pay.

Cloud services don’t have a well-established management methodology that includes process management. But, on the other side, they depend heavily on processes, regardless of whether we are talking about the cloud service that is still in development or the one that is used by users. And, again, that’s a common interest with ITIL.

How can ITIL help?

Can you imagine a situation where you provide cloud services, and for whatever reason, your service is no longer available? What will happen? First, and most importantly, your clients will start calling your support center. And you have to provide them with the ability to use your service as soon as possible.

Or, as another example, think of a situation where a change was started without being announced, documented, and properly prepared for. The usual consequence is service outage. And that usually means loss of income. But this also means that something must be done to avoid such situations in the future.

All that I depicted above is described and elaborated in further detail in ITIL (e.g., Incident Management process and Change Management process ). Even beyond process description, ITIL describes interfaces between processes as well as roles and responsibilities. And all these are needed for cloud services, too. So, if you are implementing a cloud service and respective processes, there is no need to start from scratch, because ITIL provides enough details applicable to the “cloud world.”

The service lifecycle approach that ITIL supports provides an IT service provider with the ability to control and manage the service in order to eliminate ad-hoc activities and instigate measurement and improvement of the services.

But, be careful – ITIL is not almighty. Since ITIL was oriented toward traditionally delivered services, copy/paste of the process is not possible. Processes need to be adapted to the new environment and requirements. On the other side, if you already have processes in place to support delivery of cloud services – “undo” is not necessary, either. Take the processes you have, consider ITIL recommendations, and take the best of both.

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