10 reasons ITIL spooks IT managers

The best practice framework promises more operational efficiencies and better service management, but ITIL still scares some.

Despite the growing popularity of ITIL, fear, uncertainty and doubt continue to cloud IT manager's judgment when deciding to adopt IT service management best practices.

Adopting the best practices laid out in ITIL requires IT managers commit to a multi-year project, bring executive management on board and wear their thickest skin to work every day as a majority of people will resist the efforts to overhaul how IT does its job.

The resistance comes from fear, according to ITIL experts and industry watchers, who argue that education around ITIL, its potential benefits and challenges would help implementations get off the ground more quickly. For one, the premise of re-aligning IT operations around standard processes intimidates most non-believers, and the recent updates to the framework, ITIL Version 3, is causing confusion among many IT managers that started adopting ITIL Version 2.

"As the ITIL framework has undergone a transformation during the past several years, speculation has abounded about the implications and changes to ITIL," writes Evelyn Hubbert, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, in an October report. "Adoption of ITIL in the U.S. is catching up to Europe, and many infrastructure and operations professionals have questions."

To help address fears and reduce confusion, ITIL expert and author Linh Ho compiled a list of the most common fears she encounters in customer environments and detailed some ways to keep the anxiety around ITIL at bay. Ho, product marketing manager at Compuware, also served as a reviewer on the ITIL V3 foundation books and is co-author of the itSMF's Six Sigma for IT Management book. Ho also worked for business service management vendor Proxima Technology before it was acquired by Compuware earlier this year. She says that the industry is working toward reducing the confusion around ITIL.

"We are often on the front lines talking to customers and find that there is a lot of fear and confusion out there today," Ho says. "We are working to demystify and help abate fears."

Here Ho shares the top 10 fears ITIL supporters encounter in customer IT shops.

1. Change

The fear of change is a common fear in all aspects of life and work, but Ho says many IT staffers fear ITIL will leave their IT shops unrecognizable and make their jobs irrelevant -- or even worse obsolete. Ho agrees that ITIL represents great change, but adds that in many cases ITIL brings new positions to many IT shops. For instance, IT organizations may designate staff as process owners or change managers. Yet Ho admits IT managers must anticipate staffers to balk at such a large cultural shift.

"ITIL requires you to constantly communicate the goals and progress to staff and upper management," she says. "It is in and of itself is a huge change management process that must be closely monitored."

2. Measurement

One of the reasons management wants to get ITIL in house is to be more efficient. And in order to prove improve efficiencies, IT shops must measure the effectiveness of processes before and after ITIL.

"ITIL does push the need to measure and report on your service quality," Ho explains. "IT fears being watched constantly, but there are upsides to being measured."

For instance, being able to measure and report on service quality is a good way to prove to customers you are delivering IT services as expected. And if services improve, measurement will show the company that IT deserves to be rewarded for its efforts and improvements.

"When quantification is mutually agreed to, the business better understands the value IT brings and is more likely to provide IT with the resources it needs," Ho says.

3. Process limitations

Others worry that having rigid processes in place will constrain IT to the point of being ineffective. Ho says ITIL offers flexibility in processes and is based on a mix-and-match model so customers can pick and choose what works for them and their environment.

4. Investment

The time, people and money needed to get a process implementation under way is another road block for potential ITIL adopters. The investment seems too much for the potential payoff to some, Ho says, because IT is not about instant gratification.

"It seems to may that they need a large investment upfront to get people trained and up to speed, but the reality is once that investment is made the longer term pay off is greater in terms of cost savings and improved services," Ho says.

5. Buzzword bandwagon

ITIL has become an industry buzzword, which makes some IT managers leery of its actual usefulness -- especially considering it is a set of processes and not a tangible product. Ho warns that IT shops shouldn't just jump on the ITIL bandwagon.

"The interest level is growing around ITIL but that doesn't mean it's a perfect fit for all organizations," Ho explains. "Don't fix something that is not broken because it's hot in the industry right now. ITIL either fits or doesn't fit an organization's needs."

6. Process selection

Because ITIL preaches the power of some 10 distinct processes, Ho says she has found many IT shops that become almost paralyzed with fear of choosing the wrong process or set of processes to implement. The concern ranges from wasting time and money invested to squandering resources on a project that never pays off. Ho says when selecting processes, IT managers should keep it simple and directly relate their choices to business goals.

"Organizations need only to prioritize their greatest area of need -- their greatest business problems that is solvable with ITIL -- and begin there," she says.

7. Complexity

ITIL V3 includes about 50% more information and materials compared to the previous version, which has some IT shops stalling. The fear of complexity around processes ties back to the base fear of change, Ho says, but applies to those that may have already started rolling out ITIL. The new version does offer more information, but that doesn't mean it has to all be consumed or applied by every ITIL V2 adopter, she says.

"People seem to be worried about the processes around continual service improvement and having too many fingers in the pie," Ho adds. "ITIL-defined roles results in increased communication, collaboration and consistency and that is a good thing in reality."

8. Executive expectations

Not only do IT managers have to get executive buy-in to get ITIL off the ground, but they also have to manage executive expectations along the way. Ho says many IT managers fear their ITIL efforts won't meet lofty goals executives have envisioned.

"By no means is ITIL a silver bullet to fix everything in IT and those expectations must be proactively managed," she says.

9. Organization size

Some IT shops bypass ITIL because of their smaller stature, thinking the best practice framework only applies to global or Fortune 500 companies or large government agencies. Their fear is that such involved processes would be lost in smaller environments. But that is not necessarily true, Ho says, as ITIL is a flexible framework that does not preach a "one-size-fits-all" method. For instance, Ho explains that while at Proxima, a small Australia-based IT company, two IT staffers adapted ITIL processes to improve operational efficiencies.

"ITIL completely adapts to environments of all sizes," she adds.

10. Stifled creativity

Lastly Ho says many IT professionals simply feel the process-laden ITIL will cramp their creativity when dealing with technology. Yet the opposite is true, she says.

"One when organizations get their IT house in order can they move away from the reactive, 'putting out fires' mode to a proactive, creative mode," Ho concludes. "When effective processes exist and are followed, a foundation exists upon which creativity is fostered."

Learn more about this topic

ITIL having hard time living up to hype


How to hit pay dirt when overhauling IT processes


Increasing adoption of ITIL is making resistance futile


ITIL V3 goes live


Next ITIL upgrade promises more how-to guidance


FAQ: ITIL origins, Version 3 explained


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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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