Next ITIL upgrade promises more how-to guidance

Consultants, vendors and users refresh the best practice library with more specific how-to advice

The upgraded best practice framework ITIL Version 3 includes guidance on how to get processes in place to optimize IT service delivery and management.

For IT shops looking to adopt a best practice framework, but lacking a clear understanding of how to do it, an upgrade to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library could provide some missing assistance.

ITIL was developed in the late 1980s by England’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and laid out 10 core processes IT shops should implement to streamline operations, improve service levels and cut costs associated with network downtime and manual labor. ITIL didn’t lay out how to get the processes in place, because there was no set of guidelines that could apply to multiple IT organizations.

That is expected to change when the developers of the British best practice framework publicly release on May 30 ITIL Version 3, which is said to include more specific guidance on getting the processes in place to optimize IT service delivery and management.

“Past versions of ITIL provided guidance around what to do, but offered less insight into how to do it," says Sharon Taylor, president of IT service management consultancy Aspect Group, Inc. (AGI) in Ottawa, Canada, and chief architect of ITIL Version 3.

“We have made improvements as to how to execute the best practices, but still took a holistic focus because the market that uses ITIL is very diverse," Taylor says.

How ITIL will change

The refresh process, which started in 2004, included input from the consultant, vendor and user communities. The updated texts were written by five pairs of U.K. and U.S. authors and then sent to 700 reviewers for edits, revisions and consistency checks. Taylor says this version will provide “more prescriptive guidance" and move ITIL adoption plans from the service desk — where many ITIL initiatives get their start — up to the boardroom.

“The user community has focused its recognition of what ITIL is on two operational areas: service support and service delivery," she explains. “Version 3 takes a life-cycle approach to IT service management and expands beyond operational practices to move ITIL discussions to executive offices. ITIL is evolving alongside how IT is evolving within businesses."

The most obvious difference between ITIL Version 2 and Version 3 will be the reduced number of books included in the upcoming release, which reflects the more direct approach this version takes, ITIL experts say.

“ITIL Version 3 assumes knowledge of Version 2 and it assumes IT practitioners understand there are 10 ITIL processes," says George Spalding, executive consultant at Pink Elephant, a consultancy offering training and certification courses in ITIL.

Version 2 detailed those 10 core processes, broken into two primary subject areas. Service support included guidance on incident, problem, change, configuration and release management processes. Service delivery provided insight into service-level, financial, capacity, availability and continuity management processes.

Version 3 puts that content into a set of five books that cover service strategies, service design, service transition, service operation and continual service improvement.

“Based on real end-user experiences with Version 2, Version 3 adds practical steps for implementation. In the past, we would offer multiple approaches, but this version says more definitively, 'experience has shown that this way works best for most,’" Spalding says.

More important, say those who worked on the new version, ITIL now reflects how IT exists within businesses today. For instance, the “continual service improvement" section tackles new content for ITIL in that it provides methods to measure the success of current processes and understand when improvements must be made.

“This book adds a maturity measure to ITIL processes. Any process adoption is an ongoing effort, but in the past, it could be difficult to know when and where improvements needed to be made," says Rob Stroud, director of brand strategy at CA, who worked with authors on ITIL Version 3. “The new release also looks across IT silos to the processes that best suit the business."

Maintaining vendor neutrality

Some users worry that because the ITIL update involved input from the vendor community, it will be less objective in their guidance on how to manage IT services without the use of specific commercial tools.

“One of the reasons we picked ITIL was because it was vendor-agnostic. The update is not a concern for me in that I will continue to implement the processes from a practical perspective, but I’m a little concerned with the growing desire to commercialize ITIL," says Dave Howard, national business technology manager for Toyota Financial Services in Torrance, Calif. “In the future if we do update to Version 3, will we still be able to utilize the principles of ITIL in an open source manner?"

AGI’s Taylor says Howard is not alone in that concern. The revision process caused some confusion as to who owns ITIL. The OGC continues to maintain the framework and enlisted industry consultants and vendors to help write the new version, but Taylor says ITIL is not vendor-operated and the OGC is taking several steps to ensure ITIL processes remain vendor-neutral.

“There has been some fear in the end-user community around vendor involvement in the refresh process, so this month we are providing a qualification process for those vendors not involved in the rewrite to ensure a level playing field across vendor offerings," Taylor says.

Slow and steady adoption

Despite its highly anticipated release among IT service management consultants, ITIL Version 3 won’t have user organizations scrambling, some say, because at its core ITIL is based on continual process improvements that vary among IT shops.

“It will take some time for end users to absorb and adopt Version 3, and there will be a slow update from the vendor side as they start to incorporate the new features," Taylor says.

Because ITIL authors are calling this release an evolution of the best practice framework, Version 3 will not nullify certifications for Version 2 that IT practitioners may already have, lessening any urgency to get the updated version in-house. Most likely, users will update their ITIL implementations when it’s the right time for their organization — and not based upon consultants and vendor process improvement timelines, Taylor says.

“ITIL Version 2 will keep going for a while in end-user IT shops. That is simply the reality," says Robert Barnes, global vice president at JPMorgan Chase in Newark, Del. “We may eventually adopt Version 3, unless something comes out before then that better suits our needs."

Barnes uses ITIL processes to streamline service desk operations for JPMorgan Chase and says the promise of prescriptive advice in ITIL Version 3 should only be considered in relation to an organization’s best practice adoption pace and plans.

“It is good they are putting more meat behind ITIL, but I get concerned when people say they are going to invest $1 million to be an ITIL company when they aren’t even sure of what they want to accomplish," he says. “ITIL Version 3 — just like any other buzzword — can be like throwing money out the window unless you have a clear understanding of your goals. ITIL can turn into a big mess."

Any hype around ITIL Version 3 should be minimized and put into proper perspective, says Neil Jon Harrington, director of data center facilities operations for the office of IT at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

As in the past, this release will require a working knowledge of Version 2 and the time and dedication from staff to achieve results, he says.

“ITIL is not a panacea, but it’s not all hype either. People and processes must be coupled with technology to get ITIL working appropriately. There is no magic there," Harrington says.

ITIL is part of a larger process improvement initiative in place at the university, and Harrington says his efforts around ITIL will continue in line with his organization’s needs whether the industry continues to update the framework or not. Yet he sees the industry interest in process improvement as a positive sign for IT managers getting started with best practice adoption.

“In any organization ITIL processes will die without people stepping up to keep them current with the changing business needs," Harrington says.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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