10 ways to make ITIL work for you

British-based best practices framework proves to cut costs and improve operations in U.S. IT shops.

Want to know how companies such as DHL, General Motors and Nationwide Insurance achieve operational excellence, maintain high levels of IT efficiency and keep their systems compliant with myriad regulatory requirements? They adopt best practices, and more times than not, they choose ITIL as part of their plan to streamline IT processes and improve overall network performance.

IT pros share their tales of making ITIL work

Implementing ITIL

American ITIL: Best practices win converts

Automating change

The New Data Center demands easier, more reliable change-management processes.

There's an adage that says change is the only constant. Still, every IT executive knows constant change wreaks havoc on a complex IT environment. In fact, IDC and Gartner report that 70% to 80% of IT-related problems are directly attributable to changes made to the environment.

The problem is compounded as firms move to New Data Center technologies, such as virtualization. "As you build a more complex infrastructure to support things like server virtualization, you may think it's OK to be sloppy, since virtualization guarantees the service availability to some degree," says Richard Potocki, department manager of IT operations at Erie Insurance, in Erie, Pa. No one would notice if 25 out of thousands of servers fail because virtualization would cover for them. "But . . . an environment that allows me to be that sloppy has to be very complex. To manage that complexity, to make sure it works properly, you need to have really good change management," says Potocki, who has automated change management across his 285 servers.

Good change management relies on automation, specifically automating the change-management process while following the best practices laid out within the ITIL, users say. Strict IT business processes implemented via automation can increase the success rate of change, thereby reducing the number of changes necessary, eventually resulting in increased service levels across the board.

But getting to that point isn't easy. Many tools provide some automation but not of the entire change-management process. Ultimately, end-to-end change-management capabilities should come from larger firms, such as BMC, CA, HP, IBM and Symantec. Each of these companies, for example, is integrating the appropriate technology, often gained through acquisition, into their product lines. Before choosing a change-management product, get a handle on current processes to ensure that they are as efficient, manageable and auditable as possible, users say.

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Insurer conquers change management

An IT manager's account of the obstacles to rolling out an automated process.

Implementing any type of formal process is never easy, but modifying an existing process that works is even harder.

That's what we found to be the case at Erie Insurance as we automated our IT change-management process. Change management refers to the addition, modification or removal of any component of an IT environment, not just hardware and systems and application software. A firmware upgrade to a switch and patch installation on a server are a couple of examples.

Six years ago, we had a mostly manual change-management process. In the years since, we've made incremental changes that resulted in our present automated system. We moved slowly and precisely, with the idea that we could modify our plan as we went. An early change to the process was our move to an e-mail-based system that provided some workflow elements.

Then we began to align the process with the best practices defined in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. Later, we used SupportMagic (now called Magic Service Desk), the change-management module in BMC's IT service-management tool (ITSM). At first we used it in parallel with our e-mail-based system, but eventually we migrated our entire process to it. Erie Insurance's roughly 500 IT employees are all trained to use SupportMagic, but it's most often used within the operations and application-development groups.

There were some bumps along the way that caused us to stop and rethink an approach, a step in the workflow, or even how a screen looked and how the business rules should work. What follows are some of the biggest challenges we faced and how we worked around them to achieve our objectives.

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ITIL case study: How one company turned around a bad experience

An ITIL lesson from the trenches.

Just as good science is a balance between brilliant theory and focused laboratory work, a good IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) implementation requires a balance between theoretical training and hands-on IT experience.

This seems like a simple and obvious concept, yet examples abound of large companies, filled with bright people, falling off the bridge as they attempt to walk the narrow path of ITIL implementation. To illustrate some of the pitfalls, we have a valuable ITIL lesson from the trenches to share.

Our story involves an international telecom company with more than 6,500 employees and annual revenue of $4 billion. The organization was built very quickly via a grass roots effort of doing whatever it took to grow the company, provide new services to its customers and expand quickly into new technologies. The company also made a number of acquisitions while allowing existing IT groups to remain intact without much consolidation. As a result, the company's infrastructure was very large, complex and diverse. There was little centralized control, communications between technology silos was poor, and redundancies abound.

About two years ago, the company decided to embrace ITIL in a significant way. The company had dabbled in ITIL on several previous occasions, but the frantic pace of growth had eventually steamrolled those efforts. This time, the company created a 12-person ITIL team, mostly new hires with ITIL certification and line of business analysts, directly reporting into executive management. A conscious decision was made to separate the team, both managerially and operationally, from the IT organization. The company brought in professional ITIL trainers for the effort to ensure that each team member was certified. The ITIL training team was retained after the initial efforts to help "jump start" the effort and provide guidance.

Read the full story here.

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Better management through best practices

IT executives share how process frameworks improve operational efficiency and cut costs.

The good news about adopting best practices is that corporations aren’t limited to one method. The bad news is that companies will most likely need to adopt more than one best-practice framework — or at least parts of many — if they want a complete, effective set of management process guidelines.

A related concern is that when network managers realize that multiple standards may be required to achieve their goals, they may become overwhelmed trying to discern the differences among popular frameworks.

Best-practice frameworks such as IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT) have been around for years. For the most part, these frameworks should bring consistency and efficiency to the various aspects of IT, such as application development, help desk, network operations, security, and service delivery and support. Compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and numerous other regulatory standards is another obvious benefit — and is often the impetus for IT executives to start looking at process frameworks.

Other — and perhaps longer-term — gains are the cost cuts and labor reductions that result when an IT shop deploys processes to which all staff members adhere. Best-practice nirvana occurs when IT is able to align with business by helping network managers translate their services into business terms and assign a business-relevant priority to their tasks.

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IT frameworks demystified

ITIL, COBIT, CMMi, ISO 17799 - best practices abound for managing the new data center.

As IT becomes increasingly automated under the new data center architecture, more companies are embracing best-practices procedures outlined in formal IT frameworks. At stake are service quality, security, regulatory compliance and other increasingly important strategic corporate goals.

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMi) and ISO 17799 are playing the biggest roles in the creation of the new data center. "These frameworks were written by different groups at different times for different reasons . . . but each has contributions to make to the new [virtualized] data center," says David Pultorak, president of Fox IT, a consulting firm specializing in IT service management.

Pultorak uses ITIL for service management as an example of how an IT framework can serve as a steppingstone to the new, more agile data center. "The ITIL framework supports defining services in a way that is distinct from the technology that underpins them, allowing flexibility in what technology components are used to support and deliver the service," he says.

While some duplication occurs among the frameworks, they are more complementary than overlapping and companies often employ more than one.

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Nationwide formalizes capacity management

An IT insider recounts cross-company effort to create a process model.

In January 2004, I was selected as process developer for Nationwide Financial in a cross-company Information Technology Service Management project for capacity management.

ITSM is a process-based framework for managing IT services. My responsibility as the process developer for Nationwide Financial was to work with process developers from Nationwide Services Co. and Nationwide Property and Casualty to develop an enterprisewide capacity-management process.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the de facto standard in IT service management worldwide, defines capacity management as "the process for ensuring that IT infrastructure capacity matches the evolving demands of the business in the most cost-effective and timely manner."

The most attractive aspect of this project was the opportunity it provided to create a common language that would be accepted and used by three organizations within the same company. To achieve this, the process developers compiled the best practices they had in common and applied them to each participating organization.At a high level a project like this would add value by accomplishing these goals:

  • Promoting a common awareness and understanding of capacity management.
  • Improving communication.
  • Improving current practices.
  • Creating and retaining valuable information.
  • Developing repeatable processes.
  • Reducing capacity costs.

Read the full story here.

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Transform your IT organization with standards and third-party help

What are the ITIL and CMMI standards?

If you're considering adopting either the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) or Capability Maturity Model for Integration (CMMI) - or both - for managing and maintaining your IT organization, it's worth considering hiring professional services experts. They can help thoroughly train you and your staff, and help you understand the esoteric, but important idea-to-implementation bridge so you can develop your shop into a finely-tuned machine.

It's great to send your people through ITIL or CMMI training, but at the end of the day, if they can't tell you how to implement ITIL or CMMI in the wild, then the training does you no good. Here's the trouble: ITIL and CMMI suffer from the problem of being wonderfully well-developed ideas. But their translation to the practical hands-on side of the house - the area where most of your employees are at, is a difficult one to traverse. This is where outsourcing comes into play. Professional services in these instances really stand out as a must-have option: to train and help deploy.

Over the past few years, ITIL and CMMI have emerged as two distinct separate models for managing and maintaining an IT organization. Like any good standardization effort, the ideas arising out of ITIL and CMMI might seem nebulous, even daunting to the neophyte. European entities have had a chance to hear what is actually being said and to implement accordingly. Now these two models are rushing headlong into the United States.

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