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.

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Some people think they are two competing standards for the management of IT organizations. Let us look at each to more fully understand their higher-level elements. ITIL and CMMI are far-reaching and quite complete in what they deal with - a full immersion into either requires training and almost Zen-like devotion to the subject. Our purpose here is to give you some talking/thinking points as you go forward into either brave new world.

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IT pros share their tales of making ITIL work

Enterprise companies tackle the arduous task of implementing organizational change across distributed networks.

Two years into his IT service management implementation at Nationwide Insurance, Doug LeMaster came across a prop skeleton with a sign around its neck declaring, "ITIL is dead!" in the area occupied by the company's network group.

The message - referring to the practices of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) - mocked the efforts LeMaster, director of IT program management, began in 2002 to move some 5,000 IT professionals toward consistent management processes that would ultimately enable the Columbus, Ohio, insurance provider to significantly increase IT service availability. But the image stays with him, as a reminder of how difficult IT organizational change can be if managers don't balance efforts proportionally across people, process and technology.

"The biggest pitfall is not recognizing the people element. You have to keep that triangle balanced. It's easy for the pendulum to swing too heavily on the process and technology sides and overlook the people component," LeMaster says.

LeMaster and numerous other IT managers told their best practices and service management stories to some 2,000 attendees at the fifth annual IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF) USA conference in Chicago. The show featured presentations by companies such as Allstate Insurance, Bank of America, Ernst & Young, General Motors, Liberty Mutual Insurance, State Farm Insurance and U.S. Bank, to name a few. Such household names are a testament to the growing interest in IT best practices among U.S. companies.

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Implementing ITIL

The state of Michigan's gradual rollout of ITIL's best practices has eased growing pains.

How do you convince your network and IT professionals to adopt "best practices" when they think they already have them? Simply, selectively, realistically and patiently, says Robert McDonough, IT manager for process development and support for the state of Michigan in Lansing.

"There's only so much change you can inflict on folks at any one time," McDonough says.

Last January, the state's 2,000-person IT department began using parts of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). ITIL is a set of best practices meant to ease IT management pain by creating uniform, well-documented processes for tasks such as problem identification and resolution, hardware or network changes, software updates and disaster recovery.

But ITIL lacks a set of best practices for its own adoption, so McDonough's team worked out their own.

"We were trying to change the culture," he says. "We started out with the idea of learning a common language [for IT processes]. That let us insert ITIL in a manageable way."

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American ITIL: Best practices win converts

British process import saves cash in U.S. companies and spreads as vendors adopt best practices in their tools.

The IT Infrastructure Library, a set of management best practices that has long been popular in Europe, finally is starting to make waves in the U.S.

Some U.S. organizations such as Procter & Gamble have used ITIL to great effect, letting them slash IT spending by tens of millions of dollars and boost IT service delivery. But many more outfits are only now turning to ITIL, largely in response to corporate demands to do more with smaller staffs and stingy capital budgets.

The framework consists of a set of books (also available on CDs) that outline the steps needed to perform incident, change, configuration and problem management, and about a dozen other IT disciplines. ITIL helps network managers set processes and better document IT actions for future audits, such as those related to new government compliance rules.

Now close to 15 years old, ITIL originated with the British government, which initially had the primary responsibility of advancing and improving on the set of rules for how to deliver IT services more efficiently across departments. But control over ITIL has become more distributed, with the IT Service Management Forum reporting 20 cities in the U.S. have their own local interest groups now.

Industry watchers expect growth to continue: Forrester Research predicts that "2005 will be the year when ITIL goes mainstream."

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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