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 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.

After 12 months, the ITIL team and the ITIL training consultants introduced their plan to the company. Their plan was quite comprehensive as they followed all of the ITIL guidelines and carefully attempted to customize the plan for the company's ideal operations. In short, it was exactly what a theoretical ITIL implementation should look like. As the plan trickled down to the IT trenches, it quickly became evident that the plan illustrated the ideal model for telecom workflow but was completely incompatible with the real-world workings of this IT organization with its complex, patchwork infrastructure and non-standard structure.

Since the ITIL work was done in an ivory tower, the IT staff had not been on board since the project's inception. Communication problems were rampant as both the ITIL team and the IT organization struggled to create a common set of terminology and understand basic ITIL methodologies. Actual workflows and roles proved incompatible with the ideal. Meanwhile, the organization continued to grow, adding new lines of business for VoIP and acquiring another company. Finally, the ITIL initiative was pulled back and assigned to IT architects for overhaul.

Another six months passed. Another set of ITIL documents were released. These were still too abstracted to be of immediate use in the field. Again, the line-level IT staff had not been involved in the creation of these architectural blueprints. Instead, the architects worked as IT visionaries preferring not to get bogged down in the details of the daily tasks. From this exercise, however, the company did identify several significant organizational changes that needed to be made. As a result, several lines of business were merged and the company was able to streamline some of its IT operations. However, they were still not reaping the benefits of a proper ITIL implementation.

Finally, about six months ago, the company undertook an exercise to understand their ITIL requirements from the ground up. This time the initiative was driven by several large customer contracts that required service levels above the ability the company was able to deliver. Using the original ITIL staff as facilitators, augmented by a few IT consultants with real-world experience at similar companies and a basic ITIL understanding, the company undertook a series of interviews and instructional meetings. From this, detailed requirements, infrastructure diagrams, and actual workflows were created. Shortly thereafter, technology silos that had never spoken before started dialogs about how to integrate their tools to provide a better overall view of the infrastructure. Duplication in tools and efforts were identified and eliminated. The mean time to resolve support cases dropped, the concept of implementing a CMDB was introduced, and the company started seeing financial benefits to ITIL, both in labor and expenses. At last, a balance between theory and practice had been achieved.

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