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American ITIL: Best practices win converts

Aug 30, 20047 mins
Data CenterITIL

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.

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.

Also: Getting started on ITIL

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.

The organization overseeing ITIL, the IT Service Management Forum, reports that the number of individual U.S. members in its ranks has almost tripled over the past three years, from 550 to roughly 1,600. Separately, U.K. publisher The Stationery Office, which sells the framework through multiple distribution channels, reports that about one-third of ITIL-related traffic on its Web site comes from the U.S. And industry watchers expect growth to continue: Forrester Research predicts that “2005 will be the year when ITIL goes mainstream.”

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.

Observers also credit technology vendors with bringing ITIL to life in the U.S.

“Big vendors like Computer Associates and HP are talking about it at their user shows,” says Brian Johnson, director of product management at Pink Elephant, an ITIL consultancy in Burlington, Ontario.

Vendors such as BMC Software, IBM and Micromuse also have gone to great lengths in the past year to detail how their management software supports ITIL tenets.

Market research firms also are talking up ITIL. Gartner says fully adopting an IT service management strategy can cut an organization’s cost of IT ownership by about 50%. Forrester says until recently U.S. companies were trying to define for themselves what ITIL was, but with more vendor direction the best practices system is becoming clearer to them.

“Implementations will be tightly connected to the infrastructure management tools that companies use, as these tools contain more and more ITIL best practices out of the box,” a Forrester report says.

ITIL stands to become more valuable as more vendors start using similar terminology and reporting methods in their products. For example, the ITIL framework includes details on how IT staff should request and document making a change, say, to a network router.

Still, vendors don’t undergo any real ITIL certification, Johnson warns. Also, vendor-agnostic ITIL information is available free online at numerous user Web sites tracking the framework, and complete ITIL documentation can be purchased from organizations that support the best practices standard.

Embracing ITIL

For Mark Bradley, senior applications development analyst at Zurich Life, a business unit of Bank One in Schaumburg, Ill., the combination of technology and best practices included in Peregrine Systems Service Center aligned with the ITIL processes his Swiss-based company wanted to see at its U.S. offices. In the late 1990s, he says Zurich Life management started to put the pressure on American IT staff to follow a set of policies and procedures to guarantee better IT service delivery.

“We had so many separate policies and processes in place that we really were stepping all over each other to get things done,” Bradley says. “We were forced to stop, slow down and take a look at how we did things.”

Using the guidelines for incident and problem management, Bradley says his organization is working to get ITIL change management and ultimately service-level management in place on the help desk that now serves his company, and Bank One and its recent merger partner, JPMorgan Chase. “ITIL offers a lot of pieces to a big puzzle,” but companies don’t necessarily have to adopt every bit of the framework to see benefits, he says.

To date, maintaining consistency on the Zurich Life help desk has let the company reduce the number of contracted IT staff needed to service 2,500 end users in two buildings from 30 down to 10. “At $85 per hour for those contractors, that’s enough of a savings for us to keep going,” he says.

Lee Adams, vice president of service management and delivery at Hospital Corporation of America in Nashville, says getting 1,100 IT workers to use the same set of processes has been a challenge for his organization, but a worthwhile one. In fact, the size of the IT staff supporting 200 hospitals and 200,000 employees is part of the reason he says ITIL is a perfect fit for his organization.

“Using ITIL helps you understand how touching one part of IT affects another part,” Adams says. Making IT staff understand that their actions set off a series of other actions across the large enterprise network helped them adjust to using new management methods.

“Adoption can be perceived as a curse when people think you are working to make their jobs harder, but really the effort helps them understand why IT problems happen and how managing changes helps prevent them,” he says.

Adams measures his ITIL success on the repeatable and consistent delivery of IT services, which he says directly relates to the infrequency of network and computing outages at the company. “We know outages cost money and we see from time to time that the processes we have in place are preventing outages,” he says.

ITIL experts warn that to get the most out of the framework companies need to set deadlines and stick to them. Otherwise, ITIL gets unwieldy, they say.

Priscilla Milam, dean of technology at Kingwood College in Texas, says her goal to get five college campuses connected, sharing one service desk to support 40,000 students and following the same set of ITIL practices, was sent back to the drawing board.

“[The challenge] for adopting ITIL is a people and process problem more so than a software problem. It really changes how IT has to think and work,” she says.

In Milam’s case, the IT staff members she put in charge of getting ITIL practices established across multiple departments couldn’t change the way the majority of staff wanted to work. Now on her second attempt to bring best practices to the group of colleges, Milam says she will offer more training, assign more assertive staff members to the task and get upper management to set the standard.

“The IT staff is very hands-on and good at what they do, but I want them to stand back and get the ‘ah ha’ moment I had when I realized ITIL could help us stop repeating mistakes and deliver better services,” she says.