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ITIL: New Global Service Standard?

Or Just Another Hype?

As the pressure increases to deliver consistent, high-quality service, more companies are employing IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a way to manage their service organisations.

ITIL claims to be the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world. It has risen above such other standards as Information Services Procurement Library (ISPL) and Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT) because it is non-proprietary, comprehensive and process-driven in its approach.

Administered by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in the UK, ITIL is starting to conquer Europe and the rest of the world. The financial industry was an early adopter of ITIL service standards. ITIL offers comprehensive and consistent best practices for IT service management that promote a quality approach to the effective and efficient use of information systems.

ITIL has four main objectives:

  1. Increase the customer focus of IT organisations
  2. Increase the quality of IT services
  3. Reduce IT service cost
  4. Improve process thinking within the IT organisation

ITIL tries to achieve these goals through the introduction of a common service management language and standardized processes.

These processes do not explain “how” to manage the IT organisation. They intend to provide descriptions of “what” needs to be in place to establish systematic IT service management. The organisation needs to work out the “how” by itself. This is where ITIL makes reference to “best industry practices”, for example, recommending Kepner-Tregoe for Problem Management.

The ITIL Process Approach

ITIL promotes the introduction of ten different processes plus a service desk function (see illustration II). They are grouped into Service Support and Service Delivery categories.

One of the key emphasis areas of ITIL is Incident and Problem Management in combination with the Service Desk function. These are the core processes of a technical support organisation.

Incident Management is defined as the process which aims at restoring service as quickly as possible (not find cause). Problem Management, on the other hand, is aimed at finding the root cause of a problem and preventing recurrence of incidents related to these errors.

In addition to providing definitions of common terms, such as “incident”, “service request” and “escalation”, ITIL delivers high-level descriptions of the core processes to be managed by an IT organisation— without going into the “how”. ITIL also gives examples of critical success factors (CSF) for process implementation and key performance indicators (KPI) for process inputs and outputs.

For example, in Problem Management, ITIL defines the key steps for the two sub-processes “Problem Control” and “Error Control”, both of which are interlinked, but have different distinct outputs—“Known Error” and “Request for Change” (see illustration III). The latter output provides the input for Change Management.

KPIs are metrics for measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of a process. In the case of Problem Management, this could be the ratio of reactive to proactive support.

Implementing ITIL

There is no one way to implement ITIL in an IT service organisation. This is a consequence of ITIL offering certification for individuals, not organisations (see illustration I).

There are three fundamental approaches to implementation.

  1. Single-process approach: Implement one process at a time.
  2. Multi-process approach: Introduce a limited number of closely related processes (e.g. Incident Management, Problem Management and Service Desk function).
  3. All-process approach: Launch complete, parallel implementation of all processes.

Practical experience has shown that the third option, complete, parallel implementation, can be overwhelming for an organisation. Any substantial change of the Problem Management process, for example, typically requires a significant change of behaviour within the technical support organisation. This is not done overnight.

Successful IT service management looks beyond the purely technical aspects of handling customer complaints and service requests, and considers the human factor. In the long term, nobody will change their behaviour unless the system of forces that act together to drive behaviour support this change. This performance system needs to articulate clear objectives, trigger the right behaviour at the right time, provide positive (and sometimes negative) consequences and consider the information and feedback needs of individuals.

During ITIL implementation, the “how” also needs to be worked out. With regard to Incident and Problem Management, for example, an effective issue resolution process, such as Kepner-Tregoe ResolveSM, needs to be in place. Support engineers need to know how to get things done, in other words, how to actually resolve customer issues. Without this in place, ITIL is simply a way of structuring IT services, and it lacks real “teeth”.

ITIL: Hype or New Standard?

One thing is clear: the demand for ITIL-based service management is increasing dramatically. The pressure is driven by organisations with many IT users. These organisations have realized that the functioning of their IT infrastructure is instrumental to supporting the information flow within their business.

One could argue that ITIL has learned from the deficiencies of quality management standards like ISO 9000. By keeping certification restricted to individuals, ITIL gives organisations the flexibility to define their own implementation, based on where they see the greatest benefit for themselves. Therefore, an ITIL Project—like any other major change initiative—should start with a clear set of improvement objectives.

ITIL provides a comprehensive set of best practices and consistent definitions of key IT terminology and processes across the industry. As more large organisations adopt ITIL, the probability increases that ITIL is here to stay and to become a truly global quality trademark.

End notes

Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache, Improving Performance, (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, Inc. 1995). Absatzwirtschaft, Sondernummer 2000.

“Cracking the Code of Change“, (Harvard Business Review, May-June 2000).

Mike Freedman and Benjamin B. Tregoe, The Art and Discipline of Strategic Leadership, (NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003)


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