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Tripping Out On Small-Business ITIL

Sep 3, 2008

Rob England

Likewise the business is too small for IT to have its own processes: so change management is about business change, continuity is about business continuity, security includes physical as well as computer security, and so on.

We cannot have a methodology that only talks about IT: we have to deal with the business as a whole. Perhaps ITIL for small business should be called BILL: the Business Infrastructure Library of Least practice.


What can we at the “big end of town” learn from all this?

  • Taking it to the business

    In this small-business model, many ITIL processes reside in the business (something we are just starting to see in the corporate world too). Perhaps small business can lead the way in bringing Service Management to the whole organisation.

    CEOs consistently list dealing with change as one of their top issues. Why don’t they have a Chief Change Officer? Why does the Change Manager sit somewhere one or two levels below the CIO?

    If “IT is the business”, why doesn’t the COO run IT production along with sales, manufacturing and distribution?

    Most of all, why not peel Service Management off from IT and provide it as a distinct discipline within the business? We are seeing it with service desks: we will see it more often with the whole SM domain.

  • Cultural fit

    Small businesses are not the only environment where the implied ITIL culture does not fit. Look at your own organisation’s culture (the way we do things). Perhaps less emphasis on management by numbers would help acceptance of ITIL, for example.

  • Best practice as a sacred cow

    It is taken as a given that organisations want to achieve best practice in everything they do and an organisation that doesn't is somehow less worthy than those that do. This should not be the case.

    Pursuing Best Practice is a strategic decision, which should be taken when there is an agreed ROI (tangible or intangible) for the resource investment required to get there. Not everyone can afford or wants best practice.

    Best practices work for those organisations that have the commitment and resources and reason to adopt best practice. For those who do not, something more pragmatic is required, which can be distilled from best practice as well as from legislative requirements and other sources.


    Footnote: if you have read this far, you may be wondering where the “ITIL Lite” book ITIL Small-scale Implementation (ref 7) fits in all this. There is small and then there is small. Methodologies like ITIL set out to be comprehensive and end up being large and complex. They do not scale down. The ITIL “small-scale” book suffers from this. It will work for small corporates; it will struggle for acceptance among small businesses.

    Rob England is an IT industry commentator and consultant, and nascent internet entrepreneur, best known for his blog The IT Skeptic. He lives in a little house in a little village in a little country far away.


    1) The performance and competitive advantage of small firms: a management perspective, Jennings and Beaver, International Small Business Journal 15(2), 1997
    2) Business Strategy – do SMEs face special problems?, Frizelle, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, MANUFACTURING INFORMATION SYSTEMS: Proceedings of The Fourth SMESME International Conference http://iprod.auc.dk/sme2001/paper/frizelle.pdf
    3) Balanced scorecard implementation in SMEs: reflection in literature and practice, Andersen, Cobbold and Lawrie, 2GC Ltd, SMESME Conference, Copenhagen, May 2001
    4) Planning and Growth Characteristics of Small Business Owner-Managers, Mazzarol, Centre for Entrepreneurial Management and Innovation (CEMI), University of Western Australia
    5) November 2005 Survey “Selling to Small Businesses”, www.smallbiztrends.com
    6) Small Business Information Needs Assessment Survey: Report to Industry Canada, February 2001
    7) ITIL Small-scale Implementation, Office of Government Commerce, The Stationery Office Books, 2006