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Should Anyone Care About ITIL?

ITIL, even v3, is no panacea if your company isn’t run well to begin with, writes ITSM Watch guest columnist Patrick Gray of the Prevoyance Group.
Sep 18, 2007
By

Patrick Gray





Insofar as I can discern from the gushing press coverage about ITIL v3, ITIL will save your organization, allow CIO’s everywhere to retire early, and bring about world peace in our time. Delving deeper into ITIL, one half expects heavenly light to radiate upon their head, and hear a choir of angels as all questions about the meaning of life and the universe are answered in an explosive epiphany.

On the surface, the promise of ITIL seems fair enough. Rather than reinventing the wheel in designing and managing an IT organization, ITIL promises a compendium of ready-made “best-practices” that can be applied to any organization, cutting costs and increasing efficiency.

Like most methodologies du jour, it has been successfully implemented with dramatic results at several sample companies, which soon become fodder for case studies and are held up as proof that with a quick sprinkle of the magic methodology, your company too can become an industry darling.

Best Practices?

Nearly every industry has fallen victim to promises of “best-practices” at one point or another. Usually concocted and hawked by consultants and toolkit vendors, the sales pitch claims the finest thinking from an industry is compressed into a set of guidelines that can be applied anywhere—if you merely purchase the associated methodology and consulting services.

While I have spent the preponderance of my career in IT, the only true best-practices I have come across are not sticking your finger in the power outlet in the server room, and looking both ways before you cross that busy street between the office and the nearest coffee shop. The notion that a magic bullet exists in the form of some “best-practice” is foolish on several levels:

  • It takes the focus of the CIOs job from understanding a business’ strategy and facilitating its implementation through technology, to pitching the C-suite on the latest snake oil, and overseeing its application.
  • If the methodology is successful, it is presumed the methodology itself carried the day. If it fails, most CEO’s assume it is clearly the CIO’s fault rather than inherently flawed assumptions that are part of any toolkit approach since the methodology has worked at other example companies.
  • Buying tools or methodologies that have a proven track record at increasing efficiency and cutting costs is wonderful, but when it is the cornerstone and raison d’être of the CIO, one has to wonder what the CIO is doing in a strategic role in the first place.
  • Best-practices based on a packaged methodology often serve as a distraction to the real work at hand. Several manufacturing companies that I know of are now out of business or were acquired spent years going after ISO certifications and awards rather than using their supply chain to dominate their market and win new customers.
  • These factors are combined with an additional, perhaps even more subtle nuance: The companies that are the poster children for a particular methodology or certification are often successful companies to begin with.

    GE has long been an outstanding company, and it can be easily argued that purported glories of Six Sigma are as much a result of that success as a contributor to it. Other companies that religiously applied Six Sigma did not become the next GE if some fundamental aspect of their business remained flawed.

    So, what of ITIL?

    How should a savvy CIO react to all the hoopla about ITIL? The simple answer is, just like any other tool, be it software, hardware, methodologies or human resources. Rather than rushing out to learn every detail of the latest and greatest version of ITIL, immerse yourself in your company’s business. Learn the nuances of its products, what competitors in the industry are doing and what markets the company plays in today, and where it wishes to dominate tomorrow.

    Perhaps ITIL is a tool that can create a lean and mean IT organization, freeing the CIO to focus on using IT to enter a highly competitive new market. On the other hand, ITIL may be a distraction that shifts the IT organization’s focus away from building systems to support, for example, a critical new product launch.

    In summary, the CIO is the organization’s ultimate architect when it comes to technology. He or she should be translating the vision and strategy of the company into an IT “blueprint” that will facilitate that vision rather than obsessing over which hammer and nails are used to build what is detailed in that blueprint.

    Patrick Gray is the founder and President of Prevoyance Group, located in Harrison, NY. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services. Past clients include Gillette, Pitney Bowes, OfficeMax and several other Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at patrick.gray@prevoyancegroup.com.




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