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Tripping Out On Small-Business ITIL

Sep 3, 2008

Rob England

If we ask an organisation to spend 5% on a new process, e.g. quality management: In a large organisation that means allocating 5% of the people; in a small organisation that means 5% of the existing staff’s time. Those people will not be able to apply themselves totally to making a study of the new discipline. They will find an hour or two a week for it.

  • Tribes

    There are several rules-of-thumb of group dynamics that say a group of people will split into two when it reaches somewhere between 20 and 100 people depending on the theory. A small business of fewer than 20 people does not usually suffer from “us and them” – at least it does not need to. In particular, there is almost never an IT unit as a distinct person or group, unless it is outsourced to an external service provider.

    What small businesses care about

    Large corporates could be characterised as caring about profit, market-share and risk-control; and government characterised as pursuing policy compliance, public service and allocation of funds. What do small businesses care about?

  • Costs

    Small businesses are typically chronically short of time and money. Contrary to popular belief, SMEs are in many ways quite inefficient, because of the lack of economies of scale and the lack of specialisation and process optimisation. They make up for it by minimising costs in general and waste in particular (it is the owner’s money), and by doing entirely without some processes (see Risk).

  • Growth

    Small businesses are often characterised as being happy just the way they are, but this is generally not so. In the same Canadian survey, “88% said that growth or expansion over the next few years was important to their business (55% said very important)”.

  • Survival

    Small businesses typically operate on narrow margins and low cash reserves. They lack the diversity and momentum of larger businesses. They are tossed about on the seas of change, and often are completely absorbed in just staying afloat.

  • Least practice

    What does best practice mean to small businesses? Often, not much.

    For any methodology to work for them it needs to be three things: achievable, applicable and acceptable. The writer uses a set of 14 transforms for filtering IP so that whatever comes out the other side is achievable, applicable and acceptable to small business. I call it the BSF: the Common Sense Filter.

    What does ITIL look like through the BSF?

  • Service Level Management

    SLM is not about us and them: there is no “tribal effect”. So there is less measurement and reporting and more defining the catalogue and focusing efforts on services. In this SME context I prefer to call SLAs Service Level Definitions. Awareness of the service-centric mentality is important. So too is awareness of the need for planning.

  • Change

    Change Management boils down to a change log, a CAB, and moving the organisation through three levels of change maturity:

  • Know about changes
  • Know about them before they happen
  • Have a say in whether they happen

  • Configuration

    This will generate debate, but I think pragmatism dictates that Configuration Management boils down to a financial asset register and the rest stored as “him over there”: all the relationships and impact analysis are in someone’s head.

  • Other processes

    In general, processes are stripped of much formal process. Most of the remaining processes focus on having an Owner, making plans, aligning the process with the business strategy (and the need to have one of those), and making forecasts to cope with growth and reduce the costs of surprises. Measurement is limited to a few basic KPIs to ensure the process is working.

    With some processes, the aim is merely to create awareness that the process exists and get ownership so somebody thinks about it. Examples are continuity and capacity.

  • No tribes

    Perhaps the most fundamental difference is that there is no IT, so it makes little sense to talk about service management in the context of IT services delivered to the business. Service management is about managing all services, whether delivered to staff, partners or customers.