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IT Vendors Need to Make ITIL Actionable

The vendor community needs to step up and make its products ITIL friendly, writes ITSM Watch guest columnist John Long of IBM.
Jul 6, 2006

John Long

If you work in the IT industry, chances are your organization has already looked into the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and may even be putting pieces of it into practice. ITIL provides a common vocabulary that puts everyone in the IT industry on the same page, with the ultimate goal of helping companies run their IT organizations more efficiently.

ITIL does this by providing recommendations, or best practices, for managing the way IT provides services to the rest of the organization—more simply put, IT Service Management (ITSM). The idea is to approach IT the same way you would the rest of your business, with a defined set of processes. In that sense, ITIL is a terrific starting point.

The problem is, while ITIL does a great job of describing what needs to be done, it doesn’t describe how to get it done. It doesn’t tell you how to take those best practices and implement them with real-life tools and technology. It’s not prescriptive. Considering ITIL has been around since the late 1980s, someone(s)—namely software vendors—need to address that.

Imagine if the only cooking you’ve ever done consisted of heating up soup. One day, you’re charged with preparing a fancy five-course meal for a party of 10. Now imagine that the only reference material you have on hand is a book on throwing dinner parties.

This book does have some useful information in it. It tells you, for instance, what kind of wine to serve with what kind of main course. It provides definitions of the various types of appetizers, salads, side dishes, and desserts. It even contains a chapter on etiquette that describes the proper way to set a table.

Unfortunately, there’s not a recipe to be found in the entire book. Nothing to tell you what ingredients you need to prepare a single entrée, much less five.

Do you have the right items in your pantry or do you need to go to the store? Even if you happen to have the ingredients you need, how do you put it all together? Do you have all the necessary cooking utensils? What measurements do you use?

You might have learned how to arrange silverware properly, but as for the meal itself, you wouldn’t even know where to start. You’d be completely lost.

IT professionals looking at ITIL often feel the same way. Great information, great suggestions—but how do I implement these processes? How do I prescribe them to my own unique IT environment?

Because, when you think about it, that’s all ITIL really is: a set of books that provide a lot of good recommendations. These books (seven in all) cover the topics or disciplines that define the practices and terminology of ITSM, and include some high level best practices. But none of them provide you with a list of products that cover applications management and where to get them, for example.

None of them tell you if your existing service support infrastructure will mesh with the set of service delivery products your organization is considering purchasing. None of them tell you how to use system management tools to carry out ITIL processes.

ITIL itself does not actually tell you how to implement any of the processes it defines, nor does it tell you the tools and technology you need. Remember, it is a set of high-level recommendations. Useful recommendations, no doubt, but it’s only a framework, a starting point.

But figuring out how to implement ITIL processes shouldn’t be the burden of customers alone.

Stepping Up

This is where IT management software vendors need to step up. Vendors love to extol the virtues of ITIL and declare their products “ITIL compliant” or “ITIL based.” Often, a service desk vendor will make it appear that their product is the process.

But they should be backing up those words by mapping their product portfolios to specific activities and tasks within ITIL processes, so customers can understand ITIL processes in the context of the systems management tools they are using. This helps customers know, for example, which products they can buy that will help them put an ITIL-defined security management process into practice.

But it can’t be as simple as slapping labels on products. Vendors should be providing explicit, detailed instructions for implementing their products in a way that ensures that customers can take full advantage of the benefits of ITIL. VARs (value added resellers) and Sis (systems integrators) should get into the act too.

Providing a “how-to” guide for prescribing specific actions for ITIL helps fulfill the promise of ITIL, and makes it more than just a set of books. But the onus is on IT management vendors, not customers alone, to figure out how to do that.

That’s the recipe for success.

John Long is ITIL process architect for IBM.