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ITIL: The Prelude to Flexible Performance

ITIL is music to the ears of ITSM Watch guest columnist Atwell Williams of BMC Software.
Apr 18, 2007

Atwell Williams

When you listen to jazz improvisation, you might think the music is completely freeform and unstructured. While musical improvisation certainly creates an enjoyably unique experience, in actuality there is a finely tuned method to the madness.

A central theme runs through each improvised set, and each musician in the group understands the theme and knows how to build upon it. When it’s their turn to improvise, each musician’s spontaneous creation conforms to the musical structure (e.g., the key, time signature, etc.) of the set and respects the other musicians’ performance. The result is freedom of expression (flexibility) for the performers and enjoyment for the audience. Everybody is happy.

Now compare process management in your organization to musical improvisation. You want an enjoyable experience for both your performers (IT) and audience (the business users), but you realize that each has unique needs for interpretation, expression, and a good experience.

This is where the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best-practice processes can be music to your ears. ITIL processes can help align your infrastructure’s technology with business objectives, and define the theme to which your enterprise plays.

ITIL processes help the business achieve quality IT services while helping to reduce costs in technology operations, using best-practice procedures for change management, incident management, problem management and capacity management, among others.

Because ITIL processes are guidelines, not standards, they can be creatively and flexibly applied, helping you respond to problem areas effectively and on many levels. This is particularly important during times of crisis when, in the absence of standardized processes for your infrastructure, you would need to determine how to resolve a situation each time it occurred.

ITIL processes can define how to quickly respond to situations related to service support and service delivery, and help IT organizations to understand how other groups work, so everyone supports the same musical theme. That’s structure.

And a flexible IT organization is one that can quickly adapt and respond to continually changing needs of the business. That’s improvisation. An organization that adopts ITIL as a framework provides a structure for people to more flexibly and “improvisationally” support the enterprise.

Flexible Change Management

If you’re a CIO, your responsibility is to deliver consistently appropriate levels of service at optimal cost. To maintain those service levels, changes (e.g., patches, enhancements, etc.) must inevitably be introduced. If you introduce change without a process in place, it can jeopardize your service levels.

On the other hand, if you have an overly rigid, structured process through which everything must flow, it might be more than some situations require.

You need to be able to flexibly respond to situations requiring change through a universally applicable process. ITIL change management explains how to handle all changes in your environment—from minor to significant, as well as emergency changes. ITIL change management procedures provide a framework to implement any change that comes your way and to give you flexibility in how you respond to any given situation.

Consider, for example, that Microsoft releases a patch that identifies a new vulnerability. The patch must quickly be deployed, but an impromptu approach could jeopardize service levels. Without a predefined change deployment process in place, a group will likely need to be assembled to decide how the patch will be deployed.

Meanwhile, the vulnerability remains and the enterprise is subject to attack. The drain on resources as the group determines how to proceed can further jeopardize your service levels. And, if you plow ahead and issue the patch across the enterprise without appropriate testing, you could create more problems than you prevent.

A change management process based on ITIL guidelines helps alleviate this situation by providing a framework for dealing with ad-hoc, emergency changes. With a structured ITIL approach in place, one that plays to the theme of your enterprise, you could respond to this and other change scenarios quickly and effectively.

You’re much more likely to achieve consistent levels of service (and at appropriate cost) if you have the proper structure in place for change management. While some might argue that there is more flexibility without structure, think back to the jazz group. If you’re not playing in the same key, it’s just noise.

Flexible Incident Management

Flexibility when resolving incidents is a vital consideration for IT organizations. You must be able to respond to incidents based on the ever-changing needs of the business. The ITIL incident management process provides guidelines for assuring that flexibility through a structured prioritization activity.

If an incident occurs, and there is no process for prioritizing this incident in relation to the other incidents that are currently being worked on, service can be disrupted.

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