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Defending ITIL's Value

ITIL is on the verge of being labeled a fad due to great promises and few returns, writes ITSMWatch columnist George Spafford of Pepperweed Consulting.
Mar 21, 2009

George Spafford

We should be able to read about all sorts of success stories with metrics yet most articles are about promise, theory, and application. Why is this? Why aren’t there more reports of success and why are both IT and business leaders starting to become jaded when it comes to the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)? Part of the problem is in how ITIL is viewed and how it is implemented.

ITIL isn’t simply about a collection of processes listed in books. It’s about IT service management (ITSM) and the belief that IT must deliver services to the business that meet requirements. In a sense, IT is playing catch-up with manufacturing. Following WWII, the Japanese were quick to embrace quality management led by the likes of Deming and Ishikawa. In the 1980s, U.S. manufacturing realized they needed to fundamentally change how they conducted business in order to compete with the Japanese. Now, it is IT's turn. This means that not only IT but the business also must change how IT is wielded in order to successfully enable IT’s mission of value creation and protection.

Goals and Objectives

Functionally, IT is a shared service that provides IT related services to other business units to help those groups attain their objectives. IT doesn’t do these things on their own – or at least they shouldn’t. That is how alignment problems come into existence. For example, IT helps generate revenue by enabling sales, not by circumventing them. IT helps lower costs by empowering manufacturing and procurement through services that enhance productivity while simultaneously mitigating risks.

The point is that IT plays a supporting role as force magnifier to other business units.

To do this, the strategic direction of the business and service requirements must be understood, documented, and agreed upon. New and/or changed business and IT services must then be designed, transitioned into production, maintained and supported in operations and all the while IT and business must pursue continuous service improvement.

While creating and supporting IT services it is important to understand that ITIL’s ultimate value does not lie in isolated processes. The value lies in the ITSM philosophy and the creation and protection of value around objectives that support the goals of the organization. IT organizations that say they are using ITIL to design and operate the service desk and incident management are only scratching the surface of what could be done.

Processes and functions performed in isolation without an overarching ITSM process to coordinate activities will rapidly encounter diminishing returns because there are limits to the benefits they can achieve. For example, incident management doesn’t fundamentally improve the services IT is providing to enable the business, it only helps streamline the reaction to deviations, or potential deviations, from standard operation of the service. To truly improve the service requires the coordinated use of multiple processes.

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