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Are You Getting Value from ITIL?

For many practitioners, hope of a service management future are turning to dismay as they figure out how to actually get value from ITIL and ITSM, writes ITSMWatch columnist George Spafford.
Feb 16, 2010

George Spafford

In the current tough economic times, one would think that there would be more pressure to leverage ITIL and service management to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of IT. Instead, many groups are retreating from ITIL and service management and that would seem counter-intuitive. The real world reason is actually quite telling–many groups are not getting sufficient value from ITIL to warrant either the initial or sustained investment. The problem isn’t with ITIL per se but rather how the groups are leveraging it. The intent of this article is to identify how to derive value from ITIL at a high-level.

First off, practitioners need to never forget that ITIL is only a tool or a means to an ends. It is should never be a group’s objective to “implement ITIL” as it is not a silver bullet that will solve all of IT’s woes; that simply does not exist. It’s surprising how many executives think that buying a tool or implementing some uncoordinated processes is a sure way of getting benefits. Instead of trying to take shortcuts that wind up wasting time, capital and management’s attention, care should be given to start with the basics and build up from there. As the foundation of all actions going forward, IT must fundamentally understand what the business is trying to achieve and what IT must do to enable that goal.

Goals, Objectives and IT’s Mission

Any organization is a collection of business units assembled to achieve a goal. This means that, by definition, an organization is a system and must be treated as such. If we want to improve the system then we must focus on the goal and how the business units contribute to and protect the goal through their objectives and actions. We cannot let each business unit proceed on their own accord or we risk destabilizing the entire system.

This incredibly important point is missed by many process improvement specialists and executives who seek to improve everything at once. If they aren’t careful, an uncoordinated approach can waste funds, management attention and even result in a new state that is less productive and more risky than the previous state.

True, IT is a business unit but it differs from many others in that it typically is not a direct line unit; unless the organization’s output is IT and even then it is common to see a split between internal IT and groups that provide the delivery of IT services to customers. But, for most organizations, IT is a shared service that must support the business by enabling other business units to attain their objectives by simultaneously creating and protecting value. To do this requires a systemic perspective that transcends local operational groups and positions to methodically define, deliver and improve service offerings. This is where ITIL and IT service management (ITSM) must come in to play but is often neglected.

IT Service Management

ITSM is at the core of ITIL and is a quality management discipline that is concerned with IT developing and leveraging capabilities that will enable IT to create and manage services that will deliver value to the business. It is this quality management philosophy that is overlooked by the vast majority of IT organizations implementing ITIL in an uncoordinated piecemeal fashion.

ITSM is concerned with creating and managing capabilities that use resources to deliver services that create and protect value. More specifically this value must relate to improving productivity–movement towards the goal–while also safeguarding both the productivity and attainment of the goal. In other words, not only must IT help the business units advance, but also serve as a ratchet to provide services that help each business unit better manage risk and continue moving forward

Now, this activity must not be done in isolation. If IT tries to design and deploy services without the business then there is a significant risk of creating the better mouse trap. Without the input of customers and users, IT risks creating services that nobody wants and/or nobody will use. If this happened, then the misguided services would be a pointless waste. The overall organization will only get the intended benefits of the IT services if they are actually used by the intended stakeholders in the planned manner. If these are all variables left to chance, then the predictability of actual benefits decreases.

Instead, with the direction of management at all levels and supported by the tenets of ITSM, IT must work with the business to define strategies, design services, transition them into production, use them in operation and seek to continuously improve.

To do this, IT and the business need to pragmatically leverage ITIL to identify a roadmap for process improvement and truly adopt the mentality of continuous improvement in support of goals. This fundamentally affects the order of process implementation, how processes are designed and implemented, the order of services, how they are designed and implemented and so on. This is then all coordinated and improved via a combination of the processes working in accord with continuous improvement.

To summarize, ITIL is only a tool and the quality management philosophy of service management must be understood and pursued in the support of goals. This requires hard work and there is no getting around it. Nothing out there, tool or methodology, is a silver bullet–management must still carefully plan how to combine technology, processes and people into services that will create and protect value. There are very real benefits to be had from ITIL and ITSM as long as plans and actions relating to them clearly underpin the goals of the organization.

George Spafford is an experienced executive, a prolific author and speaker, and has consulted and conducted training on strategy, IT management, information security and overall process improvement globally. He can be reached at gspaff@hotmail.com.

ITIL, ITSM, Spafford, IT value, service management

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