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Figuring Out ITSM Training

So you want to get into IT Service Management? That's great, but where do you start? Who should go for training? What kind of training do you start with? Here are some answers.
Mar 20, 2006

Sharon Gaudin

Thinking about getting into IT Service Management (ITSM)? Just not sure what kind of training is needed, or who should get it?

Don't worry. You're not alone, say industry analysts and consultants.

Once many CIOs decide that they want to begin implementing ITSM, they're hit with some pretty difficult decisions. Do they have to sit through days of intense training themselves? Do they send the whole IT department or just one person? What training courses should they sign up for first?

Answering these questions correctly will start an IT department down the right road -- one much less filled with wrong turns and management pot holes, says Lisa Schwartz, chief operating officer of ITSM Academy, Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based ITSM education and consulting company.

''It can be very confusing,'' says Schwartz. ''It does sound daunting but if it's done well, it can be made much easier.''

IT Service Management is a mindset, followed up with an accompanying set of best practices, ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), that make processes reliable, dependable and traceable. It's all about making sure IT people are thinking about the business and the customers, instead of just about the technology. It's a major change in thinking for people who are more accustomed to being immersed in a back room with wires and hardware than talking about speed of product delivery and market fluctuations.

And when delving into this, it's always a good idea to start at the very beginning, says Rick Sturm, president of Enterprise Management Associates, Inc., a Boulder, Colo.-based IT research and analyst firm. If IT leaders don't get the basics right, they'll be building their implementation on a shaky foundation.

''Before you can talk about service management, you have to have your fundamentals in place for managing the elements,'' advices Sturm. ''You'll need fundamental education to get up to speed. Going to a class about ITIL at this point, is like going to a performance driving school when you haven't yet figured out how to drive.''

Who Needs the Training?

So, if a CIO is thinking about ITSM and implementing ITIL best practices, possibly the best thing he could do first is attend an ITSM conference, says Patricia Bramhall, president of Tydak, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based consultancy.

''The CIO should go to a conference and get an overview of how it works,'' she says. ''They have to decide if this applies to their company. Is there a need? Maybe they're already doing all this stuff and they just don't use all the cool words. Pick an ITSM conference and go to that and you'll learn a ton about what this can and can't do for your company.''

But once the CIO has that basic intro to ITSM and ITIL, then, the analysts agree, he needs to step back and send out a few of his IT leaders for the initial training. At this point, the work becomes too granular for the CIO. He should leave the real hands-on training for the people who actually will be doing the ITSM work -- and not just overseeing it.

''We recommend they get formal training, but certainly not for the CIO,'' says Bramhall. ''The CIO doesn't need to do that. It's too detailed. It depends on the size of the company, but, assuming it's a bigger company, the person in charge of servicing should go... not the help desk person but the one who has responsibility for all of IT services.''

Sturm agrees that the CIO needs some high-level training but he's not really the one who needs the in-depth education. Send in the person in charge of operations.

''CIOs are not going to be willing to carve out three days of their time for this,'' says Sturm, adding that the CIO will play a key role in creating executive backing and encouragement for the ITSM process, budget and time requirements. ''They're more inclined to want the Cliff Notes version so they'll send their head of operations. Keep in mind the demands on the CIO's time. They can't go to everything that would be beneficial. And even if they go, they're going to be frustrated with the low level of information -- not the lack of information, but the granularity of it. It's not a big-picture class.''

And this initial class Sturm is referring to is ITIL Foundation, which is a certificate course that offers information on basic terms, concepts and relationships between ITIL processes.

''If you're going to take this class, make sure it's certified,'' says Schwartz. ''If not... you can train in foundation and then go take your exam through a center... It's still education but it's not the same.''

The CIO generally sends three or four people to the Foundation class, she adds. ''We refer to them as scouts,'' she says. ''They're scouting the training provider and IT Service Management as a whole. Is this something they want to spend time, energy and money on?''

After the Foundation class is completed and that first certification is achieved, the company generally engages a training partner, says Schwartz, who herself works for an advisory company. ''At this point, I would have an onsite, executive briefing to get senior management on board, including people from the business,'' she says, noting it would probably be a four- to eight-hour training class. ''This is what we want to do. These are the benefits. These are the challenges.''

This is the time when a company must decide if it's going forward with ITSM in a serious way, says Sturm.

''You have to decide if you're going to commit to this at this point,'' he notes. ''If you are, then they need to put together a team of people and charge them with the responsibility of making it all happen, and you go off and get those people trained. It's not a question of who you get trained. It's a question of who will create a plan and execute it to implement ITIL in the organization. Who that is will vary tremendously from one company to another. But they, hopefully, will be people known for their ability to get things done and their ability to cut through politics and bureaucracy in the organization.''

This core team, according to Schwartz, is usually made up of line managers with responsibilities for things like the service desk, change management, problem management, availability and configuration. At this point, they also will take the Foundation class. This team could include 10 to 20 people. Most likely, this training will take place in-house to cut down on the expense, and it should last about three days.

Schwartz points out that once this phase is completed, the trained leaders begin working on their project plan. They also must decide which processes to remap first.

''These steps, in theory, could take two to three months,'' she adds. ''An ITIL adoption... will be successful if the organization treats it as a cultural change. You can see a shift toward that in two to three months, but there is no cultural change in that time... It's the way to get started.''

MaryAnne Winniford, a research analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, agrees that it's all about that cultural shift in the way IT thinks about its function in the company. And starting down that road takes some big steps.

''You're really changing the way IT functions,'' Winniford says, adding that it generally takes a few years to fully implement ITIL practices. ''It's about how the rest of the company thinks about IT -- how IT thinks about itself. This usually has a pretty significant payoff in reduced outages, better compliance, better control and repeatability.''

Affecting this cultural shift isn't cheap. Schwartz estimates that for your average large company with 5,000 employees and about 160 people who need to learn about ITSM, these basic steps should cost about $150,000. However, she also notes that it's a long-term investment.

''There are ways to see a vast improvement on a single area,'' she says. ''If you focus on the quick wins, then you can look at it as small steps. A lot of places get really aggressive with it and try to implement ITIL with the 'big bang' approach of trying to implement all the processes at once. That's a common mistake. It drains their team of the ability to work on any other projects. People get so immersed in the project that they lose focus of what it's all about.

''I always hear people ask when they'll be done,'' Schwartz adds. ''You're never done because it's a continuous service improvement program. What you're delivering to your client from a tech standpoint is going to change. IT is not going to be stagnant so the best practices of delivering IT are never going to be stagnant. And that really bums people out.''