What Bits of ITIL Do You Pick, If Any?


by Rick Jonsson
February 1, 2015

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of SupportWorld magazine.

There’s no denying that ITIL can make managing IT services more efficient and significantly improve the quality of services delivered. In fact, each year we see more of the world’s largest companies embrace its set of standards to increase organizational productivity, ensure IT governance, and deliver the best service possible. While the benefits of ITIL are well documented, the question is whether or not it is right for your organization?

Many perceive ITIL as the de facto approach to IT service management and try to implement every discipline as written. These organizations often find themselves struggling to find the promised productivity and availability gains, and end up being frustrated with the additional overhead the new processes introduce. 

ITIL is a framework, not a standard or methodology. Viewing it as a one-size-fits-all solution will cause your ITIL initiative to fail. In reality, ITIL is a guidebook whose concepts should be modified and adapted to fit the specific needs of an organization. It is also unlikely any organization needs the full spectrum of ITIL principles – or would even benefit from doing so. It is the freedom to choose what features are right for an organization, and the ability to modify them, that makes ITIL relevant to enterprises of all sizes. The challenge is determining what in the ITIL library, if anything, makes sense for the culture, size, and requirements of your organization.

Viewing ITIL as a one-size-fits-all solution will cause your initiative to fail.
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Most organizations are already doing ITIL to some degree. Any mature IT department has already encountered issues ITIL addresses and developed their own “acceptable” processes for what they should and should not be doing – even if they are not documented. A key tenet of ITIL is working smarter, not harder, but before you can decide if ITIL will help your organization, you need to be able to answer the questions, “What steps are involved?” and “How long does it take to do this?" Those questions must be answered before you can answer the question, "Should this be changed?" One of the hardest parts of implementing ITIL is identifying what your current processes and services are, since more often than not, how a process currently works is very different from how you think it is (or should be) working. The steps of this assessment can actually be harder than putting ITIL in place. 

Once pain points have been identified, organizations need to map these business requirements to the ITIL framework and identify which pieces are appropriate and should be implemented first. For example, the focus may be on providing greater accessibility to services through a single point of contact, or maybe the business wants to improve team work and communication, or perhaps they want to take a proactive approach to service provisioning. Whatever the goal, the ITIL framework provides guidelines that work and give businesses the flexibility to prioritize and map their requirements to the framework as they see fit.

Since process improvement means changing the way the business does IT, implementing ITIL in a “big bang” approach rarely works. This is due to the fact that it is not only a cultural change; it is also major process and workflow overhaul. This is difficult to do effectively in a “big bang” approach. 

There are alternatives to ITIL, like IEC/ISO 20000, CoBIT, and the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). The primary difference between these alternatives and ITIL is prescriptive and not descriptive. “You must do this, so this is how you must work,” will often be seen as bureaucratic and encounter resistance from both IT and the business. ITIL concepts, on the other hand, lend themselves to being more customized to improve existing processes. As a result, ITIL-based process improvements have a higher likelihood of cultural acceptance and support.

However, it’s important to remember that introducing process changes – especially changes that measure the performance of teams and individuals – will always introduce fear and doubt in some people. Cultural change is probably the hardest type of change to manage, and it needs buy-in from all levels of the organization. Any process improvement initiative is only as effective as the degree to which it is accepted and supported within the organization.

Cultural acceptance can best be described as doing something not because we have to, but rather, because it’s seen as adding value while the benefits outweigh the perceived troubles. Any ITIL implementation strategy should involve business and IT in joint discussions to determine tangible ways ITIL can be used to improve the business. Looking at business processes from different perspectives is helpful and discussing what coworkers do and how IT and business interact helps change attitudes. Such discussions can bring any resistance to the surface and should ultimately lead to acceptance.

Executive buy-in also helps drive cultural acceptance and is the key first step when starting a process improvement journey. Without it, an effort as significant as an ITIL implementation will be difficult, if not impossible to achieve. The challenge is that many still believe ITIL leads to lengthy, complex implementations that are not worth the required effort. After all, obstacles to adoption are real, costs are significant, and benefits are sometimes difficult to quantify. Providing excellent IT service management to help a business achieve its strategic targets is a much debated but seldom achieved goal.

To get stakeholders onboard, you need to clearly articulate the ROI of your process improvement initiative. To accomplish this, you need to define what the full cost to deliver IT services is today, what the cost of the investment to improve is, and what the cost to deliver IT services will eventually be, once you reach your destination.

Executive buy-in and support is one of the most critical success factors for establishing and sustaining an effective initiative. Buy-in must be viewed not solely as obtaining the necessary budget to implement the initiative, but also executive commitment to the strategic vision, direction, and engagement in the initiative is required. Some tips for how IT can obtain the executive buy-in and long-term commitments needed to establish and maintain an effective initiative include:

  • Build closer ties with the business, and then look at how the longer term strategy for the business aligns with the initiative
  • Sell the vision of the initiative to the business - focus on results and outcomes
  • Use a common language so the business understands what you are doing
  • Make sure the executives and the business are committing to this and a prepared to follow it through.

From a business perspective, the benefits of adopting an ITIL-based process improvement strategy are clear:

  • IT services that better align with business priorities and objectives
  • Known and manageable IT costs
  • Increased business efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness
  • Measureable, improvable services and processes
  • Improved user and customer satisfaction with IT

The fact is you don’t need everything in ITIL to achieve these results, and there are alternatives. If you choose to go down the ITIL path, use ITIL for what it is – a collection of accepted best-practices, international standards, academic research projects, and popular industry texts assembled into one possible order of presentation. Think of it as a guide, not a playbook. Take what you need when you need it, and modify it to create process improvements that fit your specific needs.

The answer to whether or not ITIL is right for your organization boils down to a simpler question – are you providing the best, most reliable IT services possible?


Rick Jonsson has over 15 years experience in the IT industry and before joining TechExcel Rick as has run service desks and service delivery for high-tech companies such as QAS, Trigold, Compaq and Gateway. Rick currently works as a Operations Director for TechExcel, Inc. Through both industry certifications such as ITIL, ISO 20000 and Prince2 together with hands-on experience, Rick has worked with a large number of corporations throughout the world to plan and implement effective service delivery and service desk software systems. Rick is also a vice chair for itSMF London and the South East in UK.

Tag(s): software as a service - SaaS, technology, virtual support tools, process-improvement, supportworld

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