ITIL Thoughts

ITIL Thoughts

Why the push for better governance is rekindling interest in a 15-year-old methodology for improving IT delivery and support.

Do ITIL hands make light work? This question may completely bamboozle you if you are not familiar with the British-based, Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) that has been attracting a surge of interest in IT departments recently. It comprises 30 books of methodology for achieving repeatable standards of IT service delivery and support. Stephen King or Colleen McCullough, it ain't.

Its aim is to increase efficiency and simultaneously decrease expense by allying IT operations to business goals. It all sounds a bit nirvana-like, to be honest. These methodologies have been around since the late 80s and, with the exception of the British and Dutch, few countries have adopted its philosophy on any scale.

Government is the biggest fan in Australia, probably because IT staff realized at some point that if they could not show a proven methodology behind their operations then they would probably be outsourced to IBM or someone - a fate worse than . . . working for government! The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations is one of the better-known, local ITIL adoptees. It embraced the process and practices back in 2001 to enhance support and management of 5000 PCs and 800 servers. But for most, ITIL remains unknown or little understood.

Ordinarily, any technology or methodology that has been banging around this industry for 15 years and failed to catch on globally would have been dismissed many moons ago. The fact ITIL's owner, the British Government, has only exported its methodologies on any scale only to the Netherlands should be sufficient to condemn it to a life of mediocrity. (No offence to the Dutch.) But its time, finally, may have come.

The demand on IT departments to show solid governance around their own decision-making process, as well as supporting the rest of the business to be able to demonstrate regulatory compliance, has highlighted the need for some form of commonly understood methodology for service delivery.

ITIL, so long an industry wallflower, is about to get its turn on the dance floor.

Leading computer maker Dell has just requested 1000 sets of ITIL books for its staff. Microsoft now has 3000 ITIL-trained staff around the world, and the local BMC operation won't let any staffer outside its doors without completing the basic training course. One of its subsidiaries, Remedy, promises that all its software management tools support the ITIL methodology. A lot of Microsoft's own "Operational Framework" - a proprietary methodology for adoption of service standards - has leveraged ITIL heavily, too.

One US company recently signed a $1 million consulting contract to implement ITIL across its enterprise immediately after attending a three-day ITIL conference in Amsterdam. And last month, a Gartner ITIL roadshow, led by analyst Steve Bittinger, proved hugely popular in Canberra, though less so in the state capitals.

This flurry of activity by no means typifies everyone's interest in ITIL. A quick search on jobs site Seek found only eight positions demanding ITIL skills. Another search on a similar US service revealed only 23 organizations requesting the same.

Nevertheless, Gartner's Bittinger predicts a worldwide adoption of ITIL "not because it is perfect but because it is the best we have". "American companies are really under pressure to demonstrate consistency and cohesiveness in their IT service delivery because of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act," says Bittinger. "Pressure of that magnitude does not exist in Australia, which is why we have seen only pockets of adoption, such as in the government sector." One immediate fear for ITIL is that these pressured US companies will move quickly toward using the methodology and "soak up all the ITIL-qualified staff around the world", observes Bittinger.

Governance and compliance - IT's politically correct phrase of the moment - is not the only driver for adopting the methodology. ITIL lays claim to being a map that can take you to the Holy Grail of meshing IT operations with business objectives, a topic discussed ad nauseam, and for which there is no shortage of guiding lights. ITIL is one of at least five discipline methodologies that an IT department can embrace, so long as it is prepared for a long and often arduous journey.

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