New IT Library Aims to Serve

With the release of the third version of the ITIL, analysts say more U.S. shops will adopt its best practices.

Speak to an IT professional anywhere in the world and hell likely fall into one of two camps: He either uses or is about to start using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library and considers his service levels improved by it, or he doesnt use it at all. In all likelihood, the IT worker in the latter camp works in the United States.

First developed in the late 1980s by the U.K. governments procurement vehicle, the Central Communications and Telecom Agency (since superseded by the OGC), over the last 20 years the ITIL has become the de facto standard of IT practices in the United Kingdom. Though it has also been aggressively adopted in Europe and Asia Pacific, its only just begun to take hold in the United States.

But this stands to change with the release of the ITILs third volume May 30. Authored by Michael Nieves, senior manager at Accenture, and Majid Iqbal, a project scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, its service strategy model aims to reflect the best practices changes in the IT industry over the last 10 years, the last time the library of materials was refreshed.

What to Expect

One of the biggest differences between ITIL v3 and previous releases is that it will move from a process-based structure to one that draws upon the service life cycle. While ITIL v2s main practice areas were service delivery and service support, v3 will extend to service strategies, design, transition, operation and ongoing improvement.

The authors of v3 also hope the new version will move beyond the in-the-trenches IT folks that were the intended audience of v1 and v2.

"The ITIL books originally targeted front-line IT people. The newest version still will, but will also look beyond day-to-day operations to the bigger picture," Nieves told eWEEK.

"The decision to go higher was just a natural consequence of what were seeing today. Twenty years ago it was a centralizing mainframe-centered view of the world. We want to make sure it stays practical for a long period of time, across industries," said Nieves.

ITIL, with standardized practices and measurable goals, is considered by many as central to the transformation IT is undergoing to a BT (business technology) model. This update is expected to be the most business-angled release of the library yet.

"One of the biggest challenges in IT is that it is regulated to learn through trial and error," said Nieves. "This library offers a codified way of running IT and how to run it. In IT, we know technology, but we are still learning service management: How do we deliver to business?"

ITIL v3 will introduce the idea of competition, something Nieves said is long missing from the IT lexicon.

"Previously, the focus was on how to be better, cheaper and more efficient. Its not enough, though. You need to compare yourself with your competitors. The key is to differentiate the value of what you do so customers believe that there is no alternative," Nieves said.

The third volume will also enter into the territory of organizational design.

"What we found in our research is that there are just about half a dozen archetypes about how to organize and IT shop. But there is less about strategy—youve just been given the golden ring, what do you do now? Its about how you will go about not just what you will do on a Monday morning, but how you will go about thinking like an executive," said Nieves.

The Long View of ITIL

Will the release of v3 win the loyalty of IT shops that have long avoided it? Not likely, say the pros.

"I dont think there are going to be a lot of new revelations. Best practices dont really change over time. You can make the argument that they were being used in 1970 by NASA, its just the OGC took the time to put it into these nice books and share it," Mike Tainter, ITSM practice director for Forsythe Solutions Group, told eWEEK.

Even those who have already adopted ITIL practices may not find the newest release to be earth-shattering.

"If youre already using v2, v3 will not really change anything for you. Youve already designed, implemented and are getting value from those best practices. Its not like a new software application that will clear up a bug youve been having. But even if you havent adopted v2, starting with v3 would still make sense," said Tainter.

/zimages/6/28571.gifA recent study found that adoption of ITIL in the data center is low, but interest is high. Click here to read more.

Adoption of ITIL is indeed a long process, and not one that can be done by a shop that lacks the overhead and fiscal resources to take on the risks that accompany a paradigm shift.

"Small companies cant afford the overhead of a full-blown IT adoption, … although nobody is adopting ITIL all at once. Our data shows that things that affect operational quality are the first to go in. As IT is consolidated, it gets rid of the cowboys," Bobby Cameron, an analyst with Forrester Research, told eWEEK.

It is precisely this extinction of the "cowboys" that some argue is the base of ITIL resistance in many IT shops.

"One of the reasons Americans dont use the ITIL is that they think they already have processes in place. But if you dig deep, theyre not talking about processes but about workflow. I call them implied processes, because theyve been working for 15 or 20 years, but they cant be replicated or refined. It creates what Gartner calls a hero effect, where there is one person that everyone goes to because they know what to do," said Tainter.

"But best practices for incidents and changes require that you document these processes, so you no longer have to depend on those heroes. If you do it properly and align your tools with it, people can see the process and interact with it," said Tainter.

Organizations of all sizes, including IBM, HP, Microsoft, Shell Oil, Proctor & Gamble and British Airways, are already extensive practitioners of ITIL.

"We think ITIL is going to win the game. General Motors cut $6 billion worth of contracts over several years by consolidating their IT strategy, matching apples against apples and trimming the fat," said Cameron.

"Theres a lot of resistance from the status quo, too. A lot of the resistance is because standardized processes are more outsourceable. But its not a matter of if, but when," said Cameron.

The research backs up Camerons assertion.

Fifty-eight percent of IT decision makers in a study released March 8 by Forrester Research said that they would be increasing their service management training in 2007, due to the rise of ITIL as a means of process improvement.

And a Gartner conference poll released April 3 found that more than half of attendees had an implementation in process and, though few knew about the v3 release May 31, those who did were not slowing down their adoption in anticipation of changes. Improvement of services delivered was the most popular goal cited by IT leaders for leveraging the ITIL.

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