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5/13/2009
07:16 PM
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IT's All About Service: ITIL Book Pours Good Governance Kool-Aide

Brady Orand's new book, Foundations of IT Service Management is a self-described unofficial guide to the ITIL v3 foundations course. It's definitely written as an exam prep guide -- it's peppered with reminders about what will or won't be on The Big Exam -- but it also got me to musing about what type of technical preparation guides you want your staff using: one with, or without an extra-vitaminy-dose of the right service attitude?

Brady Orand's new book, Foundations of IT Service Management is a self-described unofficial guide to the ITIL v3 foundations course. It's definitely written as an exam prep guide -- it's peppered with reminders about what will or won't be on The Big Exam -- but it also got me to musing about what type of technical preparation guides you want your staff using: one with, or without an extra-vitaminy-dose of the right service attitude?The author kicks it off with an analogy about a restaurant that almost kills itself by trying to be all things to all people, i.e. promising customers anything they want, and then not being prepared to deliver in a timely manner. He makes convincing arguments for the need for process and recognizing staff limits that are recognizable to anyone involved in IT governance disciplines. While I've seen the restauraunt analogy before, Orand manages to pull it off in a pretty detailed way while not losing the reader. He also uses a dry cleaning analogy that is similarly effective.

One of the things that has always frustrated me about ITIL -- or any other quality control or continuous improvement framework -- is how dry and bureaucratic it sounds. And, oh my lord, so many of these types of books are didactic -- I can almost hear the monotone delivery. This has the effect on staff that massively dry history lectures has on high school students; it doesn't exactly encourage adoption or retention of information.

So, I was glad to see this book, because governance frameworks are important: they help to establish a common vocabulary, a common methodology, and a common organization of information so that IT groups don't have to reinvent the wheel. The book manages to deliver its (bone dry) exam prep topic and provide enough in the way of readable analogy to make that service-attitude-vitamin digestable to even your most unapologetic techie. Orand also manages to provide "what's in it for me" information through the analogies, something critical for heart-and-mind staff adoption.

It's not a book that you should read to figure out if you should adopt a service management framework, but it is useful in terms of connecting the perhaps bureaucratic framework back to business benefit. The book may also be useful in terms of tying ITIL to other quality initiatives at your organization like 6-Sigma. On the other hand, you'll have to consider whether that's even desirable based on how those initiatives are perceived.

As I read through the book, I raised my eyebrows a couple of times, but generally, this is sensible governance Kool-Aide that service-oriented managers will be glad to pour for staffers.

An eyebrow-raise moment: availability is defined as the ability of a service, etc, to perform its agreed on function where required. Most governance folks would heartily agree. Then the book goes on to state an availability calculation based on the entire number of hours in a week -- it doesn't talk about negotiated service times affecting the hours of committed availability, i.e. less than 24 x 7 = 168 hours in a week. I was surprised by this because elsewhere in the book the author makes sensible and impassioned arguments about needing to work within defined parameters: in this way, IT can keep costs to a minimum while meeting customer expectations.

A sensible moment: A discussion about how IT practices themselves aren't something that customers would ever be willing to pay for by themselves (i.e. nobody cares about "application support"), it's the service that they want to pay for (i.e. "help me to communicate through email.")

I'm encouraged when I see books like this. It's a visible reminder that IT has undergone, and will continue to undergo, a massive transformation from a technical business to a service business. Process framework certifications, by themselves, aren't helpful. Framework certifications with strong groundings in the service business, are helpful and most welcome.

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