Best-Practices Library Gains Fans - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
04:35 PM

Best-Practices Library Gains Fans

The I.T. Infrastructure Library is designed to help companies cut the cost of using technology and improve the quality of services

Not long ago you'd have been hard-pressed to find a CIO in the United States who had even heard of the IT Infrastructure Library, much less deployed it. Today, a growing number of IT executives are deploying it and singing its praises to senior business executives who are seeking ways to slash technology costs and improve the quality of IT services.

For service providers, ITIL certification is becoming a necessary seal of approval that companies are beginning to demand. The library is a set of books of best practices designed to help organizations cut the costs of using technology and im- prove the quality of services delivered. It consists of rules for how to deliver services more efficiently by improving management processes across IT departments that support networks, applications, databases, and systems.

The processes promoted support--and are supported by--the British Standards Institution's Standard for IT Service Management (BS15000). The Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom developed ITIL in the late 1980s to provide a set of standards that service providers had to follow to deliver IT services to the British government.

Importance Of Tech Standards, bar chartThrough the 1990s, businesses--mostly in the United Kingdom and Europe--began to grasp the potential benefits of the standards and deployed portions of ITIL in their IT departments. More recently, the framework has picked up a following in the United States and is driving cost savings and service improvements at such global com- panies as Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and Shell Oil.

ITIL is becoming increasingly popular as an enterprise-infrastructure standard and as a way for onshore and offshore service providers to certify their capabilities. Part of what's driving companies to this standardized approach is the need to comply with regulations. "It's related to governance and regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley; the need to make sure all your controls and processes are well-documented and in place," says Ken Wilson, VP of international business development at Pink Elephant, an IT service-management consulting firm.

In a survey of 156 business and technology professionals conducted earlier this year by Optimize magazine, an InformationWeek sister publication, about one-quarter said their organizations used ITIL. When asked to rate the importance of various technology standards to their companies' business strategy, respondents ranked ITIL highest, ahead of standards such as Capability Maturity Model Integration and ISO 9000x.

One of the main benefits of ITIL is that it lets companies better deal with the ongoing struggle of aligning IT initiatives with business goals. "It helps the IT organization develop a cultural mind-set of providing service for the business' sake and not for technology's sake," says Gordon Brown, president of Plexent, a consulting firm specializing in IT-service management. It will help give IT the ability to provide the business side of the house with a quantitative answer about a project's value to the company, Brown says.

This approach can help companies do a better job managing an outsourced infrastructure by outlining problems, changes, and service-level management objectives for the client and the service provider. It also puts everyone on the same page procedurally, leading to time and cost savings, and it provides a way to benchmark service levels based on service-level agreements.

The guidelines provided by this approach for service support, service delivery, application management, and other processes are particularly valuable for companies with global operations. They deal with challenges such as language, cultural, and time-zone differences, and, in some cases, the lack of on-site IT management.

One executive says he wishes that every company his firm acquires had the framework in place to ease the staff- and technology-integration process. Common language and best-practices guidelines help companies achieve the standardization they need to deliver consistent IT services following mergers, when IT departments and systems become integrated.

ITIL frequently is used in conjunction with other best-practice frameworks such as Control Objectives for Information and related Technology, Capability Maturity Model Integration, and Six Sigma. Companies are free to mix and match these frameworks rather than choose one over the other. For example, ITIL processes support many of the objectives of Cobit, which was developed by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association and IT Governance Institute as a standard for IT security and control practices.

Companies can buy any of the eight core titles of the library in print, on CD, or as an intranet license. There are three levels of certification: a Foundation Certificate designed to provide a basic level of knowledge in IT-service management; a Practitioner's Certificate, aimed at people responsible for designing and performing specific processes in IT-service management; and a Manager's Certificate, for people who need to manage ITIL-based solutions across a range of the service-management subjects.

Experts and practitioners concede that the cost of adopting the framework--including training managers and staff, consulting, and software tools--is difficult to estimate and varies depending on the size of the IT organization and how extensively the framework is implemented.

Likewise, it's difficult to say how long it will take to implement the framework and how complex the effort will be. Certification of individuals can take a matter of days or weeks, but if an organization is planning a broad implementation of the ITIL processes, that can take several years to complete.

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