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The Business of Better IT

IT service management: Is it the key to running IT like a business? Nationwide Insurance veteran Kelly Cannon shares his insight on ITSM implementation.
What are the benefits of ITSM?

In the Web-based world, there's a significant increase in the interdependency of systems. You can't solve many problems in isolation, or it's very difficult to diagnose a problem quickly in a Web space as opposed to a legacy space. System availability has a direct relationship to retaining customers, marketing — a number of other key business objectives. When you're trying to get to 99.999 percent, those last decimals aren't possible without consistency and discipline in the way you handle the operations part of the business.

The Infrastructure Library (ITIL)—a framework for implementing ITSM—hasn't gone mainstream in the U.S. Why has ITIL adoption been so slow?

I think it's like any other quality process. There's always a slow ramp-up period where businesses are getting used to the idea of becoming more disciplined.

The process is becoming more mature, similar to Six Sigma. There was a real development period for Six Sigma where there weren't very many practitioners; there weren't very many consultants around to help in the implementation. But it became more mainstream, as will ITSM.

Is ITIL applicable to every kind of organization?

Well, we certainly changed every ITIL process that we began. I can't imagine anyone taking it and implementing it in a cookie-cutter way—in part because it's very broad and general; it's not a prescription. There's extensive documentation that says, in essence, here's a series of things you need to consider and a series of choices you need to make, and these are the kinds of criteria you need to use to judge success.

How important are tools vs. process and discipline?

You need both. It's not the kind of thing where you can do well in one area and leave another alone. You have to have a suite of tools that allows you to measure critical factors. Being able to extract an individual component's availability from the middle of a complex end-to-end process can be very difficult. We didn't run into any one vendor that had a complete suite of tools that would meet all of our needs.

How do you recommend getting started?

Start small and understand where you're going. And make sure you're choosing processes to implement or to optimize that will give you value along the way.

We started with availability, which wasn't where ITIL or [ITSM consultant] Pink Elephant would have suggested we start. But for us, it was the right thing to do because it was the business priority. We also didn't try to do a full-blown, by-the-book implementation. We picked and chose what we felt was important. We might not have passed muster as a highly mature availability management process, but we were everywhere we needed to be.

Does the incremental approach also make it easier to introduce the cultural changes?

Sure. Most IT organizations are resistant to change. For us, starting small and then moving on allowed us to prove that we were taking the right approach and to overcome some doubts. And it gives you a chance to get good at this kind of thing, or to get better at it.