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IT Best Practices, Good For Small Business Too

Industry analysis groups are starting to recommend the IT Infrastructure Library for mid-market organizations with small staffs and even smaller budgets.

It's the start of a new year and some IT managers are promising themselves or their staffs that they'll implement the Right Way of Doing Things, also known as the IT Infrastructure Library.

ITIL implementation was previously the domain of large enterprise self-improvement. Now more small and medium-sized businesses are doing so, several observers say.

An analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, an IT consulting firm in Boulder, Colo., said ITIL is "more valuable in medium enterprises than in larger ones... Mid-sized organizations have smaller IT staffs and smaller budgets, and simply cannot always add resources to address IT problems," wrote Steve Brasen, author of EMA's Dec. 19 report, "Is ITIL Right For The Mid-Market?"

ITIL adoption seeks to avoid outages, document server and other device configurations, and set procedures for such common troublemakers as operating system patches and software upgrades. EMA concluded these problems are a bigger drag on small and medium business than enterprises with large professional IT staffs and therefore mid-sized companies stand to gain more from ITIL adoption.

In addition, adopting the practices of the IT Infrastructure Library, a set of books on best practices published by the government of the U.K., is one way to claim that your data center is in compliance with various regulations. Small and medium-sized business has its own stake in maintaining compliance.

The library -- 10 books in Version 2 -- takes a customer centric view of running a IT call center, establishes best practices for handling complaints and outages and supplies change management techniques to the fixes. Version 3 of the library, compressed into five books, came out mid-year last year and is still being digested by IT academics and professionals.

Version 3 moves the discussion away from help desks toward more of an IT service orientation. It considers the IT infrastructure as a set of services to customers and discusses the best ways to implement, maintain and manage services.

ITIL adoption increases IT effectiveness and "makes each employee more productive." It helps stabilize the IT environment "through process checks and balances and eliminating chronic, recurring problems." In other words, experienced IT managers need to OK a new server configuration or an operating system patch before the IT staffer goes ahead and does it.

"The key for mid-market organization is to focus on only those processes that are most relevant to their unique situation," concluded Brasen in the report.

His report was seconded by Mark Krieger, VP of product development at Numara Software, which makes Numara Footprints 8, software that helps small and medium-sized businesses implement ITIL best practices for the IT help desk. Several other vendors focus on small and medium-sized business, including Kace, which makes an ITIL-implementation appliance, called KBox. It runs a change management database, help desk and policy-based configuration management. SignaCert's tool, Enterprise Trust Server, is another appliance. It identifies what's running in your production environment and compares it to a trusted reference. It can identify the helter skelter changes that sometimes occur and help pull production systems back into trusted configurations.

Krieger said in an interview that small and medium sized businesses were concentrating on the help desk and incident tracking practices recommended by ITIL, and in some cases, asset management. They need to add change management and configuration management to the list of practices they're trying to improve.

"Configuration management is more than the help desk saying, this change would be nice," said Krieger. It requires a configuration database to capture all the dependencies in an interdependent stack of software. "It needs the CIO to say these servers and this network will not be changed without change management procedures in place," he said.

"The highest performing IT organizations apply a vetted and repeatable set of processes that maximize the performance of their IT services," concluded EMA's Brasen.

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