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

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

July 23, 2005

5 Min Read

Companies adopting the framework report favorable results. Financial-services firm Visa USA Inc. in 2002 began using it in its Inovant unit, which provides the IT infrastructure for Visa's global transactions-processing operations.

The best-practices guidelines played a role in the development of new monitoring tools--called Visa Service Views--that let the company track in real time every transaction running through its VisaNet payments-processing network. The global payment system, which handles more than 40 billion transactions and processes payments in excess of $1.7 trillion annually, is used by 21,000 financial institutions and more than 20 million merchant locations. "When we decided to go after improvements in our systems monitoring, we realized that having a framework [to define] something like an incident would be very beneficial," says Ben Rewis, VP of global systems management at Visa USA.

The improved monitoring lets Visa spot problems in its network and systems much earlier and is saving as much as 75% of the time needed to resolve problems by quickly identifying the source, Rewis says. Visa is now much more proactive in dealing with network and systems outages.

Visa created a "multiyear road map" for implementing ITIL throughout the company to help drive improvements, Rewis says. To date, 50 employees are certified, and Visa plans to have another 450--mostly in IT--become certified. Certification generally costs about $1,500 per person for a basic course, Rewis says.

Another user of the framework, British Petroleum Co., began implementing it in 2004 as part of an effort to transform the IT infrastructure of its trading business. The project included the consolidation of 450 data centers worldwide into three in the United States, Europe, and the Far East, and the development of a network to link the data centers to the enterprise.

The oil company relies on the framework to help provide consistent IT services, says Len Williamson, director of transformation operations processes in digital com- munications and technology. Already its use has led to improvements such as a reduction in the number of failure incidents in the trading business and an increase in network uptime from about 97% to more than 99%, Williamson says.

He expects similar benefits throughout BP's operations as it deploys ITIL more broadly this year. One of the biggest gains will be lower costs. "With the combination of organizational, process, and technology changes and ITIL, we're looking at 25% cost improvements," Williamson says. The cost is low, considering the potential savings.

BP outsources IT functions such as help-desk operations and small development projects to Fujitsu in Europe, EDS in the United Kingdom, and Getronics in the United States. Each is in the process of implementing ITIL, Williamson says, and that will make it much easier for BP to communicate with the service providers about IT-service levels. "Outsourcing companies are investing in ITIL with a view to offering complete end-to-end service to clients," he says.

Service providers also find there are advantages to deploying the framework. Affiliated Computer Services is tying ITIL, external audits and certifications, and Lean Six Sigma into a comprehensive "quality-management system" to improve the quality of services it delivers to clients, says Fred Reitz, director of ACS's quality-management program. Reitz is developing a class for ACS workers that will cover ITIL and BS15000 and explain how they fit into the company's quality initiatives.

"Having ITIL-compliant processes provides an indication to customers and potential customers that all the bases are covered when it comes to IT-service management," Reitz says. Even though the framework will lead to performance improvements, Reitz doesn't expect ACS to charge higher fees just because it's following the standards.

Reitz points out that all ITIL certifications are done at the individual level and that a service provider can't receive certification for the entire organization. "That's why we're pursuing the BS15000 certification," he says. "BS15000 is currently the only ITIL-based certification that organizations can achieve."

Another service provider, Hewlett-Packard, is a proponent. ITIL certification "certainly builds the expertise and credibility with the service provider for those customers that have decided to align with ITIL," says Kim Box, delivery operations manager at HP Managed Services. An enterprise that adopts ITIL and looks for a service provider to run part of the operation "definitely needs to find a provider who has the framework built into the way they run their business," Box advises. Among the benefits HP derives from using ITIL: The incident-management and problem-management practices ensure that the service provider is doing root-cause analysis of incidents or system failures; the change/configuration-management practices provide models for making changes in IT environments in a systematic way with controls to manage and mitigate the risks. "When these types of processes are in place, [HP] can do more than just 'run' the operation, it can evaluate and eradicate root issues, driving down operational costs," Box says.

But is ITIL a silver bullet for infrastructure issues? "It's very compelling conceptually but doesn't have a long track record with end-user or outsourcing firms," says Stan Lepeak, managing director of research at EquaTerra, an outsourcing advisory firm. Using the framework to improve IT services and cut costs "certainly makes a lot of sense. But to build a business case that would compare a service provider strong in ITIL versus one that isn't would be challenging today," Lepeak says.

For one thing, he says, individual ITIL certifications don't necessarily reflect on the entire service provider. For another, ITIL focuses on one dimension of IT--service delivery--but not directly on areas such as security and auditing, and software development.

So is the framework necessary for every enterprise and service provider? Certainly it's worth adopting if IT-service quality is vital to your business success. And how many companies can say that it isn't? ITIL "isn't new and it isn't rocket science, it's just an abundance of common sense," Pink Elephant's Wilson says. "You're putting structured management into the chaotic world of IT."

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