In its latest incarnation, ITIL is raising vexing questions for IT professionals contemplating adopting it within their companies. The problem? A lack of clarity as to the cost and extent of ITIL training and certification.
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Implementing ITIL used to be more straightforward. When Jonathan Chapman joined London, U.K.-headquartered global packaging giant Rexam in November 2006 as group service delivery and operations manager, for example, a key objective that had been set for him was to shape the business's approach to IT service management around ITIL concepts.
"There wasn't a formal service culture within the company's IT operations organization," he recalls. "The advantage of ITIL was that it would force us to more formally interact with the business from a service point of view. Like many IT organizations, we were good at talking to users when creating a new system—but not so good at following up from a service perspective."
Clearly, training in ITIL concepts was required. Already certified to ITIL's "foundation" level when he joined Rexam, Chapman discovered that although a few members of the IT team had also received some ITIL training, the knowledge within the team was fractured and predominantly U.K.-based. Nevertheless, it was the starting point from which he could build to get the benefits of ITIL to the company's 22,000 employees. Little over a year later, Chapman can declare mission accomplished. There's still work to do, but a sea change in service delivery has taken place.
The Origins of ITIL Version 3
That rapid adoption timescale may be a thing of the past. Now over twenty years old, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library—to give ITIL its full name—is a set of best practice concepts and techniques for addressing the effective management of IT infrastructure, service delivery and service support.
Where to Find ITIL
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) cost around $600 in December 2007 (exact price depends on the exchange rate between British pounds and U.S. dollars).
The library is published by The Stationery Office (formerly Her Majesty's Stationery Office) and can be ordered through the Office of Government Commerce's official website's ITIL page.
Originally developed in the U.K. in the mid-1980s, drawing on work done in the 1970s by IBM and others and published by the U.K. government's Office of Government Commerce, ITIL has been widely adopted around the world; exact numbers are unclear since all one has to do is purchase the books and adopt whatever practices one wishes. Inside the U.K.'s public sector—and for private sector companies operating government systems on an outsourced basis—ITIL volumes are like the Bible's chapters and verse for managing IT.
The government published ITIL version 3 on May 30, 2007, updating some of the older ITIL v2 concepts for today's IT world and structuring the material under different headings—resulting in a publication now embracing five volumes rather than eight. The biggest difference, though, is ITIL v3's lifecycle approach to service. Version 3 calls for getting service issues factored in at the beginning of a system's life—its design phase—rather than figuring out how to service a system once it's been built. But will ITIL v3 prove as popular?
One other immediate distinction between the two versions, it turns out, lies in the training and accreditation required for IT staff to be recognized as competent in ITIL.
ITIL v2 had a fairly clear and simple training framework alongside it, says Barclay Rae, professional services director of Europe's Help Desk Institute, headquartered in Orpington, U.K. ITIL v3's associated training framework, though, seems to have backfired. "The number of required training days has gone up significantly," he notes. "The intention was to provide more flexibility and create more options, but the result has been to increase ITIL's cost and complexity."
Anecdotally at least, he adds, the buzz on the ground is that the take-up of ITIL v3 is lower than anticipated, and that the changes in training and certification are causing confusion and delays.
In part, says Robert Chapman, CEO of London, U.K.-based ITIL training provider Firebrand Training, that reflects a growing sophistication within ITIL itself, as ITIL v1 has given way to ITL v2 and now ITIL v3. "ITIL is very much about best practices, and implementing ITIL involves applying a fairly complicated set of procedures to a business," he says. And with that complexity has come shades of grey, rather than black and white certainty.
"The problem is that it's not so much a question of a right and wrong way of doing something, it's more of a question of identifying the most appropriate way of doing something, given a particular set of circumstances. In short, understanding the ITIL methodology is one thing and understanding how to implement it quite another."
In Search of Understanding Version 3
But why should ITIL v3's training requirements be so onerous?
More on ITIL
This Wikipedia article on ITIL has some useful citations.
In large part, it's because ITIL v3 approaches service management from a radically different perspective, says David Davies, a principal consultant at Manchester, U.K.-based Xantus Consulting. Davies is a former director of computer services responsible for some 10,000 IT users within a large British retailer.
"With ITIL v2, it was possible to cherry pick parts of it and implement those, or at least take a phased approach to implementation," he says. "ITIL v3 takes more of a lifecycle approach to service, seeing it as not the result of actions undertaken by the service part of the IT organization, but something built-in from the ground up."
This means, Davies adds, that while ITIL v2 stressed independent disciplines such as incident management, change management, problem management and availability management, "ITIL v3 takes a more holistic approach and stresses integration and a lifecycle approach" to managing IT processes and achieving quality results.
And certainly, a recent survey of senior British IT executives by ILX Group, a training services company, found relatively little enthusiasm for ITIL v3. Of the 62 percent of businesses presently using ITIL v2 and planning to migrate to ITIL v3, only 17 percent had any time line in place for doing so, with only one percent scheduling the changeover for within the next six months.
You Don't Need to Implement ITIL Version 3 to Get Some Benefits
That said, business may still in part benefit from ITIL v3 without necessarily implementing it. Interlink Software, an IT service management software vendor, sees ITIL v3 as endorsing its own belief that service management goes deeper than just incident management.
"ITIL v2 was concerned with incidents, but we believe that there's a lower level of events that don't necessarily warrant the status of an incident needing help desk support, but which still cause problems for the business through network degradation and partial failures," explains Grant Glading, Interlink vice president of sales and marketing.
"Monitoring such events, mapping their impact on the business in terms of lost revenues and customer impacts, and then prioritizing the time of service and support personnel to fix them, is very much an ITIL v3 concept," Glading says. "It's all about fixing problems before they become big enough for people to notice. With ITIL v2, you often had to wait until the problem occurred, and then fix it."
This lifecycle view of IT service delivery as espoused by ITIL v3 is shared by Interlink customer Vocalink , an electronic payments network operating 60,000 ATM machines and a business-to-business payment platform processing up to 80 million transactions a day.
"Monitoring service delivery isn't an afterthought, it's something built-in at the beginning," says Steve Dunton, Vocalink solutions architect. "It's changing the way we think about service management by helping us to highlight issues that aren't problems today, but which might be problems tomorrow."