by Laurianne McLaughlin

Using ITIL to Save the Apollo 13 Astronauts

Sep 15, 20062 mins
ITILSystem Management

Could your IT team band together to save the Apollo 13 astronauts? That’s the mission for participants in a novel IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) training program run by CA (formerly Computer Associates).

Knowing the Apollo 13 story (in which astronauts and NASA scientists modified a lunar excursion module to get astronauts home safely) doesn’t equal success in this class. Participants in the one-day role-playing course are dealt cards that ask them to solve Apollo 13 operational issues; if they don’t apply processes properly, they can’t progress toward winning the game. Between rounds, players brainstorm on how to improve.

ITIL, a customizable framework, provides guidelines to help IT departments coordinate their processes and deliver the best IT service—for instance, quick problem resolution. ITIL typically involves big change for IT departments, because work that was being done ad hoc must be done in formal steps. Another change: People must understand IT processes outside their immediate areas of responsibility. CA’s training aims to remove the fear of these changes by showing how good processes work together to solve problems, says David Yachnin, director of CA’s Federal Technology Office and a leader of the course.

Phil Bertolini, CIO for Oakland County, Mich., took the class earlier this year as he and his staff prepared to transform five help desks into one centralized service desk, using ITIL.

The class improved his planning, he says. For example, he played “Capsule Communicator,” the person who must get data to the team to solve problems—a role analogous to an IT help desk manager. When he and his team failed to save the astronauts in the first half of the game, Bertolini says he got a deeper realization of how hard it is to be a help desk manager, and of how intricate a good knowledge base must be. Plus his 11 staff members participating saw that he understood their challenges, Bertolini says.

About 90 percent of teams save the astronauts, Yachnin says. The take-home lesson: Don’t make processes have so many steps that they kill someone. For more on implementing change, see “The New Science of Change,” Page 54.