ITIL is for big business, right? Not necessarily.
Although larger IT organizations are more usually associated
with ITIL implementations (See The Practical Value of the IT Infrastructure
Library), there’s growing evidence that ITIL can
benefit the smaller IT shop, too.
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The Practical Value of
Watch Out for Training Costs
in ITIL Version 3
ITIL’s big business credentials can’t be denied.
Originally developed in the U.K. in the mid 1980s, the
Information Technology Infrastructure Library is a set of best
practice concepts and techniques for addressing the effective
management of IT infrastructure, service delivery and service
support. Endorsed by the U.K. government for public sector IT
projects, ITIL soon gained traction within the corporate
sector. (Although it recently was published to some fanfare, a
number of users have expressed concern about the training
ITIL Version 3 requires.)
Published by the U.K. government’s Office of
Government Commerce, ITIL initial best practice guidelines have
been widely adopted around the world, although exact numbers
are unclear. (All one has to do is purchase a set of ITIL
books, and adopt whatever ITIL practices one wishes.)
To some, ITIL’s big business background has hindered
adoption by smaller IT shops. “ITIL hasn’t really
talked to smaller businesses,” says Barclay Rae,
professional services director of Europe’s Help Desk Institute,
headquartered in Orpington, U.K. “The language to date
has been very much framed in the context of large organizations
with mainframes and internal customers.”
Organization Size Shouldn’t Matter With ITIL
But if ITIL hasn’t been smaller business-friendly,
neither have smaller businesses been ITIL-friendly. “With
limited resources, smaller businesses tend to develop their IT
people from within, leading to a lower level of exposure to
better ways of working,” observes David Davies, a
principal consultant at Manchester, U.K. based Xantus Consulting, and author of
“Improving IT Service Delivery,” a 2007 paper
published by the UK’s National Computing Center.
“Structure and organization are often inappropriate,
too: it’s like 11 year olds playing soccer, with
everyone chasing the ball.”
Yet perversely, the smaller IT shop can turn its size into
an ITIL asset, says the Help Desk Institute’s Rae.
“Smaller companies can implement ITIL—and implement
it quickly,” he says. “There are fewer people to
disagree about it, and it’s easier to get the key people
around the same table. I’ve implemented ITIL in an IT
department of just six people: They initially complained that
they didn’t have the time—but by picking just the
key ITIL processes, it didn’t take up much time at
Indeed, he points out, one of the most common
misunderstandings about ITIL in smaller businesses is that ITIL
somehow “demands” a large organization.
“People think that as there are a number of
‘management’ processes involved, there must be a
similar number of management roles—but this just
isn’t the case,” says Rae.
Four ITIL Points to Remember
The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is applicable
to small- and medium-sized organizations. Consider
1.) Don’t be daunted.
Remember that ITIL can work for smaller companies. Even
if the processes in ITIL were written with big
companies in mind, the lessons apply to smaller
organizations. ITIL can work for you, too.
2.) Appoint a process owner. You
need a leader in charge.
3.) Pick your pieces and
prioritize. Choose tenets of ITIL that work
for your organization. It’s O.K. to select
aspects of ITIL that are right for your organization.
Pick up the points you think will work best.
4.) Follow the path, and chart
progress. ITIL accountability requires someone
assigned to make sure the organization is following
The Need for Accountability
“As with all good process development, it’s
vital to have a process ‘owner’ and someone who is
responsible for ensuring that each process is working well. But
many good implementations have simply given out key
responsibilities to individuals as part of their existing
ITIL itself, too, is moving to make itself more accessible
to smaller organizations. Published in 2006, the Office of
Government Commerce’s guide to small-scale ITIL
implementations is already in its third printing. As
with the Office’s other ITIL publications, it is
published by The Stationery Office (formerly Her Majesty’s
Stationery Office) and costs around $70. (Exact pricing
depends on the current U.K. pounds-to-dollar exchange
While many ITIL practitioners broadly welcome such moves,
they stress that smaller organizations can still benefit from
working with the full set of ITIL guidelines.
“There’s still a fair degree of ignorance among
smaller businesses about ITIL’s potential
benefits,” argues Paul Cash, managing director of
Partners in IT, a service management
consultancy and ITIL training provider. Were more smaller IT
organizations aware of ITIL’s benefits, he adds, they
would be more inclined to adopt the ‘full’ ITIL
guidelines, and not a scaled-down version.
Stamina Required to Meet ITIL’s Demands
One smaller business that has done just that is York,
U.K.-based ioko, a 270-employee outsourced managed
services specialist and developer of Internet-based
applications for global giants such as Shell and Diageo.
Founded in 1996, ITIL appeared on ioko’s radar screen
in 2001, explains operations director Sian Hodgson:
“We had ambitious growth targets, realized that we
needed processes and systems that scaled as we
With ITIL’s small-scale version not yet available,
ioko embarked on a full-scale implementation—but more
gradually, implementing ITIL practices at the pace that it
could absorb them.
“You need stamina,” stresses Hodgson. “You
need to recognize that it’s a journey involving hundreds
of small changes, rather than a onetime silver bullet. People
see ITIL as some sort of Nirvana, but really it’s just a
very sensible framework. Take ITIL’s approach to change
management: it provides a very credible level of detail around
the processes of designing, approving and ultimately
And for ioko, ITIL has delivered on its promise, adds
Hodgson. With revenue of £9.1 million in 2001 when first
embarking on ITIL, ioko has now grown to sales of £25.7
million, she says: “And we haven’t had to make
changes to our processes, because they were already in line
with what we need. What’s more, we could double in
size—and still not make any changes.”