So what is ITIL and where does it currently fit?

So what is ITIL and where does it currently fitITIL is one of the products that sit within the Best Management Practice portfolio. The portfolio of products has been created on behalf of the Cabinet Office, part of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, which owns the embodied intellectual property.

As technology evolves so do the management practices, so can we say that the management techniques which befitted the mainframe era no longer apply? Not exactly. The core philosophy of ITIL is that it responds not only to the technological changes, but also to the needs of the business. IT, through service management practices, is holding out a very firm hand to the business and therefore, it could be argued, is taking the initiative. The ultimate success of this approach will depend upon whether ‘the business’ is able to do the same.

From Cater-Steel and Pollard’s research we have already seen that strategic management support and end-to-end service cultures are paramount in successfully constructed IT estates. They are therefore intrinsically business, not IT issues. In their research, Robertson, Ross and Weill (2006) demonstrate   that the key to a successful enterprise approach is to lay the foundations by ‘digitising business   processes to automate a company’s core capabilities’. These must include basic services and   transactions and then those which enhance business capability. According to them ‘an effective foundation for execution depends on tight alignment between business objectives and IT capabilities’. Ross et al also demonstrate that key challenges to IT and business alignment are due to business strategies being too vague, as shown in Ross’s earlier work. Ross et al highlight three key disciplines which companies need to ‘master’. These are ‘standardising the way data is shared at the operational level, developing organisational enterprise architecture and developing a series of governance   mechanisms to ensure IT and business projects achieve organisational objectives’. There can be no doubt these echo the ‘consistency, structure and comprehensiveness’ already seen.

The research in the field shows that the key concepts from the ITIL framework, alongside business strategic initiatives and effective governance, are crucial to the success of business/IT integration.

So what is the IT service management thought leadership producing? A recent example documented in an industry paper by Hornbill Service Management (Bolger 2011) suggests, amongst other things, ‘a customer self-serve portal and knowledge management to try to reduce IT costs in a competitive and reducing market’. These are, of course, laudable aims in support of business engagement and already embedded in business customer relationship models.

In support of this argument, just after the launch of V3 an interesting paper was published, written by various authors and edited by C S Chan (2008). It contained evidence-based research which described topics such as: the fears of IT managers about using ITIL; how not to deploy IT service management solutions; and what are important considerations when implementing ITIL. The key themes we have seen before emerged: business engagement, human resource management, cultural changes (for business and IT), measurement, governance, programme management and accountability at business level, to name  but a few.

The debate about using ISO/IEC 20000 versus ITIL has also been ongoing. In their document, Dugmore and Taylor (2008) state that: ‘Changes from ITIL V2 to ITIL V3 include the service lifecycle approach in ITIL V3 which is a closer alignment to the service lifecycle approach of ISO/IEC 20000’.

IT standards-based solutions are being promoted more and more through conferences and events primarily to provide ‘enforcement’ of key managerial issues where needed and to embed governance. There have long been approaches to adopting an organizational quality approach, and building on the quality theme a plethora of IT standards has been developed. Anecdotal evidence from verbal discussions with British Computer Society Quality SIG group members suggests that the decision on which path to take is sometimes made subjectively and can be circumstantially based.

Evidence shows that those organizations that adopt IT management frameworks alongside other standards-based approaches are more successful in their IT service management (ITSM) implementations. Standards can assist in building a robust structure which embeds accountability, especially in terms of legal and financial issues. The flexibility built into the evolving ITIL framework is crucial to providing the focus and dynamism needed.