Sep 02 2010

ITIL Best Practices

A coordinated best-practice approach to IT services can improve efficiencies and effectiveness.

Campus IT departments need strong inter-unit coordination to facilitate efficient project management and quality customer service. Too often, different methodologies with varying approaches are developed among individual IT units – a less-than-optimal way to serve an entire campus community's IT needs.

For example, the networking unit may have adopted one change management process while the data center operates under a different system and the help desk employs yet a third.

The problem with this fragmentation becomes clear the moment a project spanning multiple IT units is launched in the larger university IT department. The gaps between the individual units' procedures usually result in duplicated or dropped work, and customer satisfaction suffers from the delays that are bound to arise in such a situation.

This was the case at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). There was no unified, documented, IT project coordination process, and as a result, customer expectations often were not met. For example, during the construction of the UCSF Campus Data Center, work was disrupted by duplicate efforts and unmet responsibilities because each IT unit had its own approach to change management. This chaotic arrangement resulted in friction and finger-pointing among the units.

To correct this, the unit directors worked together to implement a set of common procedures intended to reduce or eliminate the various units' disparate processes. Beginning in 2009, the Information Technology Information Library became the foundation for an improved coordination model. We chose ITIL because it offered a methodology that allowed each unit to build its own internal processes but that also worked together on a departmental basis.

ITIL Defined

The key to understanding ITIL is found in the last letter of the acronym. ITIL is a library – a set of five books that serve as guiding principles for IT. The five books are Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement. Each book is broken down into best practices that offer a foundation for providing IT services efficiently and effectively.

These books do not dictate precisely how things are to be done. In other words, ITIL is not a series of IT instruction guides. Rather, it is a framework that ensures that tasks are done in a consistent and coordinated manner.

Campus ITIL Deployment Considerations

Although ITIL is heavily used in for-profit organizations (especially in Europe and Asia), it has great value to higher education. Because campus IT operations often evolve as a collection of disparate elements rather than as a planned out, top-down organization, a framework for inter-unit collaboration – such as ITIL – is needed. Bear in mind that for the greatest gain, ITIL must be deployed in a manner that ensures a sane and sensible adoption in the campus environment. Therefore, an implementation that makes use of the following tips is more likely to take root and grow in campus cultures:

Map out how the ITIL integration will happen in your IT environment. The ITIL framework should never be implemented in a haphazard manner. Careful thought is required to avoid putting in place an unworkable process that creates far less coordination than the homegrown processes already in use. Think through how ITIL will work best in your IT department. If necessary, hire a knowledgeable consultant to introduce you and your staff to ITIL and to help determine where it fits your environment.

Avoid a "cookie cutter" approach. ITIL best practices should be customized and adjusted for individual implementation in each IT unit. There is little sense in adopting a cookie-cutter approach that forces each unit into a predefined ITIL format. This is not likely to work and goes against the intent of ITIL. The point here is not to force-feed ITIL to your organization. As the saying goes, “If it's not broke, don't fix it.”

Take ITIL one step at a time and prioritize best practices. You don't need to adopt every practice that ITIL recommends. Some guidelines in ITIL's five books may not be required or even necessary for your IT organization. And even if you decide to implement all that the ITIL books have to offer, you will want to prioritize each best practice.

At UCSF, each ITIL best practice was considered in terms of its relevance and order of implementation. We evaluated ITIL best practices to see if they were immediately relevant and, if not, they were placed further down the priority list. For example, because incident management requires effective change management, we adopted ITIL change management before we implemented incident management.

Measure the success (or lack of it) of the ITIL implementation. Keep in mind that simply adopting new ways of doing things in and of itself does not guarantee success. Be sure to measure customer satisfaction before you begin implementation of ITIL, during the process of implementation and again afterward. This will let you know whether your ITIL implementation is making a difference from your customers' point of view. Improvements don't occur overnight. Therefore, be sure to allow sufficient time after the ITIL adoption to ensure that the improvements have had an opportunity to take hold.

Manage the cultural change of ITIL adoption. ITIL represents change, but not change for change's sake. The process improvement that ITIL offers requires a culture change. Be sure to check in with the management and staff of your organization to determine how ITIL is working for them.

Keep in mind that ITIL is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Adopt ITIL because you want to see improvement in your campus IT customer service. Don't adopt ITIL because it's trendy. While change is inevitable and is the desired outcome of ITIL, change for its own sake is never a good thing.

In U.S., ITIL Lags in Practice

It's worth noting that, for whatever reason, ITIL is more popular in Europe and Asia than it is in North America. It's hard to say whether this is a cultural difference or simply a lag on the part of U.S. and Canadian organizations to adopt ITIL. What can be said, however, is that several major North American companies have begun to deploy ITIL successfully. Still, there is a wide gap between considering and adopting ITIL in the United States. According to a 2008 survey by IT solutions consultant Dimension Data, nearly 60 percent of the U.S. CIOs polled confirmed that they are considering ITIL, but fewer than 10 percent said they considered themselves true ITIL practitioners. Sadly, these numbers don't appear to have changed much in 2010.