Take a Holistic Approach to IT Service Management and Avoid Some of the Pain

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Herndon, Va. — Sept. 30

Many organizations want to improve on the cost, quality and agility of their IT service provisions by implementing Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices, but this frequently seems like a daunting prospect. As is often the case, the burning question is — how do we start?

Tackling 10 processes simultaneously is prohibitively complex and almost certainly doomed for failure, so the default road map to ITIL nirvana is to slice it up process by process, selecting the most urgent process (or a couple of processes) first and finding a tool that supports them. This strategy makes sense in principle and produces a rather smart road map, chopped up into manageable, bite-sized chunks. However, there are two major pitfalls with this process-based approach:

• It draws organizations into a web of integrations and upgrade problems, as an incremental approach to procurement is assumed by default.
• It ignores the fact that it is not 100 percent of a single process that would bring the most immediate value, but selected elements of multiple processes — to create a “thread” of value across ITIL.

Turn to page one of your ITIL road map and the focus may be on applying service desk automation or a solid change management process, but are you giving consideration to the last item in the road map? Vendor evaluation tends to work on a very narrow “what we need now” basis. If you need a service desk tool, then go out and buy a service desk tool that fits your needs. This definitely makes sense so far. But, turn to page two in the road map, and change management is the next priority. Does your service desk vendor supply a change management tool? If the answer is no, then you will be facing another vendor evaluation cycle.

Integrating two incident and change management tools may not involve a great deal of effort, but each time an additional module is added in line with the road map, the cost of integration is multiplied and the pitfalls of integration become all too apparent. Each stage in the road map will be affected by delays, costs and risks. Implementation is delayed by vendor evaluation and integration is often complex and requires expensive consultant time, leading to a high risk of failure.

The Holistic Approach
Individual ITIL processes do not exist in a vacuum. The greatest value to be gained from the ITIL framework comes from the interconnecting nature of the processes, and much of this comes from the sharing of data across processes. Implement one process in full and there is no data sharing. Implement elements of incident, problem, change, release and configuration and you are now leveraging that data five times over.

By slicing ITIL horizontally and tackling the must-have elements, irrespective of which ITIL guidelines they are associated with, you can create a thread of value that spans across ITIL and takes advantage of this leveraging. Instead of taking a short-term view and putting 100 percent of your resources into an “ideal world” incident management strategy, there is more to be gained by distributing efforts and tackling the must-haves for quick wins, wherever they might lie.

This “long thin thread” forms a solid starting platform from which you can get quick results, demonstrate the value of ITIL in action, justify further investment and develop your road map in a safe, stable manner.

At a lower level, there are strategies for ensuring a smooth rollout of your ITIL road map. For example, look at the information you will need to capture to run a process. By standardizing the information stored at an early stage you can avoid administrative issues later on. A broader view of the specific data requirements can help avoid the need to realign projects in the future. It is a lesson that organizations often learn in hindsight and one of the areas where a consultant can really help out.

Planning is, as ever, critical to enabling this holistic path to value. Work out what you need now, but also look at what you want in the long term from your ITSM strategy. Having a three- to five-year view may not be of great use to your organization now, but it can certainly help avoid some of the many pitfalls in the future. Factor this into your vendor selection and you stand a better chance of supporting your long-term goals without getting stuck in a quagmire of integrations projects, upgrade paths and administration overheads.

Evaluating tool sets against how they can support your extended road map is the key to avoiding many of these problems in the future. How many vendors do you need to work with to enable your plan? Fewer vendors mean fewer of the issues that plague enterprise IT solutions initiatives. Selecting a vendor with comprehensive support for ITIL processes can mean that you do not get the best fit for each one, but it is unlikely that your IT service management needs vary more than 5 to 10 percent from any other organization in the same industry vertical. Gaining 80 percent of the value from six processes is better than 99 percent from just one.

Remember, ITIL is a means to an end. Do not just focus on applying ITIL; focus on the parts of ITIL that are of value to you and prioritize them in terms of value to the business as a whole. Most importantly, in these days of economic flux, IT needs to be seen as an asset to the business.

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