ITIL v3: Five ways to make it work for you

The new IT Infrastructure Library is broader, deeper and better organized. But is it for you?

It's been nearly a year since Version 3 of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) came out. The update to ITIL, a framework for best practices in IT service delivery, was intended to sharpen its focus and, not incidentally, to attract a new group of followers.

So did it? Well, yes and no. Early adopters have mostly high praise for ITIL Version 3. It is broader, deeper and better organized, and users say its "life-cycle" approach to IT service delivery is a major improvement over Version 2's more narrow focus on day-to-day operations and its disjointed collection of point prescriptions.

Still, not all users of Version 2 have rushed to adopt Version 3, which its authors call a "refresh."

Many say they are happy with the older version of ITIL because they have patched its shortcomings with other methodologies and homegrown remedies. And, they say, a comprehensive adoption of any version of ITIL is a huge task, often requiring a major cultural change inside IT.

ITIL was created in the late 1980s by an agency of the British government, now called the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), as a way to describe a systematic approach to the provisioning and management of IT services. ITIL became popular in Europe during the 1990s but didn't catch on in the U.S. until well after 2000.

ITIL was, and remains, literally a library of books, though the OGC also offers a raft of ITIL-related materials on its Web site.

Published in 2001, Version 2 focused on two pillars of IT infrastructure and operations: service support and service delivery. It prescribed best practices for incident, change, capacity and configuration management. Using those best practices, companies found that they were able to improve and standardize their data center operations.

However, important topics like security, financial management, the relationship between IT services and business value, and links between ITIL and other process disciplines got only lip service, if that, in the v2 ITIL.

And Version 2 tended to say what to do without specifying exactly how to reach that goal. Many companies liked that approach, saying it gave them freedom to adapt ITIL to their unique situations, while others complained that it left too much to the imagination.

In 2000, Microsoft Corp. put some of the "how to" into the Microsoft Operations Framework, its extension and enhancement of ITIL tailored to Microsoft IT environments.

Version 3 to the rescue

Now, v3 sweeps aside many of those earlier criticisms. It is much more specific as to how its advice might be carried out, turning theories in v2 into specifics via the inclusion of business case examples and templates for capturing information. It also goes to a much deeper level of detail by providing performance metrics and workflow examples.

"What v3 has done is integrate ITIL's different components much better," explains Robert Humphrey, global process governance director at Computer Sciences Corp. "With the introduction of the life-cycle model, which covers strategy through design through to continuous improvement, ITIL provides a much more natural flow," he says. "Now it gives equal importance to all the elements."

ITIL v3 has expanded the concept of IT service delivery from day-to-day operations of those services to five life-cycle phases (each with its own guidebook): strategy, design, transition (which covers implementation and change), operations and continual improvement.

And at the strategy end of things, v3 specifically invites the business manager into the process by asking IT to base the design, maintenance and evolution of IT services on the business objectives of the organization. ROI, business metrics and business benefits are covered in much greater detail.

Evelyn Hubbert, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says v3 will accelerate the already rapid adoption of ITIL. She says that ITIL is here to stay in part because "there is nothing else." Non-IT organizations, from human resources to manufacturing to purchasing, have had structured processes and disciplines for a very long time, she says, and it's high time IT put some structure into its processes. Those who don't get it "are to be blamed for why IT is still in baby shoes," she says.

So is it time to get on the ITIL v3 bandwagon? Experienced users offer this advice:

Don't abandon your Version 2 efforts

Companies that have patched and supplemented ITIL v2 over the years may feel little urgency to go with v3. Phyllis Drucker, director of consolidated services at AutoNation Inc., says the car retailer filled some gaps in v2 with the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and with some homegrown processes. The result is a "very robust" and integrated set of processes for change, capacity and service design management, she says.

Will she scrap v2 and MOF? "No," she says. Instead, "we'll lay v3 over our processes and see if there are any gaps."

Progress Energy Inc. has been working with ITIL v2 for six years. "But there's still a lot we haven't implemented," says Sheri Cassidy, manager of process engineering services.

According to Cassidy, whose unofficial title is ITIL program manager, "To someone just getting into v3, I'd say don't view it as a replacement for v2, view it as a wrapper or a supplement."

She says she'll continue with v2 and with some extracurricular efforts that were under way before v3's arrival but which are now included in the refresh, such as a more prescriptive approach to knowledge management, service catalog management, transition management, continuous improvement and templates for things such as service-level agreements.

Alan Claypool, manager of business applications at the City of Tampa, Fla., has been getting into ITIL v2 for the past 18 months. He says he's starting with mostly old, legacy applications running on old, legacy operational procedures.

"We already have a framework for operations," he says, "and in many ways it's successful. But it's not really a structured framework that can guarantee the quality of outcome each time, and then [allow us to] do continuous improvements."

Claypool plans to get further into v2 before going headlong into v3, but he and his staff have already begun working their way through the v3 Service Strategy book. He explains: "We started into design and realized we didn't have our strategy on solid ground, so we stepped back into strategy. What's so nice about v3 is that it really takes you back to the basics of business, and then you design your service to meet those."

But do get started on Version 3. It's worth it.

Users say that the most important advance in v3 is its firm linkage of IT services to the business side of the organization.

Hewlett-Packard Co. uses ITIL for its internal operations and for the services it provides clients. David Cannon, IT service management practice principal at HP and co-author of the Service Operation book in ITIL v3, says that to the extent v2 talked at all about return on investment, it was always in terms of cost savings, and that a focus on the cost of an IT service says nothing about the value of that service to the business. "But v3 focuses instead on what the service specifically is trying to achieve," he says.

Cannon says v3 helps match IT service costs not with "outputs" -- such as the number of invoices produced, but with "outcomes" -- the value of improved cash flow, for instance. "V3 gives you a lot of guidelines as to how to break down your services, how to map them to outcomes and how to cost the services," he says.

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