How to Get More Out of ITIL with Version 3

Advice from users who have been around the track.

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

It has been just over a year since the introduction of Version 3 of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). The update to ITIL, a framework for best practices in IT service delivery, was intended to sharpen its focus and 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 focuses on two pillars of IT infrastructure and operations: service support and service delivery. It prescribes 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.

But important topics such as 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 ITIL v2.

And Version 2 tended to say what to do without specifying exactly how to do it. Many companies liked that approach, saying it gave them freedom to adapt ITIL to their unique situations, but 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 (MOF), its extension and enhancement of ITIL tailored to Microsoft IT environments.

Version 3 to the Rescue

Version 3 sweeps aside many of those earlier criticisms. It is more specific as to how its advice might be carried out, turning v2's theories into specifics by including business-case examples and templates for capturing information. It also provides 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 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."

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