Practice Questions

Are best practices worth the trouble? Ask Procter & Gamble, which is saving $125 million a year by using a set of best practices for IT services management. That's what Morton Cohen, P&G's manager of global service management, said last month at the International IT Service Management Summit in Boston. Cohen didn't say how big a chunk of P&G's IT budget that represents, but based on previously published numbers, it's probably between 10% and 15%.

That's some impressive advantage - and it raises three interesting questions.

The first is, of course, how did they do it? Four years ago P&G started implementing a set of best practices called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which was originally developed a decade ago as a set of requirements for suppliers of IT services to the British government.

ITIL, which is pretty popular in Europe but just starting to get attention in the U.S., is spelled out in books, CDs and other training materials. As with other best-practices regimes, such as Six Sigma and ISO 9000, there are ITIL governing bodies and certifications and regular updates to what constitutes the best practices.

There's no magic to what P&G did. The company made the investment in training, got management behind the effort and eventually had thousands of its IT people working from the same playbook. That consistency reduced surprises and cut the time spent duplicating efforts, reinventing wheels, putting out unnecessary fires and deciphering nonstandard approaches to routine IT-shop tasks.

All of which adds up to less time wasted, more consistent work and greater efficiency and effectiveness - which translates into 10% or 15% in real dollars-and-cents advantage.

The second question: Why is this big advantage from best practices such a surprise? Because P&G is doing what most of us refuse to believe is possible.

We haven't taken that dive into best practices because, well, how could they be that much better than what we already do? After all, we know our jobs. We're good at them. And we resist and resent the idea of some best-practices guru telling us we don't know what we're doing.

So we've told ourselves that whatever we'd get out of adopting best practices - whether in services management or software development or help desk operations or any other IT area - really wouldn't be worth the trouble.

We ignored people who successfully implemented best practices schemes and tried to tell us this stuff really works. We ignored them when they told us they saved money, that service quality and uptime improved, and that everybody inside and outside the IT shop was happy with the results.

We kidded ourselves that it couldn't be true. And when anyone tried to shove best practices down our throats, we fought it and made sure it cost more than it would ever be worth.

And we got away with that, because business was good, and IT was growing in importance, and there weren't many big IT shops with enough experience to cite hard numbers and identify real advantages from serious adoption of best practices.

But now business is lousy, with no improvement in sight. IT has been cut to the bone. And to many IT shops, a 10% or 15% advantage from best practices - or even a 5% advantage - is sounding very attractive.

That means lots of companies are looking seriously at IT best practices these days. Very seriously. Even if you're not, you can be pretty sure your competitors are.

Which means it's no longer a question of whether someone in your industry sector will go after that best-practices advantage. It's just a matter of when.

And that leads us to the third question:

Will yours be the IT organization that grabs a 10% or 15% advantage over your competition by adopting IT best practices?

Or will your competition adopt best practices first - and get the advantage over you?

Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at


Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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