ITIL: The key to productive performance

Summary:A framework developed by the UK government has become the de facto method of developing best practices for managing IT services, says Accenture's Michael Nieves

The effective management of IT requires a finely balanced blend of theory and practice. Theory helps us understand how things work, see patterns and ask the right questions. And practice helps us discern "what to do on Monday morning". An IT manager who relies on one at the expense of the other is likely to run into trouble.

Throughout its history, IT has been shaped by successive waves that have pushed forward the collective thinking. The industry is characterised by those who let their imaginations run ahead of current practicalities and consider not just what was, but what should be. They establish a forward position, everyone catches up, and business productivity rises as a result. Then it's on to the next wave.

When we talk of productivity gains from advances in IT, it's often technology itself that gets the credit. But when we look more closely, it's IT management that does much of the heavy lifting. If management is the art of performance, then IT management is the vehicle for turning technology's complexity and specialisation into productive performance.

In a world where IT-based services play a pivotal role in everything from transport networks, to banking, to keeping the lights on, IT service management's crucial importance has seen it expand from operational concern into strategic business tool. This in turn has triggered efforts to codify and formalise IT service management into a well-defined set of best practices and processes.

This is the context for the success of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). It has emerged as the premier framework for IT service management; crossing the boundaries of industry type and culture to provide objective measurements of service quality across the whole IT service spectrum. ITIL was first launched back in 1988 by the UK's Office of Government Commerce (OGC), not just to manage servers and network equipment, but to provide technology-related services to constituents in a cost-efficient, reliable manner. Since then its usage has steadily expanded beyond the UK public sector, to public- and private-sector organisations all over the world.

The IT world has come a long way since 1988, and ITIL has progressed with it. The latest version of ITIL — ITILv3 — was launched in May this year. Service Strategy, a book co-authored by Majid Iqbal of Carnegie Mellon University and myself, is part of the new version of the ITIL Service Management Practices series. Our objectives in writing the book were to capture "best practice" changes in the IT industry over the past decade and provide guidance on how to place business outcomes at the centre of all dialogue in IT service management.

This reflects the approach of the whole ITIL series. It is written to be accessible to a wide audience, setting out practical guidance while explaining the underlying theory and practice of managing IT services. Many books and frameworks focus on IT topics, but often they focus on a single idea, without broader context. The latest version of ITIL differs because it presents a coherent view of IT services.

In doing so, the series provides IT managers with the critical tools they need to reshape and reposition the IT department as a true service provider to the business, and to benchmark their own performance against...

Topics: Tech Industry

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