ITIL needs to get real

IT infrastructure library guidelines remain relevant but need more examples on implementation and reflect current trends such as cloud and mobility, urge observers.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

As a standards framework for IT services management (ITSM), the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) continues to be useful and beneficial for companies. However, it needs to be updated with more real-life use cases on areas such as managing organizational change and how to leverage other methodologies, observers suggest.

Tapati Bandopadhyay, principal research analyst of infrastructure and operations (I&O) at Gartner, said ITIL is "more than relevant", particularly for I&O organizations, to take a process- and service-based route to the future. The framework can be leveraged to build long-term capabilities, enabling these organizations to adopt new technologies with more ease and agility in the future, she explained in an e-mail.

Companies will also be able to control the risks of change in a more prepared, predictable and consistent manner, the analyst noted.

Stephen Mann, senior analyst at Forrester Research, agreed. "As a framework of ITSM processes, best practice and guidance, there is no doubt ITIL can benefit I&O organizations," he said.

Citing a Forrester survey, which polled 491 members of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), Mann said ITIL improved service productivity for 85 percent of respondents and service quality for 83 percent. Some 65 percent also indicated it had a positive impact on business reputation, while 41 percent stated cost savings as another benefit, he added.

Changes needed to help application of ITIL
While there are obvious benefits to using ITIL, observers said it needs to be updated to include more use cases and examples for reference as it will improve adoption of its guidelines and closer adherence when putting these in practice.

Mann pointed out that despite strong ITIL adoption rates, it is not uncommon for companies to have only "suboptimal adoption".

The framework often fails to deliver on its promises because there is a "big gap" between theoretical promise and real-world adoption, he explained. For instance, many organizations tend to overstate their ITIL adoption when, in reality, they have only adopted the reactive processes stated in ITIL, such as incident or change management, but not the proactive elements such as available management, he said.

So as ITIL adoption and adherence within the organization loses momentum, it fails to progress further on the journey to increase IT service management maturity, Mann noted.

Bandopadhyay said the latest version of the framework, ITIL 2011, does address crucial areas of earlier versions. The service strategy volume, for example, has been rewritten to be less theoretical and is filled with relevant examples and templates that include the latest technology trends such as cloud computing, she said.

However, there is still insufficient details within ITIL to help companies implement the standards mentioned, she stated. Managing organizational change, for one, is potentially the biggest challenge that companies face during implementation but there are no guidelines in this area for them to refer to.

"Process and service orientation require a culture shift. ITIL does not provide detailed guidance on how this major challenge can be addressed effectively," said Bandopadhyay.

Other areas that are lacking include detailed practical and experiential knowledge about service delivery through the entire service lifecycle, as well as guidance on how to use other strategic frameworks or methodologies, such as six sigma, in conjunction with ITIL, the analyst highlighted.

Chip Salyards, Asia-Pacific vice president of BMC Software, concurred, saying that ITIL will always go though continuous improvement, but where the real challenge--and therefore need for change--lies is in the "how" of ITIL.

As such, renewed attention has to be given to ITIL, starting with increasing awareness of the importance of service management within the executive community. He explained that executive buy-in is critical for successful ITIL adoption as grassroots effort will achieve the high performance organizations want.

At the same time, industry trends are also responsible for spurring demand for changes to ITIL so as to keep it relevant and applicable.

Gartner's Bandopadhyay said as cloud computing and other disruptive trends in technology and service models are increasing utilized by organizations, there is a need to "re-imagine" ITIL to better fit real-world use and reflect the changing IT and business landscapes.

Salyards added: "Market trends are expressions of innovation that organizations are trying to take advantage of to be competitive and agile. No organization wants to be obsolete, so best practices are the fastest way to adapt."

He identified cloud computing and service management processes, IT consumerization and mobility as areas that the ITIL framework should include to give companies a better idea on how to tackle these trends.

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