What is ITIL?
Put simply: ITIL is an abbreviation for Information Technology Infrastructure Library. ITIL addresses good/best practice for IT Service Management (ITSM) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_practices) which provides recognition that information technology is or can be a service-based business within a business. ITIL is a descriptive framework for best practice — not how to do it, but what to do. By comparison PMBOK is a prescriptive framework for project management — it tells you how to manage a project.
What is Good / Best Practice?
According to a Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_practices), “Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.” In other words, following known best practice provides a degree of optimization. For IT, this addresses 2 critical areas: cost and process.
A Brief Introduction to ITIL
How many times have you heard this, “Let’s not reinvent the wheel?” Within limits that question forms the basis for the creation of ITIL. When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minster of England she basically told the UK government IT department to document best practice. The reason for the “request” was simple, the British Government wasn’t getting value for the money spent on Information Technology. The effort was not supposed to be a theoretical exercise but a practical one. The requirement was simple and could be paraphrased as, “do the research, find out what constitutes current best practice and document it, don’t invent.” The result of this effort was the first release of ITIL in the 1989/1990 time frame.
The original release consisted of 40+ books and focused heavily on mainframe-based IT departments. In 2001, a refresh of ITIL was published (aka ITIL Version 2) that consolidated the information into 7 primary volumes and included significantly more of a PC focus. ITIL V2 was all about IT processes and best practice within the context of those processes. While collaboration was part of the description, it was in a process-to-process context. Within limits this lead to some organizations adopting ITIL V2 in ways that allowed process silos to develop. The focus for ITIL V2 was processes, in 2007 another refresh of ITIL was published (aka ITIL Version 3) that changed the focus from process to lifecycle reorganized into 5 core books
ITIL V3 Core Volumes and what they cover
The five core volumes of ITIL V3 are: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement. A brief overview of the five books follows.
Service Strategy is the core of the service lifecycle. It addresses what the organization must do to provide service to its customers (or users). It provides guidance to help the organization determine and prioritize IT investments and commitments that become part of the Service Portfolio. Guidance is provided to help IT align spending with business need (financial management) with the goal to minimize cost of ownership by measuring and modeling patterns of business activity. Fundamental concepts include guidance to create the proper balance between service utility (what it does, fit for purpose) and service warranty (reliability, fit for use). Service Strategy determines what and why a particular IT service should be chartered (funded, committed and built).
Service Design determines How it will be built to meet the needs of the customers/users of the service. This is where IT crafts the proper functionality (utility) of the service as well as appropriate reliability (warranty) expressed in terms of Capacity (is the pipe big enough — with input from Demand Management), Availability (is it there when it’s supposed to be), Continuity (what happens if there’s a disaster), and Security (how the service is appropriately protected). Another aspect of Service Design is making sure that what is built actually meets customer / user needs. Service Level Management (SLM) was part of Service Delivery in V2 is now part of Service Design in V3. As a software developer I believe this is a better place for this process. SLM is responsible for understanding customer- user-based requirements and crafting Service Level Agreements (SLAs, commitments to the users regarding the proper Utility and Warranty of the service as well as user responsibilities for the service — yes, a 2-way agreement).
Service Transition processes have the responsbility to make sure the service will actually deliver the expected business value before it’s put into production. Change Management (familiar from V2) is described in this volume along with Release & Deployment Management (with expanded responsibility compared to Release Management in V2). In addition, V3 includes Early Life Support that provides for a pilot of both services and SLAs (including the ability to support the service once it is fully deployed). Service Transition validates and verifies new or changed services at the same time it seeks to protect the live environment from disruptive changes.
Service Operation provides guidance for the operation of services at the same time it describes the face of IT that the user sees (Service Desk). The volume covers the end-to-end (round-trip) delivery of the service to the end user from the datacenter. The lifecyle phase of Service Operation defines the live environment for the service including required monitoring and measuring performance (capacity), availability, security, etc. against the terms defined in the SLAs. Feedback is provided across the lifecycle so that appropriate improvements or adjustments can be made.
That brings us to Continual Service Improvement, (CSI) the lifecycle area that is specifically charged with improving the efficiency and effectiveness of services, processes, and metrics. An interesting side effect is that the techniques documented in the CSI volume can be used as part of the process of adopting ITIL within an organization. CSI like the rest of ITIL draws on proven techniques (e.g., the Deming Cycle and the Balanced Scorecard http://www.balancedscorecard.org/TheDemingCycle/tabid/112/Default.aspx.)
Taken collectively, ITIL really isn’t about ITIL or processes, it is about using as a way to develop the specialize organization capabilities that deliver value to customers in the form of services (service management) In other words, ITIL isn’t a goal; ITIL represents a path toward the goal of providing IT service management. We’ll cover what this means and other topics in future articles.
Written by David Moskowitz (11/1/2010)