Service management is the process by which enterprise IT infrastructure and services are optimized to meet specific business objectives. As organizations evolve, their demands on the IT system change, and so IT and business must develop in lock-step. So, how does the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework guide the organizations that depend on IT excellence for their success?
If service management is the key to achieving a lean, flexible, effective business operation, then ITIL is its dictionary. While service management demands that IT systems work to their optimal performance in pursuit of business profitability on any given day, ITIL tells organizations how to do it. Simply put, ITIL is the most widely accepted and comprehensive series of IT best practice guidelines that instruct on how IT infrastructure, services and applications should evolve to drive the demands of specific business objectives that often change over time.
Invariably, it is change that forms the greatest risk to businesses and often managing it requires firms to come to grips with:
- The adoption of new technologies, particularly where convergence is involved
- Merger and acquisition, where two disparate systems and practices must interwork
- Organic growth, as companies offer new products or extend to new geographies
- Organizational upheaval, where IT users' demands on the IT system change rapidly
ITIL was originally created by the UK government as a framework to offer best practice to departments and eventually non-governmental businesses that had begun to design their own guidelines in isolation - risking millions of inoperable, inefficient systems. ITIL uses a process model view of controlling and managing systems, originated by W Edwards Deming. He applied statistical analysis to build a process model that ensured that businesses could increase the quality of their products while managing cost. ITIL, now in its third published version, seeks to achieve similar results in five volumes through:
- Service strategy - guiding the prioritization of spending throughout the lifecycle of IT; businesses need to know how the investment decisions they make today affect their future technology pathway
- Service design - managing the design of the IT infrastructure, with emphasis on how technologies interact together to produce a service, and how that service is defined in a service catalog
- Service transition - knowing how to successfully transition a beta service or application successfully into the mainstream IT system so that users experience no disruption
- Service operation - Resolving issues so that service level agreements linked to specific services are met
- Continual service improvement - tackling the constant alignment and realignment of IT services to meet ever-changing business needs, arguably the most important ITIL discipline.
Calling everything by the same name
ITIL is particularly valuable where organizations need to procure IT services from a third party; it acts as a common language to describe technologies and processes so that both parties can agree a mutual solution. ITIL also ensures that services are provided and managed in accordance with the way that they are consumed by the organization, so that inefficiencies in the supply chain are minimized and end-users, ultimately, receive only services that are useful to them. In terms of potential cost savings to the enterprise, ITIL can help in several areas.
Firstly, vendor management savings can be achieved through identifying services, such as leased lines, which are underperforming and getting a refund. Identifying and consolidating top vendors helps, as does identifying which services are actually underpinning business results and phasing out ones that don't. Bandwidth management savings can be achieved through weeding out unnecessary bandwidth, better utilizing existing bandwidth through load balancing and reducing downtime caused by overloaded pathways.
Asset management savings can come from identifying which IT assets are unused or underused and eliminating them or reducing the number of maintenance contracts. End-user productivity increases can be found by managing services as individual entities and defining, tracking, and optimizing the availability of them to users. In turn, users become more productive and revenue increases while costs go down. Finally, increased IT labor efficiencies can be delivered by, for example, mapping the configuration of devices on the network and reducing the time to manually discover them and their effect on the network.
However, there are seven main areas of challenge that organizations face when trying to keep business and IT aligned towards excellence in the marketplace:
1. Why is size so painful? High numbers of staff, IT systems, different local service management and procurement processes, languages and geographical properties can increase the margin of error in IT performance and make service management tricky.
2. Why is IT more important than the finished product? Companies that place emphasis only on their finished product or service will neglect to align IT performance correctly to achieve good end results.
3. Where do I start? Establishing a start-point for projects can be difficult when IT systems are interdependent. Knowing what to tweak to achieve a long list of business-based objectives can be tough if tweaking creates an undesirable 'ripple effect' throughout the network.
4. What's necessary? Once projects are begun, it's easy to be tempted to tackle adjacent issues as they're uncovered. Consequently focus on the main thrust can become diluted and results slowed.
5. Where's the right data? Businesses can struggle to understand which network performance metrics are the important ones when it comes to isolating a problem or measuring if a project has been successful.
6. Where's the forward visibility? Service management projects must start with a knowledge and reasonable certainty of the end result. Without this forward visibility, gained through experience, enterprises may increase risk if they attempt to feel their way through the process.
7. Where's the discipline? Outsourcing has a big advantage aside from risk mitigation and overhead reduction: it brings in a new perspective and singular focus that applies discipline to achieving results that's not always found internally.
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.