ITIL given a government spin

A new version of the popular IT self-help books offers specific public-sector advice

When managers introduced the IT Infrastructure Library, better known as ITIL, to Kentucky’s Commonwealth Office of Technology two years ago, the staff was not enthusiastic.

“They said, ‘Here comes another program that executive management is going to put us through that within a couple of years will die and go away,’ ” said Mark Rutledge, the state’s chief information officer.

But $120,000 in training costs and 115 ITIL graduates later, ITIL looks like it is going to stick around the Bluegrass State. Using many of the best practices outlined in the ITIL books, the office’s former help desk has grown into a full-service resource that solves many problems on the first call. Better communications about the root causes of problems are reducing the overall number of incidents.

As a result, Kentucky officials say they believe the state will be better able to cope when a third of its information technology workforce becomes eligible for retirement next year. “ITIL will help us combat the possible knowledge loss...because we have taken information out of peoples’ heads and placed it in documentation we can share with the whole team,” Rutledge said.

Kentucky and other state and local offices nationwide are eyeing potentially greater benefits since the first revision of the ITIL books in seven years arrived in June.

Version 3 of ITIL builds on the existing version with new elements such as a service life cycle model and tools to help organizations determine their ITIL projects’ return on investment.

The British government created the ITIL’s best-practices framework for IT management in the 1980s, and it is now managed by the country’s Office of Government Commerce, or OGC. The guidelines focus on services, including help desk support, in addition to process, configuration and change management routines that are essential for maintaining IT equipment and applications.

“The beauty of the framework is its business orientation — it’s intended to align technology with” the business mission, said Greg Smith, chief executive officer of Zenetex, a service-management consulting company that also performs ITIL certification training.

State and local governments that successfully apply ITIL principles may realize savings of 20 percent to 30 percent from organizational efficiencies, said Doug Drake, director of the Central Management Operations Center at Northrop Grumman IT and an ITIL practitioner.

Version 3 also offers implementation advice tailored to vertical markets, including public-sector organizations. The new information addresses complaints that ITIL was difficult to launch. “From a public-sector perspective, Version 3 tries to provide guidance and examples so everyone can see their organizations in practice,” said Sharon Taylor, president of the Aspect Group, a service-management consulting company that focuses on ITIL. For example, new financial management and ROI calculations recognize that profit margins are not public-sector motivators, although service quality and deliverables to constituents are important.

“The ROI and return on value elements of Version 3 deal with these different perspectives,” Taylor said.

The six members of the Greenwood Village, Colo., IT department say Version 3 has helped them.

“The mantra of ITIL is that every process has to have an individual owner,” said Andy Atencio, the city’s chief technology officer. “With my staff of five, that becomes difficult. Version 3 shows where roles can be combined and takes a softer stand” on process responsibility.

Atencio said having smaller organizations see the benefit of ITIL will help disprove the idea that it’s only for the largest organizations. “There are only so many Boeings in the world,” he said. “It’s in medium and small rganizations where the majority of people work. That’s where ITIL needs to get a foothold.”

Since the city began implementing ITIL a lmost five years ago, it has reaped benefits in improved services for city workers. Atencio said his staff now handles incident management significantly better because it categorizes and prioritizes complaints. “We used to react on a first-in, first-out basis — or according to who yelled the most.”

Atencio said the city now also understands the difference between individual incidents and reoccurring problems, thanks to new ITIL-inspired practices for root-cause analyses.

“And as we move to improve change management, we’re starting to see fewer incidents created by my team,” he said. “In the past, we caused 50 percent of our own problems because we didn’t do enough testing and documentation and didn’t have roll-back plans” for when newly introduced technology didn’t work properly.

For Rutledge, some of ITIL’s biggest benefits stem from establishing formal processes that help the service desk understand and manage problems. The technology office discarded the help desk name to reflect the service desk’s new stature as a central contact point for questions about network operations, security and application development. People who work at the service desk now also have a career path to hands-on positions in those technology areas, he said.

Rutledge encourages service employees to rethink their roles. “A lot of IT shops have a hero mentality,” he said. “They love it when something breaks, because they love to step in and fix the problem. However, I place more value in doing less of that and more proactive management.”

The ITIL-trained staff now better appreciates gathering and sharing information about problem- and capacity-management to solve service requests.

“I think they understand that it’s not about a hero mentality, but more like the old Maytag commercials where you see a guy sitting around waiting for something to break,” Rutledge said. “When we get to that point, we’ll know that ITIL has really arrived and that we are getting full benefit from it.”

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

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