A new era in IT

30 Jan 2008

Now in its third incarnation, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a publication highlighting many of the issues effecting IT businesses today.

Five books of 2,000 pages and the work of 10 authors, version three of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) may not be poolside reading but it will be a page-turner for the many IT professionals caught up in complex transformation projects. One of the authors, Accenture senior partner Michael Nieves (pictured), points out that this is a condensed edition compared to its predecessor, and very much a product of its age.

“Version two was a child of the Nineties and tapped into ideas of total quality management and business process re-engineering. Those ideas are no longer the leading issues of the day. Topics like service-oriented architecture and Web 2.0 have emerged,” says Nieves.

“Things have changed. With version three, ITIL grows up and dons a suit. It moves on to the 21st century, acknowledging the importance of IT at the front and centre of our economy as the enabler of new service business models.”

A set of frameworks and best practice guidelines, ITIL is published by the Office of Government Commerce in the UK. More than 47 companies made a bid to be involved in writing one or more of the books.

Ominously, Nieves explains ITIL‘s growing popularity in terms of the Titanic. “Everyone in steerage is afraid of drowning and wants to do a better job. For years they have reached out to ITIL to help them,” he says. By 2010, Gartner estimates ITIL will be in use by 30pc of companies with less 1,000 people and 60pc of companies with more than a 1,000.

What they all want from it is a way of avoiding pitfalls that cause four out of five transformation improvement programmes to fail and not meet their objectives. The pressure is on as more demands are made on IT performance, according to Nieves. Well-defined processes are needed to ensure that IT operations are maintained at optimal levels. “IT is the cause of growth and is, at the same time, at the receiving end in terms of delivering on its promise.”

The new version responds to this paradox by emphasising that the entire IT organisation is responsible for shouldering the burden of responsibility. “No one escapes from that duty,” he says. “Everyone must think and act in service management terms up to and including the CIO.”

New thinking
Nieves describes a change of thinking that has seen ITIL move in its iterations from a manufacturing mindset to marketing. The new need is for IT to demonstrate a better understanding of the service requirement. “We struggle to even agree what a service is let alone articulate its value. But it’s something we’ve gotten better at.”

His contention is that IT has focused too much on the service in the past rather than what it delivers. He likens it to drilling a hole. People don’t want to buy quarter-inch bits, they want to buy quarter-inch holes, he says.

“Too often a service provider thinks they’re building something very different to what the consumer thinks they are acquiring. Customers don’t buy services, they buy the satisfaction of particular needs. So in version three the new model is the marketing mindset. It understands that they want the holes not the drill bit,” he explains. “It’s not about what IT needs it’s about the outcomes that the business desires and it begins in the shoes of the customer.”

Ultimately ITIL has become a framework to support improvement transformation programmes, pushing the right levers to get from A to B. The new version recognises that reaching the end of the journey will depend on how successful it is in affecting cultural change and getting sponsorship and the support of executive leadership.

“There is a people challenge around any transformation. We give guidance — helping to understand cultural change and the tools and techniques for it. But we also show there are many reasons for failure that have nothing to do with culture,” says Nieves. “There is a tendency to sweep these under the culture change rug if they are not understood.”

A classic cause of programme failure is an over-dependence on deploying new tools. Because it takes time and investment to master new tools it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, stretching budgets and piling on the workload with no guarantees of any return.

“The act of adding tools may seem like a common sense way of improving things but can actually make things worse. For a resource-constrained organisation it can act as a tipping point from which it never recovers,” he warns. Whenever ITIL is employed Nieves argues that an organisation can’t go it alone and should seek expert help.

By Ian Campbell