Common Myths About ITIL

While the IT Information Library holds the promise of improved service and cost savings, some common misconceptions could lead an organization astray.
Companies around the globe are jumping on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) bandwagon. According to Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., 40 percent of $1 billion-plus companies will be implementing ITIL by the end of this year.

“ITIL has become the de facto standard for enterprise service delivery processes,” says Thomas Mendel, an analyst with Forrester.

ITIL was developed by the United Kingdom's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in the late 1980s. The comprehensive and non-proprietary guidance, documented in a set of books, describes an integrated, process-based best practice framework for managing IT services.

While ITIL process improvement and standardization promises to greatly upgrade service and yield cost savings, success is not guaranteed. There are, in fact, some common misconceptions or myths that could lead an organization astray.

Myth 1: ITIL is for techies

The operational folks within IT may be the ones implementing ITIL on a daily basis, but executive-level buy-in early on is essential for success.

“If an ITIL initiative is confined to IT, it is quite likely that, at the end of the implementation, the business will not feel that the investment made in time and money was worthwhile. ITIL is a shared business and IT initiative, where both parties must dictate the business objectives and success criteria,” says Brian Johnson, an author of 15 books on ITIL and founder of itSMF, a professional membership organization focused on IT service management and ITIL. Johnson led the first successful government implementation of ITIL best practices as well as one of the first private-sector examples. He is also ITIL practice manager for CA Technology Services at Islandia, NY-based CA Inc.

Myth 2: ITIL is only about people and process; technology has no role to play

ITIL consultants sometimes focus entirely on process improvement and organizational issues. While process definition is critical, the real efficiency gains can only be realized and measured when the processes are automated through technology.

Companies that focus purely on people and process run the risk of being overly dictatorial and bureaucratic. In this state, organizations spend too much time debating what needs to be done, without actually achieving anything. Worse still, organizations focus on “implementing ITIL” to the detriment of the original business objective.

“Technology certainly has a significant role to play in ITIL,” says David Ratcliffe, president and CEO of Pink Elephant, an ITIL consultancy headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. “Practitioners need to be guided into thinking about the right process for them, the challenges of changing organizational behavior, and then the technology tools which increase efficiency.”

Forrester’s Mendel goes so far as to say that technology tools play an absolutely essential role in any ITIL project. “From my experience, using tools to automate service support and delivery processes can save as much as 30% of overall costs,” he says.

Myth 3: ITIL is the be-all and end-all

Implementing ITIL will not improve every IT process. While ITIL goes into great depth defining service management best practices, there are other key areas where ITIL is weak. Organizations that believe ITIL is the only answer, says Johnson, probably don’t know what the original question was.

Companies following this myth may be seeking improvement in areas where they are already sufficiently mature. In these situations, seek out specialists who will thoroughly assess your service management maturity according to your service delivery model (e.g. cost reduction, value generation etc.).

“ITIL is mainly concerned with operational and tactical activities, and doing ITIL for ITIL’s sake is misguided,” says Ratcliffe. “Practitioners need to understand more about their business and its needs, and develop strategies that deliver value to their business. I encourage them to look at the big picture and do what’s right – use ITIL as a guide when they’ve decided what it is required.”

Myth 4: ITIL Education = ITIL Success

Most organizations that embark on the ITIL journey begin with ambitious training programs. What’s often forgotten, however, is that introducing a best practice framework is really an exercise in organizational and cultural change. Failing to realize that can be a recipe for disaster.

In this situation, companies may end up with an extremely ITIL-literate organization without purpose or direction. Companies who limit ITIL training to one specific area or department could very quickly find themselves in a position where other departments are resentful to the point of project disruption and “ITIL sabotage.”

Dan Twing, vice president of research and consulting services at Enterprise Management Associates of Boulder, Colo., says Myth 4 is one he often sees when consulting IT organizations.

“Training gives everyone a common language and defines the starting vision for better management,” says Twing. “Because this success comes after organizational and cultural change, often a third-party change agent is the difference in keeping the project focused and moving forward.”

Myth 5: Take it one process at a time

Many companies choose to proceed by greatly improving a single process, such as incident management, in isolation. But, because ITIL processes are necessarily inter-related, organizations that get too far down the path with one process before considering other related processes will not see tangible results from their efforts and stand to waste both time and money.

“They will find that they have to constantly revisit and refine the initial process as they implement others,” says Johnson. “Therefore, the best way to proceed is to simultaneously work on improving two or three process areas.”

Myth 6: Only choose ITIL “compliant” solutions

The importance of ITIL compliancy may well be over-rated. Because ITIL does not specify detailed processes and procedures to followed, any assessment will be so high-level that its usefulness will be limited.

“With singular process-ased solutions, companies lack the means to continuously improve the overall service they provide to the end business,” says Johnson. “Always remember, with any best practice “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," and technologies that integrate and automate across processes should be favored, regardless of ITIL certification.”

Growing Need

There is no doubt that the load on IT is growing significantly. According to Gartner, Inc. enterprises spent $470 billion on hardware and software last year, and another $670 billion on IT services.

IDC reports that 653 petabytes of disk storage were sold in just the last quarter of 2005, an increase of 54.6 percent over the previous year. On top of that are more than two billion mobile phones and close to a billion PCs, laptops, iPods and PDAs.

That adds up to a lot of mobile users adding stress to the network. ITIL is one way companies are finding to reduce the management burden. By paying attention to the points raised in the six myths above, organizations can increase the effectiveness of their ITIL implementations.

“Enterprise IT infrastructure managers tell us that the challenges they face are becoming more severe,” says Forrester’s Mendel. “However, forward-looking companies are already addressing the most important challenges with a mix of ITIL process implementations for service delivery and new IT management tools.

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