Primer: I.T. Infrastructure Library

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2006-06-07 Print this article Print

How the Information Technology Infrastructure Library's guidelines help business.

What is it? The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a framework of best practices and management guidelines for I.T. under development since the late 1980s, when it began as a project of a group within the British government. The series of books outlines core ITIL principles, such as specifying that you should have a central information repository for tracking service problems. However, ITIL doesn't tell you what kind of database or help desk software you should use to achieve that goal.

Advocates see ITIL as a way to boost discipline in technology operations, and adopt a common vocabulary for discussing quality of service and establishing metrics.

The library, maintained under copyright by the British Office of Government Commerce, is distributed in print, on CD-ROM and for download as PDF files.

How is ITIL organized? The core ITIL texts are:

  • Service Delivery: Forward-looking processes related to managing service levels, capacity, continuity, availability and financing of I.T. infrastructure.
  • Service Support: Processes for managing change, responding to problems and handling user-requested enhancements.
  • Planning to Implement Service Management: An ITIL adoption guide.
  • Security Management.
  • Information and Communication Technology Infrastructure Management: Guidelines for delivering a stable environment.
  • The Business Perspective: How to achieve better alignment between I.T. and business goals.
  • Application Management: How to manage the software development life cycle.
  • Software Asset Management.

Who Uses ITIL? Initially taken up mostly by European firms, ITIL is gaining popularity in the U.S., where adherents such as Procter & Gamble have used it to shore up operations at data centers and elsewhere. Telecom providers and outsourcing firms are also big adopters, says David Cannon, I.T. service management practice principal for Hewlett-Packard.

What does this cost to undertake? Labor is the biggest item, says Cannon, who points out that costs will depend on the number of guidelines implemented, and the size and scope of the organization.

Don't these guidelines become outdated? The ITIL guidelines aim to be agnostic, providing broad guidelines rather than specific dictates on how to implement mainframe technologies versus client-server or Web solutions.

"Version 1 of ITIL had some technologically specific sections," recalls Brian Johnson, ITIL practice manager at CA Technology Services and one of the original ITIL authors. "But they never were very popular because they became outdated so quickly." ITIL Version 3, now under development, may make some adjustments for the advent of the Web and other new technologies, but Johnson says the emphasis of ITIL is really on what should be done rather than how.

What if some "best practices" don't make sense for my firm? Feel free to pick and choose. One motto of ITIL is "adopt and adapt," meaning that an organization has broad latitude to decide which ITIL goals it will adopt and how to achieve them. Organizations can often save time by adopting a "solution set" with predefined process models based on the ITIL concepts, rather than starting with the ITIL books alone, says Chuck Kirchner, I.T. strategy and planning practice manager for Forsythe Solutions Group.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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