Q&A: Gartner's Ed Holub on ITIL
As research director of I.T. operations management at consultancy Gartner, Ed Holub fields over 500 inquiries a year from different clientswith about 50% related to Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and process maturity.
Holub also devotes a significant amount of his time advising clients about organization and staffing issues for I.T. infrastructure and operations, a topic he says is often tied to ITIL because clients want to understand the implications on how they are organized and what skill sets employees need as their organizations work on processes and service improvements.
In an e-mail interview with executive editor Anna Maria Virzi, Holub offers this advice:
Q: What are your top tips for an organization implementing the Information Technology Infrastructure Library?
A: Don't underestimate the level of effort required to transform an organization to be more process and service-centric. Fundamentally ITIL is less about technology and is more about changing the culture of an organization to embrace the value inherent in standardization versus one-off solutions. Always remember that ITIL should be viewed as a means to an end. Don't get fixated on achieving a certain level of process maturity and lose sight of the underlying goals that motivated the journey to begin in the first place.
Q: What benefits can a company realize from ITIL?
A: Focusing on the standardization and discipline that ITIL emphasizes can reduce the ongoing cost of delivering I.T. services at the same time the quality and consistency of service is improved.
Q: What are the limitations of ITIL?
A: ITIL is a set of integrated, best practice process guidance that focuses on the core service delivery and service support processes that any I.T. infrastructure and operations organization performs. ITIL is high-level and focuses on "what" should be done, but doesn't describe at a detailed level "how" to do it. It is important that I.T. and business executives work together to understand what specific business problems they are trying to resolve, and how ITIL can be an enabler to solving them.
Q: What is the most popular library, and why?
A: The majority of organizations start by focusing on a subset of the core service support processes, typically incident, problem, and change management. These three processes are closely related because the unintentional impact of change is usually the largest cause of unplanned downtime.
Q: Should some companies avoid ITIL? If so, please characterize.
A: ITIL isn't a panacea that will improve any organization. If the leadership team isn't bought in to the principle of standardization, then ITIL will fail.
Q: How can a technology manager win business support for ITIL?
A: I.T. should talk with business executives and examine their strategic and tactical plans and goals. I.T. should align their use of ITIL to help improve ongoing I.T. operations to better support the business goals by reducing the cost of I.T., by improving the availability of systems, and by making I.T. more agile in rapidly supporting new business requirements.
Q: What are some metrics that companies collect and analyze once they've adopted ITIL, which they may not have collected before?
A: It is important to select a balanced set of metrics to gauge the health of processes from both an efficiency and effectiveness perspective. If either efficiency (cost) or effectiveness (quality) is overemphasized you may inadvertently drive the wrong behavior. Some of the most common metrics companies begin collecting: the success rate of changes that are being made to the production environment, the mean time to restore (MTTR) service, and the availability of mission-critical applications from the end-users' perspective.
Q: What size investment does a company typically have to make to adopt ITIL?
ITIL is typically part of a multi-year journey. Organizations should start with a relatively narrow focus and address pain points they are experiencing. Once benefits are being realized, they can be reinvested in further improvements. While a company may spend money on training, consulting, and tools, the most expensive part of an ITIL implementation is typically the opportunity cost represented by the amount of time their internal staff will spend working on it.