IT service management, ITIL forces cultural change

ITIL, the IT service management framework, is being hailed as the holy grail of IT operations management. But ITIL implementations are often met with resistance because of short-term inefficiencies and extra work.

IT service management is a straightforward concept: focus on providing services to end-users, not the nuts and bolts of technology. For a growing number of IT shops, taking a service management approach is leading them to adopt some components of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a collection of best practices that address core service management issues such as problem, incident, change and request management.

For IT professionals, however, the shift to service management by way of ITIL is usually far from simple. Like everyone else, IT professionals have an established way of doing things, and introducing any new processes—no matter how much they are needed—will be disruptive. In order to transition to a service management model, IT managers need to be prepared to address the personnel side of the equation.

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IT managers who are implementing ITIL in the data center say that some amount of staff reluctance and even resistance should be anticipated. Consider that for years IT has been subjected to seemingly every flavor of quality and continuous improvement effort out there such as the Balanced Scorecard, Six Sigma, CobiT, COSO, MOF, several versions of ISO and many other servings of alphabet soup. The buzz currently surrounding ITIL—that it's the latest and greatest framework ever devised—sounds a lot like the hype around previous magic bullets.

Indeed, some IT managers say people are paramount with ITIL. The ability to change deep-set cultural ways poses the biggest threat to successful implementation.

"The biggest challenge is change the culture," says Jeannette Cook, service level manager at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a nuclear energy lab in Idaho Falls that is operated by the Department of Energy. "People have their ways of doing things ingrained; there is fear of new processes."

In addition, people who have relied on their own way of accomplishing particular tasks successfully and have to learn new ways of doing the same things often feel like they've lost control of their work environments.

In August 2005, the INL was first introduced to the idea of service level management. The service desk had its own incident management processes in place when calls came in, but the processes were not in place across all of IT. To improve service across the entire lab, IT needed to change its focus.

"One of our goals is to transition our IT department from being internally technology-centric to externally customer-focused," says Cook. "We need repeatable, sustainable processes in place so we can restore service faster." That's why INL turned to ITIL processes, beginning with incident, change and request management.

Short-term problems with ITIL

Eric Vishria, vice president of marketing at Opsware Inc., a provider of data center automation software in Sunnyvale, Calif., says there's an important yet often overlooked aspect about many ITIL implementations.

"In many cases, ITIL will make data center staff less efficient, because ITIL clearly articulates standard steps to follow as part of a process," he says. Experienced systems administrators may have completed the same tasks as with ITIL but with fewer steps. In such cases, skepticism and downright resistance should be expected.

At Allstate Insurance Co. based in Northbrook, Ill., some ITIL processes have made certain tasks less efficient.

"People understood the need to implement the various ITIL processes," says Pete Corrigan, assistant vice president of infrastructure. Beginning in 2004 with change management, Allstate has implemented ITIL processes among its three data centers, propelled by the idea of running IT like a business.

"In some cases, certain processes have taken more time," Corrigan says. For example, as part of the change management process, administrators must have change records in place, something that does require more work than before ITIL. Yet the benefits—at least in terms of service management—are worth the extra effort, Corrigan says. By relying on formal change records, Corrigan maintains, Allstate is reducing one of the major causes of outages: unauthorized changes.

While formal processes do require more work on the front end, there are fewer incidents down the road. Hence, end users have more reliable service while the data center staff has fewer fires to extinguish.

Corrigan hints at a dilemma for many IT staffs. Often stretched thin, the idea of introducing anything that creates more work and results in less efficiency doesn't sit very well. At some organizations, the increased workload that ITIL can bring may not even be possible. For adherents, however, the inherent complexities of IT make formalized processes a necessity, rather than a luxury.

"If we want to continue to make progress on the service management front, we have to have all the processes and tools in place," Corrigan says. To ease the transition, Allstate has identified IT personnel who are passionate about processes and provided them with service management training; they are assigned to various business groups and serve as problem managers by helping reduce the number of incidents. It's these folks, Corrigan says, who help sell the concept of service management to end users and IT staff alike.

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