The quest to transform data centers into service management organizations is one reason many IT professionals are turning to ITIL, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library. This set of tools and processes helps data center managers back up their plans with actual data showing how IT operations directly affect sales, customer service or other business-centric metric.
ITIL drives business management
In effect, data centers can get out of ITIL what application development reaps from portfolio management (PM) by linking projects with business goals. Both ITIL and PM are methodologies designed to align IT with the business. Instead of managing servers based on uptime or availability in and of themselves, data centers can manage servers as one component of a service delivered to the business.
That's where Rich Jackson headed when he joined Grand Hilton Vacations Co., as senior director of technology operations a couple of years ago. He quickly determined that the Orlando, Fla.-based vacation ownership resort company could benefit from adopting an IT service management approach. With close to 3,000 employees and multiple sales offices located around the world, Grand Hilton had to centralize IT operations, Jackson says. The rapidly growing company didn't want to implement a de-centralized technology approach which would require spending upwards of $30,000 to set up email servers, file servers, backup tapes and other relevant IT infrastructure for each office.
Along with consolidating into four data centers running a variety of Solaris, HP-UX, Windows and VMware machines, Jackson wanted to instill a service management philosophy in the IT shop. Essentially, Jackson wanted to shift IT from an organization that emphasized providing reliable technology to an organization that instead could tie that technology to actual business results. To make that transition, Jackson knew that IT needed consistent and standardized processes governing incident, problem and change management.
"We are able to quantify and directly correlate the impact IT has on the business by taking a service level management approach to the infrastructure," Jackson says. "This approach has resulted in not only a costs saving in equipment and headcount but it has improved our overall service and responsiveness to the business."
ITIL shifts focus from technology to service
But adopting such a management approach can be a tough hurdle for data center staff. "ITIL is really about changing people's mindsets," says David Pultorak, CEO of Pultorak & Associates, an IT service management consulting and training firm in Seattle. "IT has to think in terms of providing a service, not just providing technology."
As such, installing any of the myriad ITIL-infused tools in the data center won't do anything unless IT first puts processes in place, and often doing so requires considerable organizational change.
Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County in Pontiac, Mich., says that the county turned to ITIL to address service delivery problems. "We started a project management office in 1996, but still had serious problems delivering IT services because we had no standard methodology or processes in place," he says.
After conducting some research, Bertolini came across ITIL and then did an initial assessment of how the county stacked up. "In service delivery, we had some processes but they weren't best practices," he recalls.
In conjunction with ITIL, Oakland County recently consolidated service desk operations in 2006 and deployed CA's Unicenter Service Desk software. Within two years, Bertolini says he expects to be at the helm of a more customer-focused IT group thanks in large part to ITIL.
And therein lies another challenge: Bertolini and others say the process of implementing ITIL is a long one and equate the exercise to an ongoing journey rather than a destination with an endpoint. Such a never-ending take makes sense when putting ITIL in the context of continuous improvement. Without embracing change management, ITIL implementations are prone to failure.