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Gartner analyst warns against common ITIL traps

Thinking about implementing ITIL? Don't bite off more than you can chew.

At the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations and Management Summit 2007 in Orlando this week, a late afternoon session on ITIL implementation scored a major turnout from attendees looking for guidance.

More on ITIL in the data center:
IT service management, ITIL forces cultural change  

Does your data center need ITIL?

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a collection of best practices that address core service management issues such as problem, incident, change and request management, is all about servicing the end user.

The core benefits of ITIL are that it standardizes process language, emphasizes processes over technology, and enables cost reduction and quality improvements, said Gartner Research Director Ed Holub in his presentation, Practical Advice for Successfully Implementing ITIL Best Practices. The downsides of ITIL are that it doesn't cover all processes or organizational issues, and while it spells out what the best practices are, "it doesn't tell you how to get from where you are to where you should be; ITIL-topia."

A live poll of the 150-plus attendees attending the ITIL session asked what the primary driver of ITIL adoption is, and 57% of respondents said to improve quality of services. Surprisingly, the number of people who mentioned cost savings was small. The same group said the most significant challenge of ITIL is it involves too much change in the IT culture (30%), followed by a lack of guidance in attaining the ITIL goals (29%).


One important step towards ITIL is implementing Configuration management database (CMDB) software to get a holistic view of the data center, including hardware, applications and end users, while mapping the relationships between them.

"Not many data centers use CMDBs. In the old days of the mainframe, the end to end was easy, because both ends were in the same box," said Holub.

But implementing a CMDB is no guarantee of ITIL success. Don McPhee, director of technical services at Medavie Blue Cross in Moncton, NB, attended the session hoping for some wise words on implementing ITIL.

"We've been implementing ITIL for a few years now, and at this point we are taking a step back to regroup," McPhee said. "Implementing the CMDB has been tough – its been a slow process, and complex, especially trying to take inventory of everything. We've spent $100,000 on CMDB."

Not wanting to say anything too negative about the ITIL implementation process for the sake of his IT staff's morale, McPhee said the biggest problem aside from CMDB setbacks has been the cultural change ITIL inflicts.

McPhee said a steering committee has been assigned at the 1,400 employee company to implement ITIL standards more efficiently and it will be a few more months before the plan comes to fruition.

ITIL pitfalls

A common pitfall of ITIL noted by Holub is investing in unnecessary tools – or entire suites of tools - as a crutch.

"Most people assume tools will solve their problems, and some companies have re-branded and are remarketing tools that had already existed in this way," Holub said. "Be aware of this when vendors push their tools, and don't invest in something unless you are sure there will be a significant improvement from it. Many organizations invest in an entire suite of products, and realize a year later they've only downloaded half of them."

"Remember the reason most of you are doing ITIL is to improve mission critical applications. Be sure you are getting that in return for what you are doing," Holub said.

To avoid the ITIL trap, Holub suggests keeping a narrow focus, and make sure any ITIL process can be implemented in a relatively short timeframe.

"Do an assessment and decide where you want to see tangible benefits. If you won't see any difference within four to six months, the project is too broad in scope. Any longer than that and you may run into cost-cutting issues and management changes that end with the project being put on the back burner," Holub said.

To get the IT staff on the same page, measure results; it gets attention, and puts some pressure for positive results on the team, Holub said.

Also, create a steering committee and assign team members to "own" specific processes. This way, the right people can be assigned.

"You really need someone, maybe the CIO, to champion this effort. Someone who knows exactly why you are doing it," Holub said.

There are external resources to help when ITIL becomes troublesome. Formal ITIL training sessions ranging from one day to many weeks for varying levels of certification are available. There are vendors and companies like Gartner that provide basic ITIL information sessions and web-based training is available.

Last but not least, don't assume that ITIL is only for big companies. While many large enterprises with over 1,000 employees appear to be implementing ITIL, small companies with as little as 100 employees and a handful of techies should implement ITIL as well.

"It's actually a good time to do it, and standardize before the companies get too big," Holub said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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