circumstances, ITIL is helping American IT realize that for 40 years, there has never been any kind of functional set of best practices for IT. To think about it in those terms is staggering. There are best practices for food service, mechanics, retail, writers, lawyers, doctors -- almost every industry has an agreed-upon set of best practices -- every industry, that is, except the very industry that keeps all others functioning.

Randy Steinberg is an ITIL master determined to get the message out. He is currently authoring a book about ITIL and is amazed by the fact that IT has no best practice standard.

"When you look at the IT industry, when it comes to the science of managing technology, there are extremely little amounts of knowledge out there on a formal basis," he said. "If you walk into bookstores -- and I've done this worldwide -- the best I've found is Charing Cross Road in London ... there are maybe five books on the shelf that deal with infrastructure management. Here in the United States, you might find one or two at Borders or Barnes & Noble."

Steinberg said that the present IT education system needs serious improvement.

"You can't really find courses on IT management in colleges, yet it is so critical. Gartner [research and analysis group] came out with a statistic that said six in 10 IT projects fail because people underestimate or fail to build correct infrastructures to support the projects."

The great irony of ITIL is that many of its principles already are being implemented by IT shops. The set of best practices that make up ITIL are not some unknown, revolutionary ideas. Instead, ITIL is merely a framework that organizes numerous best practices into a sensible, functional order.

"ITIL was organized by the British government," Roy said. "They stole ideas left and right to make it. In fact, large parts of ITIL were originally developed in this country. The CCTA sat down and looked worldwide at IT to see who is doing well and what they are doing -- and they just took all these ideas and put them together."

That account may seem like an oversimplification, but it isn't. The fact is most IT shops consistently use large portions of ITIL without even realizing it. The trouble has been that, prior to ITIL, no one connected the dots. What ITIL does is connect the dots and apply them to the concept of service management for IT.

Service management is the idea that IT departments should work to support the overall goals of an organization. Instead of existing as a problem solving entity, service management teaches IT shops how they can help advance an organization's mission by focusing primarily on two subconcepts -- service support and service delivery -- with metrics included to measure all areas of performance.

Today, most government agencies struggle to improve constituent service while maintaining a healthy bottom line. As it happens, ITIL just might be the too-good-to-be-true solution that delivers.

Gaining Ground in Government

Across the country, ITIL is quickly becoming the topic du jour in government IT. More people are learning of the benefits ITIL offers, and some are already crafting models that may very well lead the rest of the country into an ITIL revolution.

Among the American ITIL pioneers, Virginia and Wisconsin are blazing a trail at the state level. ITIL is vastly interpretive and entirely scalable, both of which are great attributes. Because of those attributes, the principles of ITIL can work equally well in Nome, Alaska, and for the whole federal government.

In Virginia, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) is implementing ITIL with tremendous success. Director of customer support services Chris Saneda said ITIL is an excellent

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.