November 16, 2007 By Merrill Douglas
Bill Willis was looking for a better way to talk with his customers. As deputy CIO of North Carolina, he needed to know if his organization was doing a good job serving IT users in state government and which aspects of its services needed improvement. But pinning down the facts wasn't easy.
"I was getting overwhelmed by anecdotes," Willis recalled. "I can't fix those. But I can fix numbers."
In 2004, as North Carolina started moving from an agency-based IT structure toward an enterprise operation, the demand for a common language and a set of metrics, grew ever clearer. It's one of the major reasons the state launched a program to deploy the framework called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).
Today, the state's Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) is in the midst of a three-phase ITIL implementation. In June, Pink Elephant, an ITIL consultancy in Richmond, Calif. and Burlington, Ontario, gave North Carolina its 2006 award for ITIL Project of the Year.
ITIL is a set of best practices for IT service management, which was developed in the 1980s by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency , a UK agency now called the Office of Government Commerce. Contained in a series of books, ITIL offers guidelines for providing high-quality IT services using standard processes and establishing measurable performance goals.
When a service organization lacks well defined processes, a problem that takes 10 minutes to resolve on Tuesday, for example, might take an hour and a half on Friday, said Joe Lithgo, director of the operational excellence program at ITS. Or a call for help with a balky PC might get passed like a hot potato from one technical group to the next.
"The ultimate point is to make sure that the computer is restored to normal service operation within the time required, as specified by the established service level," Lithgo said. And the principle of adhering to specification applies not just to troubleshooting, but also to a whole range of service categories, such as configuring systems, introducing changes in technology and installing new releases. "The point is to make IT more responsive to the business and more in line with the business needs."
Lithgo learned about ITIL in early 2004 at a conference in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the IT Services Management Forum. At the time, he was chief operating officer of ITS, which was planning to procure a tool to help refine its incident management and change management processes. Since those are two areas that ITIL addresses, "It was a natural fit," he said.
That same year, Willis became the state's deputy CIO. He arrived with recent ITIL experience. As vice president of global IT for the UK-based communications company Cable and Wireless, he had sponsored a large ITIL project that covered 14 countries. "So we were immediate allies," said Lithgo, who heads the state's ITIL initiative.
In late 2004, ITS established a formal ITIL program. It issued RFPs for training and implementation services and started to benchmark its service activities. In 2005, ITS started training staff in the fundamentals of ITIL, formed a steering committee and created an advisory group, which included the CIOs of various state agencies.
The bulk of the project focuses on three phases of process design. North Carolina completed phase one in 2006, using the ITIL framework to design processes for managing incidents, problems, changes and service levels.
Phase two, scheduled to wind up at the end of this year, covers release management and configuration management, plus some upgrades to help desk policies and procedures. Phase three, covering capacity management, availability management and some upgrades based on the latest release of ITIL, will start early next year.
To illustrate how these processes work, Lithgo described the set that covers
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