The Brits may be onto something. What else would explain an overnight sensation -- 16 years in the making -- with a stodgy name, a successful track record and a growing number of devotees on this side of the Atlantic Ocean? The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has got -- to use a term more commonly associated with American Idol (a derivative product of the original British Pop Idol) -- buzz.

In a straw poll of more than 250 federal, state and local government decision-makers, 65 percent were testing ITIL. They wanted to get their arms around everything from support service management -- including problem management, incident management, change management, release management and configuration management -- and service delivery management -- including service level management, availability management, capacity management and financial management -- to larger operational processes, which includes infrastructure management, applications management, security management and project management.

They were coming with cap in hand, with 35 percent indicating they now rely on homegrown solutions and roughly half -- 47 percent -- suggesting they had cobbled together a hybrid management scheme that added commercial tools to their homegrown efforts.

ITIL holds the promise of scratching a hard-to-reach itch and providing a disciplined way to address intractable operational issues.

The library originated in 1989 with the UK government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency as an effort to codify best practices for the smart use of technologies by government agencies. Though it wasn't invented here, it was built for and by people a lot like us -- the public-sector IT community in the United Kingdom.

Its guardians at the UK Office of Government Commerce would cringe at the comparison, but -- despite copyright being held by the British Crown -- there are some clear analogies between ITIL and open source as transformational movements.

Consider, for example, these characteristics:

  • Nonexclusive: ITIL is open -- that is, freely available, nonproprietary best practices to create and maintain repeatable, documented processes.

  • Low Cost: The ITIL "kernel" of seven key tomes consolidates the original 40-volume set and is available at the modest price of about $120 each.

  • Community Developed: Competing technology companies, not just individual developers, contributed to the library, without charge to the public, in the subject areas they know best.

  • Peer Review: Competing technology companies vetted and edited one another's work with a keen eye to ensure that rivals did not add proprietary or other self-serving provisions.

  • Shared Repository: A not-for-profit organization maintains and publishes the libraries, and administers the related ITIL certification program -- for organizations and practitioners but not products.

  • Platform for Commercial Involvement: Originally a competitive differentiator for management consultancies and software makers, ITIL now teeters at a tipping point for becoming a de facto global standard for IT service management.

    Paul W. Taylor  |  Contributing Writer