Deep in the heartland of America an experiment is under way. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of best practices for IT service management, has begun to take root in the United States. Popularized in Britain more than 10 years ago, ITIL is only now getting noticed in the United States. Widespread implementation is a ways off, but if what is happening in Oklahoma City and other test beds flourishes, ITIL may well become the standard by which all IT operates.

When looking for a standardized technology framework, Oklahoma City IT director Mark Meier found that ITIL principles best matched the city's needs.

"I took over IT about three and a half years ago, and there was virtually no governance," recalls Meier. "I think we were typical of most organizations -- our performance was pretty abject. We had more than 200 hours of enterprise downtime a year. So we looked at ITIL because it adopted a lot of the philosophies we had engendered into our department."

Meier found that not only was ITIL an interpretive set of best practices, but that successful implementation also demands ITIL be interpreted based on the organization.

"I will tell you that for ITIL to be effective, you have to interpret it," said Meier. "I hear people say they are going to do it literally and I think that is a mistake. I think everybody's organizational needs are completely different."

Like most government organizations, Oklahoma City recently faced some tough times. IT lost 26 percent of its staff, while city leaders were demanding a rapid increase in performance. Meier said implementing and interpreting ITIL is playing a significant role in meeting the city's needs.

"The combination of ITIL, executive support and a good understanding of technology have really reversed our situation. Our output has gone up at least 300 percent, and our downtime has gone from 200 hours per year to 7.42 hours. I would not attribute all these things to ITIL, but it was certainly part of the overall effort."

Meier and his staff are some of America's early ITIL fans. So where, exactly, did this compilation of IT management techniques come from?

What Is It and Why Is It Here?

The 1980s were a time of radical change throughout the world. People throwing off the shackles of oppression will be forever immortalized by the now dismantled Berlin Wall. As communism gave way and freedom began to rise in Eastern Europe, another kind of revolution was under way in the United Kingdom.

Under the direction of the Thatcher administration, a Cabinet-level organization known as the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) began addressing the costly IT failings Britain seemed wont to suffer. As the iron curtain began to fall, the CCTA was aware that IT was about to rise and become a more critical element than it had ever been before.

At the outset, the CCTA's goal was to create a framework to help improve IT service delivery. CCTA examined the concepts and methods of leading IT agencies in both the commercial and government sectors. The project soon evolved from merely a service delivery framework to an entire set of IT best practices.

In the late 1980s, with their collective information gleaned from sources around the world, the CCTA published a set of books and called it the IT Information Library, or ITIL. There were 10 books total, each with its own discipline. The concepts of service delivery and service support, however, were the overarching themes throughout the books.

In the early 1990s, the UK and the Netherlands developed the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) with the goal of spreading the good news of ITIL. Through locally managed meetings, itSMF helped ITIL make headway in much of Europe. In fact, it

Chad Vander Veen  |  Editor, FutureStructure

Chad Vander Veen is the editor of FutureStructure.com