ITIL Helps CIOs Align IT with Business

New Technologies, Standards Help CIOs Configure and Manage IT

by / September 18, 2008

As public and private organizations embrace new industry standards and technologies, such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library version 3 (ITIL v3) and configuration management databases (CMDB), the adage, "You can't see the forest for the trees," often applies because of the complexity generated when introducing new people and technologies into an already overtaxed ecosystem. Yet it's simply unacceptable to ignore the new technology landscape.

Sharing information across IT management domains is becoming more critical for government. Simultaneously information is expanding and becoming more specialized.

How can this paradox be resolved? It's not practical or sustainable to build a monolithic IT management system that processes and stores all business services information in one place. Nor is it feasible IT organizations to foresee and hardwire integrations for all permutations of cross-domain data sharing requirements.

Public CIOs must see the bigger picture to achieve success. Specifically CIOs must understand how ITIL can help align technology with business and increase overall customer satisfaction. That requires not just embracing ITIL, but also implementing the newest arsenal in IT management's toolkit - CMDB, a repository of information on IT system infrastructure, applications and services, and the relationships among them - and then evolving to the next level of enterprise IT management: a configuration management system, which creates a common view of CMDB information across IT silos.

Five Keys to ITIL Success
Any practical and sustainable approach to sharing information across domains should be as distributed and dynamic as the IT environment it's managing. A manager of one area should be able to access a current, detailed understanding of other areas on demand, and in an appropriate context that allows prompt actions in response to the data. ITIL v3 outlines a valuable concept that points the way forward toward making this a reality.

ITIL v3 marked the introduction of a broader end-to-end service life cycle orientation. It also recognizes that as organizations mature toward a greater focus on business outcomes through continual service improvement, they need greater business service visibility - not just of applications and infrastructure, but also service management information, how services relate to business processes and non-IT service assets, and how they all interact in the value chain.

As more public organizations embrace ITIL and implement a CMDB, there are tried-and-true best practices emerging, which include:

Understand the Landscape: Identify the Key Business Priority
By focusing on a specific business priority, IT can provide outcome-focused and easily measurable CMDB content.

Everything's Related: Leverage the Power of Dependency Mapping
Using automated dependency mapping helps IT overcome some key challenges presented by previous generations of CMDB implementations, including managing time-consuming manual processes, incurring huge start-up costs, obtaining questionable data quality and increasing difficulties keeping the CMDB up-to-date.

Play Nicely With Others: Federate With Existing Repositories
Valuable data resides in other tools and solutions; as a result, your CMDB should able to share data. It should also offer reconciliation so information can be leveraged in legacy systems, asset management systems and data repositories.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Deliver Actionable Business Information
Your business priorities may include business service management, IT service management (ITIL-related) or change management. To meet these priorities (and visualization and mapping), your CMDB should transform data into comprehensible information that helps answer critical questions and solve business problems.

Help Others Help Themselves: Enrich the CMDB to Support New Initiatives
Achieving success in your CMDB-supported initiative provides several key benefits. Demonstrable return on investment from the initial solution provides the justification for additional investments in others. Also, more organizations within the enterprise may be inclined to support new solutions that leverage the CMDB, which results in the development of a nearly continuous improvement cycle.

A Common View - Configuration Management

IT organizations often face the challenge of reconciling two opposing forces. On one hand, improving business outcomes through IT initiatives requires information sharing across domains and collaboration. On the other hand, the increasingly dynamic and distributed nature of IT environments creates more specialized management silos and fragmentation of the business service information that needs to be shared.

A configuration management system (CMS) is a solution to this problem. Creating a common view of business services by providing access to information across IT silos, CMS facilitates an IT organization's transformation from a technology focus to a business outcome focus - driven by the services IT provides to the business.

By using a federated approach to a CMS, IT organizations can dynamically access information across teams and tools, resulting in faster, better, business-aware decisions that improve business service quality and cost. Public-sector IT organizations pursuing greater information transparency in general, or using ITIL, should consider the practical requirements of this approach.

CMS also provides a practical approach for transitioning an IT organization's focus from technology to business-based outcomes by providing a more complete, shared picture of the services IT provides the business. Each IT management domain can access information managed by other domains that relate to a business service and its components, such as detailed middleware configurations and server settings, incidents and software licenses, service-level agreements and service users.

As tools and processes from IT strategy, applications and operations are linked to this shared business service context, IT management and specialists can quickly make better outcome-aware decisions by continuously improving service quality, cost and risk throughout the service life cycle.

Understanding Trees and Forests
The high-value initiatives and challenges IT organizations face today demand that the typically specialized IT functions make better, faster decisions that factor in the effects the decision will have on other IT areas and the entire organization. Consider the following examples of where seeing the forest and the trees would be helpful:

· Different service desk technicians assign several user-reported application incidents to different level 2 technicians, unaware they're all related to the same router event already being worked on by network operations. Redundant IT firefighting ensues while end-users remain uninformed about a workaround option and estimated time for the fix.

· An application support engineer spends hours trying to isolate a performance problem without seeing recent change records that would have uncovered the root cause in seconds.

Following his company's change process, a database manager approves the migration of files to a new storage area network partition, unaware the partition is scheduled for end-of-life the next day, resulting in a four-hour service outage on a business-critical application.

Scenarios similar to these play out daily, reducing service quality and raising the cost of service delivery and support. In each of these cases, there was vital information that could have solved or prevented a problem, but the information was owned by different teams that don't communicate, inaccessibly partitioned across multiple systems with different contexts and data models.

Accessing this data - and putting it in a context that shows the impact of the decision or action - typically requires a manual effort level rarely available with today's compressed timelines and lean staffing. IT environments are already highly distributed and dynamic. With increased adoption of service-oriented architecture, virtualization and wireless devices, they're rapidly becoming more so.
Government IT organizations must maintain management specialties to deal with increasingly granular, quickly changing business service components, such as Web services and virtual servers, system and business transaction events, user identities and access privileges, incidents and changes, service costs and service-level agreement status.

The Quest Has Begun
Whether aware of the CMS concept or not, more IT organizations have embarked on a quest for service information sharing through a variety of data integration methods. There isn't a single silver bullet technology to build a CMS that applies to all uses in all organizations.

The mix of approaches for each organization should factor in integrations already deployed, IT and business priorities, organizational structure and politics, the tool environment, how and when the data is to be consumed within a process, and of course, the nature of the data to be shared. However, traditional integration approaches have limited the capability for meeting the growing need for cross-domain service data access.

A federated approach to information sharing is emerging as the most practical, scalable and sustainable method of supporting IT initiatives requiring greater collaboration across management domains. The ITIL v3 recommendation for a CMS will drive more industry investment in technologies and best practices that embed federated approaches into the fabric of IT management, whether or not they are ITIL-centric.

As IT organizations make further investments, IT management should consider how those investments will support better service quality and lower cost and risk with a federated approach to cross-domain collaboration and automation.

Platforms & Programs