America's New ITIL

A new version of IT service best practices, known as ITIL, has the potential to dramatically increase IT efficiency -- just don't expect a quick fix.

by / July 9, 2007

Public-sector CIOs are taking notice of the rapid rate at which private industry is adopting IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices. The latest set of best practices, known as ITIL V3, with its life cycle focus and formal approaches to governance, offers a greater potential to enhance the role of IT in driving business success. 

At first glance, ITIL adoption might appear too costly. And justifying the investment may be difficult in the public sector in an era of budget reductions and deficits. But issues that drive ITIL adoption in the corporate world -- regulatory compliance, the demand for more and better services from a growing customer base and the need to cut costs -- are often the same ones public-sector IT professionals face every day. And government entities that use ITIL are already reporting gains in these areas.

ITIL has its roots in the public sector -- it was developed by a UK government agency in the 1980s. However, private enterprise was first to embrace it.

ITIL V3 has a stronger management structure to drive efficiencies and help IT organizations in their quest for continual improvement. And its key performance indicators and balanced scorecards will help formalize IT governance.

With momentum building in the private sector, and with ITIL V3 offering an even stronger foundation for success, the time is ripe for the public sector to welcome ITIL. Some public-sector IT leaders are already doing so, and they are discovering that ITIL enables them to achieve their mission to support and empower the agencies, departments and governments they serve.


Compliance Drives Change
While private-sector CIOs worry about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and countless state and federal data privacy regulations, public-sector CIOs have their own set of mandates and directives that keep them awake at night.

The Real ID Act of 2005, the Office of Management and Budget's Federal Enterprise Architecture initiative and the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 are just a few examples. Like their corporate counterparts, government CIOs must prepare for and undergo audits to demonstrate regulatory compliance. Some federal agencies and state governments even require efficiency reviews.

Most regulatory requirements focus on control and repeatability, and auditors look for proof of strong governance and uniformity in handling tasks. Compliance requires foregoing ad hoc tactics for consistent and best-practice processes, and it means deploying systems-based solutions that enforce and automate these processes to minimize human intervention and eliminate human error.

CIOs with solid, standard processes are ahead of the game. For those without them, ITIL offers a proven framework of best practices for service and support processes, such as incident, problem, change, configuration and release management, and for service delivery processes such as capacity, availability, service level, financial and service continuity management.

As a result, CIOs don't have to invest in defining their own set of standards and are given a faster path to effective IT governance and control at the process level. CIOs can also better demonstrate to auditors that they are meeting or exceeding compliance requirements.


Service Quality is Job One
One of the biggest advantages ITIL can bring to government is a customer-centric orientation. ITIL promotes the idea that since customers pay for a service, they have a right to demand quality. In the public sector, the customer is the citizen who expects the government to deliver many services -- everything from issuing building permits to fixing potholes and securing the homeland. But the customer is also the government employee who uses IT systems to ensure the public gets quality service.

Quality IT service means systems are available when customers need them. It also means that systems are performing at peak efficiency -- so transactions are completed in a timely manner. With the IRS, that means the tax-form download Web site and the site for filing returns electronically must be available 24/7 and able to support extremely high volumes during tax season without degraded performance.

It takes coordination across multiple IT disciplines to meet these kinds of quality requirements. ITIL provides guidelines on how to integrate and coordinate processes across disciplines to meet system availability and performance requirements. By adopting ITIL, CIOs can create a smoother IT service management environment in which:

  • system monitoring keeps tabs on critical systems, and event management automatically generates incident tickets where needed, permitting problems to be addressed quickly before they result in outages;
  • management tools work together to ensure each requested change is properly approved, implemented and documented;
  • change management is integrated with the service desk so service desk personnel are kept current on changes and can submit change requests directly from the service desk application; and
  • performance management tools collect information that can be analyzed by capacity management personnel to predict future capacity requirements, ensuring resources are available when needed.

There are many more examples of how ITIL fosters process integration, resulting in higher availability, performance and customer satisfaction.


In Pursuit of High Value
While "doing more with less" is an often-used slogan in corporate circles, IT professionals in government feel the pinch much more than their private-sector counterparts because they have smaller budgets to work with. For both groups, however, when outdated, manual processes and siloed organizational structures are the norm, large portions of the IT budget go to just keeping the data center running and maintaining current systems. This leaves little money for innovations that can help make employees more productive and citizens happier.

But that doesn't have to be the case. By bringing greater efficiency to IT processes, ITIL frees up IT staff from routine tasks and lets them pursue high-value projects -- like e-filing -- to increase employee productivity and the effectiveness of specific agencies. Here are a few examples of how ITIL increases process efficiency and reduces IT costs:

  • The ITIL service-desk approach creates a one-stop shop for reporting incidents and submitting requests for IT services. Employees no longer have to call around to find out who provides which service.
  • Self-service submission of routine requests and incident tickets means reduced workload on the IT support staff; and many customers find that online self-service is faster than calling the service desk.
  • Implementing ITIL processes facilitates root-cause analysis to eliminate recurring incidents by identifying and resolving underlying problems. The result is fewer disruptions to users, fewer calls to the service desk and less firefighting on the part of technical personnel.
  • With a standard change-management process, the risk of disrupting critical systems through undocumented and unplanned changes drops dramatically. Critical systems are available when people need them and IT support personnel spend less time chasing down and fixing outages that could've been avoided.
  • ITIL promotes better management of the asset life cycle so agencies know what they have and don't continue to pay for what they don't need or for service contracts on assets they have stopped using.
  • ITIL encourages a thorough assessment of service-level requirements, which provides insight that helps agencies eliminate unneeded features and options from contracts, and it ensures that they don't pay outside vendors for service levels they don't really need.

Improved efficiency will become increasingly important as the citizen population grows, the range of services needed expands and regulatory mandates place more requirements on agencies at all levels of government. The cost savings achieved through efficiency initiatives, like ITIL, will free up budget dollars that can be redirected to vital projects.

Atwell Williams Contributing Writer
Atwell Williams is ITIL and IT Process architect of the Technology Architecture Group at BMC Software and the Technology Architecture Group. Previously Williams was an ITIL instructor and education manager at the BMC Software Business School and director of IT Service Management within the BMC IT department. Before joining BMC, Williams was a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
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