Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What really is ITIL?

Business in modern times has been interested in focusing on the customer. Since we, the customers, have the cash that business wants, this makes sense. Peter Drucker, the business management godfather, has been hammering away for all of his career on this topic:

Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not quality because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. This is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes quality.

IT also has been interested in serving business' best interests as best as they can figure out because they have to pay for that next upgrade. But without guidance from business it's just a vague subservience to the current needs of the business. In the past, that conversation has been as meaningful as a dog training lesson for your fun-loving fido in most cases.

Fortunately, the conversation is maturing and the new language of business for IT is emerging in the form of a standard coming from across the pond called ITIL.

ITIL is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library or, put more simply, it's the language of business for IT. It's also a resource of good business tools that works great for IT. The IT consultants and IT managers that are doing a good job out there were polled and their collective IT goodness was summarized during the 1980's into the ITIL books.

You'll find things you know from testing, CMMI, Six Sigma, PMI, Deming, and basic marketing courses. They all use the same language and talk about the traditional IT operations groups and software development issues. You won't get your company ITIL certified but you can personally be an ITIL graduate of the Foundations, Intermediate or Advanced levels.

ITIL formed in the British government when the IT invasion into business caused them to rethink how to manage IT in the workplace. They now have been through three versions and have summarized their efforts into five volumes. Four volumes break the lifecycle of a service (more on this later) into Strategy, Design, Transition, and Operations and add a quality part called Continual Service Improvement (CSI: London was the backup title).

ITIL focuses on what they call service management. This essentially means how the heck do you run business with so many computers involved and still give the customer what they want. The service is what the customer makes a buy decision on. It's made up of the product and the promise, or as ITIL puts it, the utility and the warranty. In requirements management, we would say functional and non-functional requirements.

When you buy soup in a can, you don't just get the soup. On a Campbell's soup can, you'll find a customer service phone number and a web site that delivers more value to the customer than the standard generic brand. A service desk should be able to tell you just about how long it will take to restore a broken service and a pizza shop can tell you how long your hot pizza will take to get to your door . This is part of what makes up what Drucker calls quality.

Behind the doors of IT, we talk about delivering services but in a different way. The SOA (service-oriented architecture) craze that has re-energized the distributed systems architects, is nothing more than ITIL and Drucker at work behind the door. IT wants to create a software service that the business can use. Business wants to use that IT service as a part of their business service and having the flexibility to do what they want has always been what they needed.

So, ITIL is really just a merging of two cultures and the formation of one language. It's about the coming of age of IT from when it was a baby called Data Processing to a promising adolescent called MIS. It's an MBA textbook of tools for the nerd. Stop by a local itSMF user group and start talking ITIL today.

Look for the addition to Centriq's calendar of ITIL classes that move the textbook view to a practical application. As of now we offer the one day Awareness and the three day certification Foundations class.

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