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How to get started with ITIL

Matthew Heusser | May 28, 2015
Of all the concepts in IT, ITIL may be the most misunderstood. Here’s a look at what ITIL is, why you might consider using it and where/how to get started.

ITIL continual service improvement

In order to remain relevant, IT services need to evolve along with the changing needs of the business and technical environment. That means identifying opportunities for improvement, deciding which improvements have the most value, determining a priority for improvements, and, of course, actually making the improvements happen. CSI "in the wild" does not look like a single "special projects" manager, but instead may be several projects, or even a culture of experimentation and adapting.

The model that ITIL suggests for improvement is based on Deming's Plan->Do->Check->Act cycle, which consists of small experiments that are validated before actually making the change, and monitoring and adjusting to ensure success.

Putting it all together

At its heart, ITIL is about understanding the customer and presenting the customer with options that make sense. That includes understanding all the standard parts of IT, like provisioning, planning, testing and deploying changes, while presenting an interface that is based on services that make sense to that customer. In today's IT environment those services, like the operating systems and hardware we support, are constantly changing. ITIL focuses on aligning the customer's idea of improvement with the IT organization while using measures that have meaning to the customer.

How to get started

Most organizations start by training the IT staff in terminology, either sharing a computer-based course or an in-person course -- then adopting those terms and processes incrementally.

Keep in mind that ITIL is not a methodology. It doesn't tell the staff what to do. Nor is ITIL prescriptive; it doesn't tell the team how to do the work. Instead, ITIL provides a framework, a way of thinking about how IT delivers solutions to the business. So 'adoption' might mean something like this:

  •  Identify how the work is done in the business currently, and how that maps to ITIL.
  •  Change terms and processes to map to ITIL.
  •  Identify gaps -- things in ITIL the current IT strategy does not have.
  •  Determine which gap to close first.
  •  Take corrective action to close the gaps that make sense.

Scaling ITIL

IITIL for Dummies makes the claim that ITIL is scalable, that One size fits all'. It doesn't matter if you have three people in your IT department or 3,000, ITIL is just as applicable." This extraordinary claim that ITIL can scale up or down to any level and applies to all companies calls to mind the famous David Hume line, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It is hard to grasp the scale of DaVinci's Horse, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, without something to compare it to.

Small organizations choosing to implement ITIL may do well to be skeptical, to count the cost and expected results. Then again any organization attempting to implement ITIL may be better off taking small experiments and considering the results, taking more of a lean startup approach, or "plan do check act" approach than a multiyear funded implementation.


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