ITIL adoption growing, but resistance remains

It's becoming the de facto standard for IT management process, but not everyone supports it

David Farris, IT manager at the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, has been working for five years to change some of the processes within his 300-employee organisation. He hopes the changes will lead to significant savings in the IT department, which now spends about US$100 million (NZ$137 million) annually.

But for several years, a lack of active support from upper management made it difficult for Farris to push ahead with the new processes, which are based on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) guidelines. A new CIO finally supported the project, but Farris says getting his employees to accept the changes has also been a challenge.

The IT workers “are comfortable with what they’re doing”, he says. “They have their own processes, their own incident management tools. It’s their baby.”

Farris isn’t alone in his struggles, according to attendees at the recent Fusion 07 conference held by the US chapter of the IT Service Management Forum. Resistance to ITIL, the IT operations blueprint that is overseen by the UK Office of Government Commerce, is strong inside many IT departments, mostly because of deep-rooted aversion to change among tech workers.

But more and more IT departments will likely have to adapt to ITIL’s specifications, because the guidelines are spreading in a Borg-like fashion as a growing number of companies seek uniform and standardised IT management processes.

One indicator of the increasing interest in ITIL is a sharp spike in the membership of the ITSMF USA, which advocates that companies adopt the guidelines. Two years ago, the group had less than 3,000 members. Now it’s up to about 8,000 members, and ITSMF USA officials believe the membership count could reach 20,000 by 2010.

Another sign of interest in ITIL is the increasing number of employers — both user companies and vendors — that are seeking workers with certifications and academic training in IT service management.

For instance, when the College of Business at the University of Dallas began offering an MBA programme with a concentration in IT service management two years ago, it was the first US tertiary institution to do so, says Sue Conger, an associate professor and director of the programme. But since then, Conger has seen similar programmes being added at other colleges and universities.

And according to a recent survey of ITSMF USA members, about 19,000 IT service management jobs have been created thus far this year. By comparison, the survey results showed that there were about 5,000 new jobs created last year and 500 the year before that. About one-third to one-half of the job demand is coming from consulting firms and IT vendors, Conger says.

But the growth is also partly due to the adoption of ITIL by large businesses and government entities. The Canadian government is implementing ITIL-based processes across its entire IT operations. And last year, General Motors used the guidelines to create a single IT service desk for its global operations.

As director of enterprise operations management at GM, Rudy Wedenoja is in charge of the new global service desk. In addition, he relies on ITIL to help manage the outsourcing vendors that run most of auto maker’s IT operations. GM has standardised its IT processes “around the language of ITIL”, he says.

Company officials won’t tell an IT supplier exactly how to do something, but they will tell the vendor what it is they want and how well they want it to be done, Wedenoja says. He adds that GM uses ITIL terminology and recommended practices to define those things for its suppliers and report on the progress of IT work.

The increasing use of outsourcing may be a major driver of ITIL adoptions. Indeed, Frances Scarff, the ITIL portfolio manager at the UK Office of Government Commerce, says the British government uses outsourcers to provide many of the IT services provided as part of the £14 billion (NZ$38 billion) it spends annually on IT.

ITIL brings “this common language to share across our supply boundaries, because all the systems are provided by a number of suppliers,” Scarff says. “So if you can work with them [under] a common language, it’s easier to track down where the problems are and make sure that you’ve got common processes in place.”

Although ITIL may be growing in popularity, it isn’t the only approach available within the broad IT service management discipline.

Ian Clayton, one of the co-founders of the ITSMF USA, has now helped form another organisation called the Service Management Institute. Clayton says the non-profit group promotes IT service management methodologies that are focused on the individual — what IT workers need to do their jobs.

The role-based approach predates ITIL, according to Clayton, who says it creates so-called knowledge areas and details competencies required for them. For instance, there is a “service delivery management” knowledge area with competencies that include service-level and asset management, security management and availability management.

Clayton has criticised the ITSMF USA for allowing vendors to serve on its board, saying it creates a conflict of interest. Members “are getting marketed to”, he says. “They feel they are part of a sales programme.” The Service Management Institute won’t be run by vendors, he says.

But ITSMF USA board member Michael Cardinal says many of the vendor representatives who are involved with the organisation are service management practitioners, not salespeople. “I don’t think you can have one part of your organisation excluded [from board positions],” Cardinal says.

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