ITIL – filling the IT ‘Subway sandwich’

Each ITIL implementation is different, which means ITIL is more like a variable Subway sandwich than a generic Big Mac, says Fujitsu's Steve Swallow

Tools can never provide the complete solution to a problem. Thinking, planning, training and process re-design are also needed before a new tool or set of standards can be put into place properly.

But sometimes it is necessary to go even further than this, says Steve Swallow, technical consulting manager at Fujitsu NZ. He spoke about his practical experience of implementing ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) at a recent Wellington meeting of the New Zealand Computer Society.

Swallow says planning and re-design are best done in parallel with implementation of the ITIL standard — rather than before the implementation — because there will be considerable cross-fertilisation of ideas.

A beneficial change that occurs as a result of, say, the re-design of certain processes may generate the question: how will ITIL handle this? Alternatively, using ITIL tools themselves may suggest beneficial changes that may not have occurred to the planning team.

While there will obviously be two teams at work here, Swallow says it is important there be only one project manager to oversee both teams and manage communication between them.

Swallow has been implementing ITIL and attendant changes at Fujitsu for the past three years. He says that even though ITIL is a set of best practices for IT service management, it’s not a standard product like, say, a Big Mac.

“It’s more like a Subway sandwich [in that] you have to assemble the components [and] ITIL supplies the generic guidance approach: you make it fit your business.

“It’s not about installing the best processes. It’s about getting the best outcomes,” he says.

Those outcomes should be defined quantitatively, he adds. The source of that measurement also needs to be specified. “Is it according to me, you or a satisfied customer?”

Meeting a standard also implies there is a measurement scheme. Also, there’s no point in specifying what a standard should be without saying what the consequences of not meeting that standard will be, Swallow says.

Usually, unsatisfactory performances will result in a diagnosis being undertaken to uncover the root of the problem and changes to procedures being made to stop it happening again, he says.

During his talk he used Fujitsu data showing an out-of-bounds peak in help requests. This proved to be because “someone rolled out a change that was bad”, he says. It calls for better advance checks on such rollouts.

Fujitsu’s figures now show a downward trend in problem reports, even in the face of increasing levels of change, he says.

One of the advantages of ITIL — and one of the restrictions it imposes — is that everyone must use the same terms for the same thing. So, there must be a common understanding of what an “incident” a “problem” or a “fix” is.

Applying ITIL-based discipline is a continuous process which leads to a growing repository of best practice principles. This repository will, in turn, need its own management tools. Accordingly, Fujitsu is examining how “full knowledge management” can be implemented to record the lessons garnered from ITIL in a more permanent form.

ITIL implementation should also, logically, lead to the implementation of related disciplines such as COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and related Technology — guidelines for IT governance) and measurements being made against the Capability Maturity model to see how particular IT processes shape up, Swallow says. He advocates joining the IT Service Management Forum as a way of comparing experiences with those engaged in similar work around the world.

Faced with the news that ITIL and related changes are to be implemented, the first question in the minds of most staff will be: what’s in it for me? This question needs to be answered honestly, using an analysis of benefits, Swallow says.

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