Four ways smaller companies can experience the thrill of ITIL

ITIL is for big business, right? Not necessarily.

Although larger IT organizations are more usually associated with ITIL implementations (See The Practical Value of the IT Infrastructure Library), there’s growing evidence that ITIL can benefit the smaller IT shop, too.

ITIL’s big business credentials can’t be denied. Originally developed in the U.K. in the mid 1980s, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library is a set of best practice concepts and techniques for addressing the effective management of IT infrastructure, service delivery and service support. Endorsed by the U.K. government for public sector IT projects, ITIL soon gained traction within the corporate sector. (Although it recently was published to some fanfare, a number of users have expressed concern about the training ITIL Version 3 requires.)

Published by the U.K. government’s Office of Government Commerce, ITIL initial best practice guidelines have been widely adopted around the world, although exact numbers are unclear. (All one has to do is purchase a set of ITIL books, and adopt whatever ITIL practices one wishes.)

To some, ITIL’s big business background has hindered adoption by smaller IT shops. “ITIL hasn’t really talked to smaller businesses,” says Barclay Rae, professional services director of Europe’s Help Desk Institute, headquartered in Orpington, U.K. “The language to date has been very much framed in the context of large organizations with mainframes and internal customers.”

Organization Size Shouldn’t Matter With ITIL

But if ITIL hasn’t been smaller business-friendly, neither have smaller businesses been ITIL-friendly. “With limited resources, smaller businesses tend to develop their IT people from within, leading to a lower level of exposure to better ways of working,” observes David Davies, a principal consultant at Manchester, U.K.-based Xantus Consulting, and author of “Improving IT Service Delivery,” a 2007 paper published by the UK’s National Computing Center. “Structure and organization are often inappropriate, too: it’s like 11 year olds playing soccer, with everyone chasing the ball.”

Yet perversely, the smaller IT shop can turn its size into an ITIL asset, says the Help Desk Institute’s Rae. “Smaller companies can implement ITIL-and implement it quickly,” he says. “There are fewer people to disagree about it, and it’s easier to get the key people around the same table. I’ve implemented ITIL in an IT department of just six people: They initially complained that they didn’t have the time-but by picking just the key ITIL processes, it didn’t take up much time at all.”

Indeed, he points out, one of the most common misunderstandings about ITIL in smaller businesses is that ITIL somehow “demands” a large organization. “People think that as there are a number of ‘management’ processes involved, there must be a similar number of management roles-but this just isn’t the case,” says Rae.

Four ITIL Points to Remember

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is applicable to small- and medium-sized organizations. Consider these points:

1.) Don’t be daunted. Remember that ITIL can work for smaller companies. Even if the processes in ITIL were written with big companies in mind, the lessons apply to smaller organizations. ITIL can work for you, too.

2.) Appoint a process owner. You need a leader in charge.

3.) Pick your pieces and prioritize. Choose tenets of ITIL that work for your organization. It’s O.K. to select aspects of ITIL that are right for your organization. Pick up the points you think will work best.

4.) Follow the path, and chart progress. ITIL accountability requires someone assigned to make sure the organization is following ITIL guidelines.

The Need for Accountability

“As with all good process development, it’s vital to have a process ‘owner’ and someone who is responsible for ensuring that each process is working well. But many good implementations have simply given out key responsibilities to individuals as part of their existing roles.”

ITIL itself, too, is moving to make itself more accessible to smaller organizations. Published in 2006, the Office of Government Commerce’s guide to small-scale ITIL implementations is already in its third printing. As with the Office’s other ITIL publications, it is published by The Stationery Office (formerly Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) and costs around US$70. (Exact pricing depends on the current U.K. pounds-to-dollar exchange rate.)

While many ITIL practitioners broadly welcome such moves, they stress that smaller organizations can still benefit from working with the full set of ITIL guidelines. “There’s still a fair degree of ignorance among smaller businesses about ITIL’s potential benefits,” argues Paul Cash, managing director of Partners in IT, a service management consultancy and ITIL training provider. Were more smaller IT organizations aware of ITIL’s benefits, he adds, they would be more inclined to adopt the ‘full’ ITIL guidelines, and not a scaled-down version.

Stamina Required to Meet ITIL’s Demands

One smaller business that has done just that is York, U.K.-based ioko, a 270-employee outsourced managed services specialist and developer of Internet-based applications for global giants such as Shell and Diageo. Founded in 1996, ITIL appeared on ioko’s radar screen in 2001, explains operations director Sian Hodgson: “We had ambitious growth targets, realized that we needed processes and systems that scaled as we grew.”

With ITIL’s small-scale version not yet available, ioko embarked on a full-scale implementation-but more gradually, implementing ITIL practices at the pace that it could absorb them.

“You need stamina,” stresses Hodgson. “You need to recognize that it’s a journey involving hundreds of small changes, rather than a onetime silver bullet. People see ITIL as some sort of Nirvana, but really it’s just a very sensible framework. Take ITIL’s approach to change management: it provides a very credible level of detail around the processes of designing, approving and ultimately implementing change.”

And for ioko, ITIL has delivered on its promise, adds Hodgson. With revenue of £9.1 million (US$18 million) in 2001 when first embarking on ITIL, ioko has now grown to sales of £25.7 million, she says: “And we haven’t had to make changes to our processes, because they were already in line with what we need. What’s more, we could double in size-and still not make any changes.”

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