Martin Atherton, originally published on The Register
Whenever IT best practice for service management gets a mention, we tend to think of Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). A much longer list of them exists, however. Here’s one I found earlier: ITIL, Application Service Library (ASL), Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), CoBIT, ISO/IEC 20000, Agile, SSADM, RAD, CMMI, Six Sigma, SUPER (EU FP6), TQM and Prince 2. Phew. Maybe you all won’t agree they help people with the same things, but let’s agree it’s a longer list than ‘just ITIL’.
Regardless of which route to best practice you can think of, or indeed use, two angles concern us regarding their viability in the future. The first is quite general, and concerns the applicability of them to different sized organisations.
Our research suggests that a threshold may exist at around 200 employees, below which the overhead of incorporating formal best practices could outweigh the benefits gained. No hard and fast rules apply, but essentially, the smaller you are, the less likely it is you’ll see the benefits of implementing a framework approach to IT service management. Unless such frameworks change quite considerably in the near future, I see no reason why this state of affairs will not remain as we move into the virtual computing era.
The second issue corresponds directly with the direction in which business computing is heading. In simple terms, are ITIL and CoBIT et al locked into their own fiefdoms, or are they able to change with the times? I don’t know the answer, but the question concerns the ability of such frameworks to acknowledge, prepare and guide would-be followers and their IT service management processes at a time when the tools in use, and the infrastructure coming into play in the mainstream, are starting to allow people to make changes at orders of magnitude faster than their legacy counterparts. Are we speeding things up for the greater good, or risking lots of pile-ups and bottlenecks as we struggle to cope with the frequency and velocity of problems that fly at us?
On the plus side, however, there may never have been a better time to take a standardised set of processes which have been pondered over by dedicated experts in their fields, and gradually up the ante with regards to the capability of the kit you throw into the mix. In a virtual environment, even a process for problem resolution designed for an environment where servers took weeks to set up and everything had ‘lead times’ might be better than no discipline whatsoever.
Furthermore, some of the technologies ‘associated’ with helping organisations follow best practices like ITIL, such as tools for automating systems data collection and the mapping of applications to infrastructure components, will become more and more desirable due to the speed factor. The requirements on technologies to help us marshal service management processes are significantly heightened if we are at all serious about exploiting technology in the name of ‘flexible, dynamic systems’.
So does best practice have a place in your IT department in the future? I say yes, at the very least because we are taking significant risks if we automate everything in the management environment without maintaining knowledge of how to do things manually when something breaks.
Another example could be in the realm of getting things working again after some kind of outage – call it disaster recovery if you want, but I’m thinking much more general than that. We all need a safety net, because true lights-out computing will not be with us for some time yet, if ever, and we’re always going to need people to make sensible decisions about business priorities and how IT should be pushed or pulled to accommodate them.
To answer the question in the subtitle: I do think that elements of your organisation’s future service management may be in a book (figuratively speaking), but it should be a book you wrote yourself, perhaps with external input to help avoid duplicating what others already did. We hear lots about how IT can bring competitive advantage to a business, and so a place for following what others do well and for maintaining formal control and ownership of the really good stuff you created yourselves remains entirely valid. This is why it’s hard to believe that ‘best practice’, in whatever guise, will ever go away.
We’d love to hear what you all think about this topic, whether you think best practice is a misnomer, whether the ‘v’ in ITIL v4 should stand for ‘virtual’ or if you’re doing perfectly well without it, thanks very much.