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Third time lucky

Third time lucky

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library has found favour as a way to improve and standardise processes for diverse organisations. And version 3 will have the biggest impact yet.

The birth of SPARQ Solutions in July 2004 saw the drawing together of two very different IT support groups. As the newly created shared IT services provider for Queensland-based power companies Energex and Ergon Energy, SPARQ required the merging of differing processes and cultures. SPARQ's service delivery manager, Paul Cockburn, could tell early on that a shared framework with a common set of descriptions and procedures was necessary. So in August 2005, the company began developing processes that would serve both clients, based on the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

"We were trying to look for best practices in how we were going to deliver the business savings and the benefits," Cockburn says.

ITIL, developed by the British Office of Government Commerce, is the most widely accepted approach to IT services available.

It aims to provide a set of best practices drawn from the experiences of its users, which are codified into a series of books.

SPARQ first used ITIL to improve its client-facing processes, such as incident management and the service desk. A second phase is examining back-office functions.

Thanks to an external benchmarking process that commenced before the ITIL transformation began, Cockburn says he has been able to measure improvements in performance delivery for his two clients.

While benefits are becoming better known within the Australian IT user community, much of the recent discussion among ITIL members focuses on ITIL version 3, which officially launched on May 30. The new version includes some significant updates.

According to ITIL author and IT service management practice principal at Hewlett-Packard, David Cannon, the biggest change is the reclassification of IT not just as a support group for the business, but as one of the bases for value in the organisation.

"So instead of talking about things like saving cost or optimising cost, here we are talking about achieving value," Cannon says. "So the question now is, 'OK, how do we link in and contribute to the value of the organisation?' "

He says version 3 is based much more on experience than previous versions, providing more on how to handle various issues.

The books themselves have been restructured; they were grouped by processes, now they are grouped by stages of a life cycle.

"What we are saying is that you could still do it the same way, but in implementing a process you need to go through a life cycle," he says. "You don't just create a process and suddenly it's there and it works. You have to go through and plan what you expect this process to achieve and what it has to look like.

"There is a lot less trial and error. The life-cycle approach identifies specific things that have to be done at specific stages in a life cycle, and by doing those consciously, you are able to avoid a lot of rework when you start deploying some of these processes or services. From that point of view, certainly, we expect the

quality of implementations to go up and the time required to decrease."

The principal support group behind ITIL in Australia is the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), an internationally recognised not-for-profit body dedicated to developing and propagating best practice.

Forum national board member Karen Ferris says attendance at a recent ITIL version 3 roadshow has been strong, and workshops have sold out quickly.

"People have said, 'OK, well let's see the colour of the money and if it's really going to address some of the questions that we had'," Ferris says. "The feedback so far is that people are very impressed and it is going in the right direction."

She says version 3 will have broader appeal, as it is less mainframe-centric and gives broader consideration to the accomplishment of best practice, rather than just defining it.

"One of the downsides to version 2 is it was very process-centric, and organisations have adopted the guidance and ended up creating functions rather than processes across the enterprise," Ferris says. "One of the outcomes of that is a lack of buy-in across the organisation. Version 3 is saying we need to break down those silos, the processes aren't functional.

"There is also a lot of focus on business value. These are things that are driving senior executives, who are now saying 'OK, ITIL is fine, but how do I demonstrate return on value and return on the investment?

And what is the benefit to the business overall?' These are the questions that are now being addressed."

A web service has also been created alongside the books to provide specific industry details, which Ferris says will be a community centre for information, where chief information officers can ask questions and receive an expert's response.

"ITIL 3 will further accelerate the adoption of ITIL because it is far more current and it's talking about the things that have been perplexing organisations for a while," Ferris says. "It will accelerate because organisations will now see that it is addressing the issues that are actually driving them at the moment."

Gartner research director Steve Bittinger says ITIL version 3 is not such a big change that ITIL 2 users will need to worry about their existing investments. "It's more a sense of refinement and a broader sense of professionalism, and plugging some of the gaps in terms of linking ITIL into business issues, particularly service strategy and service design," Bittinger says. "It is very much more than just how to run change management or configuration management. It has to do with [how] you are running a services business."

Bittinger believes the adoption of ITIL 3 will follow a slow curve. "We're in a lull period while people work out what ITIL version 3 means - for training and accreditation, and for the organisation overall," Bittinger says. "There is a lot of material there. There are five books, which are each 250 or 300 pages long. Even if you've read through it once, or two or three times, [that] doesn't necessarily mean you have mastered the concepts."

He says this is especially true with regard to the components on service strategy, which feature new material most ITIL practitioners will find unfamiliar.

"Chances are that it will take a couple of years, or even longer, for some of those things to bite. That provides an opportunity for the early movers who want to be leaders strategically, to use it as their competitive differentiation. They are going to jump in and make a bigger investment and try and work it out faster, and they might get a year or two's head start on somebody else who is just going with the herd."

An example is National Australia Bank. The head of service management for NAB in the Australian region, Arthur Baccolas, says NAB has purchased the ITIL 3 books, both in print and online, and put the newer version on the NAB intranet.

The company runs classes for about 15 staff every two months. Baccolas estimates that 500 employees have been trained in ITIL 2 in the past five years. Everyone who has completed a foundation training course in ITIL 2 will be required to do one in ITIL 3. His management team was the first group to go through the training, in August.

The enthusiasm for ITIL 3 is based on the benefits already delivered through ITIL 2. All of NAB's processes are centralised around ITIL and are documented under the ISO 9000 standard - procedures used by everyone across IT. The real benefit is in creating a common language for describing processes right across the organisation.

"Our people understand where we are when we have an outage," Baccolas says. "The amount of incidents is reducing, our change quality is improving."

Baccolas says the two areas of greatest interest in ITIL 3 are related to the control of work requests and also the extra depth that has been provided around management of software life cycles.

The head of the service management office at the University of Melbourne, Anthony Nantes, says version 3 plugs many of the holes in version 2, in terms of tying together components of the model.

He believes many organisations will have pre-empted some version 3 developments. The service management office already has managers dedicated to supporting the ongoing implementation of best practice.

"The things that are in the goals of this office in taking a whole-of-service, life-cycle approach to the way we manage our services, [are things] we did six months before version 3 was released," Nantes says. "So version 3 has caught up with where many of the leading organisations already are."

ITIL lends a hand to caring organisations

The adoption of ITIL has not been restricted to large organisations such as banks. UnitingCare Queensland, a not-for-profit health and social services provider that the Uniting Church operates, is also nearly one year into the deployment of an ITIL-based framework to support IT delivery to its Lifeline counselling service and general health services (UnitingCare Health), including five hospitals.

UnitingCare Health's IT project director, Claire Brereton, says her 35-strong team runs numerous critical systems for major hospitals, including telephones, networks and patient-care systems.

"None of that support was being done with formal service management processes, and our chief executive was concerned about that [and] wanted to do something to improve the situation," Brereton says.

Together with Lifeline, UnitingCare Health went looking for IT service management processes and solutions. They began with a mandate to improve service management processes, but with no clear idea of what they were going to do.

Brereton herself was already ITIL manager-qualified and recommended that UnitingCare undertake some basic functions, such as incident and change management. The goal was to implement these within nine months.

"What we've done now is gone live in Lifeline with incident management, problem management and change management across the group," Brereton says. "We're gearing up to roll out a much more organised, focused and targeted IT service and management to our user community."

As a result, the number of open incidents has reduced from 1300 to just under 240 in about 10 months. The next step is to take a more sophisticated measurement of turnaround times, leading to proper service-level management.

"We've come a long way with a small amount of resources and no real external process expertise," Brereton says.

Those limited resources make the adoption of ITIL 3 less than a priority for UnitingCare, but Brereton says she will be taking time to understand it.

"Having worked with version 2, there are some fairly artificial distinctions between the service support and the delivery process, and version 3 seems like a logical flow."

She says that she is impressed by the way the strategy and planning element flows through to operational processes.

"There's nothing in those core principals that will mean that our ITIL-compliant incidence management process is going to be wrong in the future," Brereton says.

© Fairfax Business Media

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