As the old joke has it, the great thing about IT standards is there are so many to choose from. That gag is hopefully getting less relevant, especially in the crucial area of service management – seen by some as the discipline that will finally professionalise the delivery of IT.

What had been the BS 15000 standard in the area has just been fast-tracked to become an international standard, ISO/IEC 20000. The IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), the UK-headquartered but increasingly global user forum in this area along with IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practice, says the impact is that organisations working to improve IT service delivery now have an international standard to benchmark against. MIS UK spoke to three organisations to get their perspectives.

Phil Ives is head of IS at Yell, a £664 million turnover international group behind brands such as Yellow Pages, Yell.com and telephone directory information service Yellow Pages 118 24 7. He has been leading service management initiatives at the firm for eight years, outlining IS’ mission at Yell as, “to work with the business to deliver the projects that it needs to meet its objectives, and ensure systems work day in and day out”.

Yell has in turn embraced ITIL, BS 15000 and now ISO/IEC 20000. “BS 15000 was the natural next step for us from ITIL,” he says. “It provides documented proof of competency, whereas ITIL has no formal certification programme.” Ives says that ITIL is more narrowly concerned with technology, while BS 15000 has a wider service management remit. BS 15000 also suits the Yell IT approach as the company outsources around 30 per cent of its IT functions, including the helpdesk, some network operations and chunks of technical support – so service management is a core discipline.

To reach BS 15000, Yell was assessed and audited against 21 processes. “We then widened the review processes to consider all 21 BS 15000 management process areas and were officially certificated in February 2005.” Ives is convinced it was all worth it. “We have noticed the satisfaction and respect from customers about the quality of service they receive and the growth in positive comments about IT colleagues and the way they do their job,” he says.

Going through all this has helped day-to-day IT operations. “One recent project included the relocation of one of our datacentres. We didn’t want to incur any loss of service and the project team achieved a network upgrade and datacentre move of 150 servers over five staged overnight and weekend moves successfully.” Ives points out that as Yell has around 150 live IT projects at any one time (plus 500 application changes to systems each year and around 4,000 infrastructure amendments), management has been greatly eased by the organisational structure BS 15000 has provided.

“Standards really reflect best practice and we are benefiting here from the contributions and experience of practitioners over many years. The move to the ISO level helps us as well in that, as it’s international, we can speak a common vocabulary with IT or global outsourcing partners now as well.”

Helping make IT better

It is not just private sector firms that say they have found value in the service management standards approach. Kevin Holland is head of service introduction and quality improvement at NHS Connecting for Health, which is delivering the largest IT programme in Europe, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), to transform patient care and services.

To ensure the quality and effectiveness of this massive project, which over the next 10 years will connect over 100,000 doctors, 380,000 nurses and 50,000 other health professionals, Kevin and his team have used BS 15000 to ensure that appropriate processes are used by the multiple suppliers and over 600 IT service management professionals.

NHS Connecting for Health has the central role in the procurement and management of suppliers, who are developing and delivering the software and implementing top quality service management. Holland says a key element of this was adopting consistent ways of working across all suppliers and “using effective service management within the NHS itself”. ITIL was also used as the basis of best practice to give a common terminology and way of working across all parties, resulting in an integrated service management framework.

Supplier contracts were underpinned by the requirements for BS 15000, the use of ITIL and guidelines such as the Prince 2 methodology and the OGC gateway process to approve project stages. Holland is convinced other organisations should follow a similar path. “If you care about the service you give your users – and you should – then you embark on the journey to measure the quality of your IT service provision. During the journey you will identify and implement many improvements that will benefit them. If you achieve the standard, then you will have made continuous improvement a way of life in IT service management – fulfilling the goal of providing effective and efficient services to benefit your business. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?” As for the evolution of BS 15000, he says: “I don’t see it as a lot of change, more a tightening up of the wording of the standard. Anyway, the real benefits from the standard are the improvements your organisation will make by striving to achieve it.”

Another organisation that says it has benefited from the standardisation process around service management is logistics giant TNT Express. The firm delivers 3.3 million parcels, documents and pieces of freight a week to over 200 countries, using a global network of 900 depots, hubs and sorting centres. It employs 43,000 staff worldwide in eight business units operating out of 64 countries. The 1,000 IT staff are spread across the eight business units.

In 2003 the company decided to move to a common method for service delivery, explains service development manager John Hoult, via a seven-year programme to drive standard business processes throughout the entire organisation.

TNT has been using BS 15000 as a guideline to implement the IT service management processes side, and Hoult is responsible for the development, implementation and deployment of service management globally within TNT Express.

Blueprint for success

This responsibility includes the service management software (selection and maintenance), processes (development and central control) and project management, all encompassed by what he terms the TNT Express Service Management blueprint. The blueprint has been developed and has now been implemented in five of the eight business units with the rest due to complete in 2006, he told MIS UK.

A global solution centred on the ITIL-based HP Service Desk has since been implemented: call, incident, change, problem and configuration management functionality has been rolled out. The project resulted in a single service management approach for both process and software, along with measurable key performance indicators and management information to its IT customers.

“Our organisation is a standards-based one anyway. We are committed to BS 7799 security standard as well as the European EFQM quality excellence process. We see the BS 15000 work as a focus, along with ITIL, to move not just IT but other parts of the organisation to a common standard for service delivery excellence,” he says.

“Overall this gives us a pragmatic way to do this and I see accreditation as a great way to achieve that culturally.”

Hoult says that he has some reservations about the ISO/IEC 20000 move.

“Standards are in a state of flux and there are a few reasons why I am actually sitting back and waiting for the dust to settle; ITIL is being refreshed this year and we need to see what new processes those rewrites bring. And it’s been brought to light that there are different levels of standards of accreditation firms issuing BS 15000 certificates, with some not being completed to the top accredited standard that the itSMF or other industry bodies recognise.”

What is certain is that 2006 is likely to be a landmark year for both ITIL and service management – now may be the time to examine how these standards could help raise yours.