Awareness of IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has risen exponentially in the last couple of years, with one in four UK organisations now implementing the best practise framework for IT service delivery in some shape or form.

But despite this increasing uptake and the fact that ITIL has been around since the 1980s, there is evidence to suggest that such initiatives do not automatically lead to good service delivery or even that they deliver value to either the IT department or the business. “ITIL isn’t the silver bullet that some would have you believe,” says Steve Kenney, service centre manager at TNT Express Worldwide, which provides delivery and mail services. “If you’re not careful, you can end up spending huge amounts of money and not deliver the cost benefits back to the business.”

This is backed up by Gartner. Simon Mingay, a research vice-president at the research company, explains that while about 25 to 30 per cent of companies are using ITIL fairly actively, almost all of them are “challenged” by it. “Of those using ITIL, probably only about 20 per cent have understood what it is and are doing a reasonable job of it. The rest haven’t really understood the nature of the transformation – which isn’t easy for anyone – so they’re not getting the value they thought they would,” he says.

Many organisations, particularly larger ones, are now on implementation mark two, trying to learn from past mistakes made during former unsuccessful service improvement programmes. As Mark Ashley, director of consulting at Morse Consulting, puts it: “There aren’t many service management virgins out there now,” although the drivers for change tend to be fairly consistent.

The drivers

These range from CIOs feeling under pressure from the business to show that IT is providing value for money, to a desire to standardise processes in order to provide a more consistent service. Others need ways of supporting business growth without spending any more, while for some, it is about introducing a more effective means of dealing with merger and acquisition activity. In Ashley’s experience, most companies tend to tackle the support side of the IT organisation first because to do so addresses issues, “that directly affect end users, such as the performance of the helpdesk”.

This means, that it is easier to make a business case for funding change. Adoption in other areas of the business such as development or disaster recovery tends to be more patchy.

Nonetheless, the benefits can be high for those organisations that get ITIL right, wherever they decide to implement it, including improved service availability at a reduced cost, better responsiveness to business change and ultimately, enhanced customer satisfaction levels. It also provides a common language for members of the IT department to communicate both with ‹ each other and the business. Fiachra Woodman, IT director at the Loyalty Management Group, which owns and operates the Nectar programme, says that ITIL enables organisations to take a more business-based view of services.

“It’s about the end service rather than the IT service and that focuses people’s minds on working in a more end-to-end business-centric way,” he says. Woodman introduced an ITIL-based service improvement programme across all of the company’s inhouse and outsourced development and support operations a couple of years ago, with the aim of striking, “a balance between control and agility so that we had sufficient control to be safe without being bureaucratic”.


The new version of ITIL – 3.0 – was released at the end of May and is described by Michael Nieves, a senior manager at Accenture, as including, “much more of a CIO agenda.”

While version 2 of the standard focused mainly on how services are supported and delivered, version 3 concentrates instead on their “utilitisation”.

“This means that it explores how the service is deployed and used, what the actual consequences of delivery are and whether the functionality delivered is making possible customer outcomes and enhancing performance, which is where true value is derived,” says Nieves.

“Version 3 is important because the value proposition includes both sides of the coin,” he says.

"It’s about the end service rather than the IT service that focuses people’s minds on working in a more end-to-end business-centric way"

Fiachra Woodman, IT director, Loyalty Management Group

Focus on service

It is this focus on outcomes rather than IT assets that is critical to the success of ITIL programmes. “Most IT departments are and remain essentially asset management organisations. In other words, they structure and measure themselves based on their performance in various asset silos, such as networks or databases,” Mingay says. It is the resultant inability to understand that a service, “sits on top of the assets and joins them all together to form an outcome that is of value to customers,” that is at the root of many programme failures.

“But it’s not ITIL’s fault. People treat it as an end in itself but it’s just a valuable tool to help improve processes as part of a broad-based service transformation strategy. So should the misuse of ITIL be put at ITIL’s door? Absolutely not. If you take a hammer and keep on breaking glass with it, is that the hammer’s fault?” says Mingay.

TNT’s Kenney agrees. He embarked on a service quality improvement programme in 2003 to underpin the integration of the company’s domestic UK and international businesses. The move involved streamlining and homogenising systems across all of its operations in order to standardise IT delivery worldwide. Included in this process were 70 staff working in 50 desktop support helpdesks, each of which traditionally had their own local way of working.

“There are political sensitivities involved in the UK office telling 50 countries how to operate, so we had to communicate extensively to ensure it worked,” Kenney says. “You can deliver software, review processes based on ITIL best practise and declare a new way of operating, but getting people to work that way is the most difficult thing.”

Change management

This means that if the human change factor is ignored, “people just see it as a change of software and will end up working in the same way with a new system,” says Kenney.
As a result, he discussed requirements with the helpdesk staff and devised a standard, simple process blueprint. He then, “asked the countries to let us demonstrate the benefits”.

This took the form of roadshows and presentations, sending out flyers and a lot of time explaining it over the phone. “Because expectation-setting is massive, this time-consuming activity is considered crucial to winning buy-in, particularly among senior management on the board to ensure you have the support and encouragement to get to the finishing line.”

Another critical success factor is being able to embed the new processes into people’s day-to-day working lives. “You have to ensure that people follow the processes and get the intended benefits and that doing so becomes a habit. This can take weeks, if not months. It’s about constant measuring, reporting and feedback,” says Kenney.

Equally important is having a vision of where the IT organisation wants to be, while not overburdening it by trying to do everything at once. “Start small. Address your pain points and that will help the company have faith in what you’re doing. You need a picture of how you want things to be at the end and how the integral parts will fit together, but don’t get into the whole analysis paralysis thing, says Woodman.

Implementing every element of ITIL simply because it is a best practise framework is not necessarily the most productive way forward.

Neil Walker, head of IS customer support at the Charity Aid Foundation, which provides charities with advice on how to make the most of the donations they receive, explains: “In the early days, people tend to want to introduce total ITIL, but it’s potentially massive overkill. It’s about picking and choosing and implementing the minimum, not the maximum to provide more control, quality and efficiency. It’s that mix and balance that is crucial and it takes a bit of work to get right.”


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It is crucial that IT departments cease to view ITIL as a tactical engineering exercise or software implementation project, instead they should focus on optimising the outcome of their services. “But that requires a fundamental transformation of how IT organisations see what they do, how they do it and what they optimise,” says Simon Mingay, a research vice-president at Gartner.

That is a tall order and any such a transformation is likely to take a minimum of two to three years and a reshuffle of the IT department, followed by at least the same amount of time spent in tackling continual improvement.

“It’s not a quick fix because it’s all about behavioural change. It’s difficult and messy, but if you don’t address it, you’ll have problems,” Mingay warns.

"It’s about picking and choosing and implementing the minimum, not maximum, to provide more control, quality, and efficiency"

Neil Walker, head of IS customer support, Charity Aid Foundation