5 steps to successful ITIL adoption

ITIL, the IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework, has come on in leaps and bounds since it was first introduced due to theUK government’s disillusionment with the way that governmental IT was delivered in the latter half of the 1980s. Now the de facto standard for ITSM, there is no doubt that ITIL can benefit IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations. In a recent survey of 491 members of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) USA, Forrester found that ITIL beneficially improved service productivity (85%), quality (83%), business reputation (65%), and occasionally cost savings (41%).

With that said, Forrester urges I&O executives and their teams to proceed with caution. Despite its rapid adoption in recent years, ITIL is fraught with adoption challenges that could be prevented, or at least minimized. The trick is to ensure that sufficient planning leads to optimal adoption, not just in the short term, for example, selecting and implementing a service desk tool, but also in the longer-term through an ITSM maturity vision, phased adoption, and support for continued improvement. Whether you’re embarking on a greenfield ITIL adoption or wanting to improve the IT support and IT service delivery of your existing ITSM operations, Forrester recommends that I&O executives and their teams get started by following these five steps:

Step 1: Understand what ITIL is all about, especially the importance of people

First and foremost, clearly articulate the business value of ITIL by identifying key business priorities and pain points, and then position ITIL as a means to enabling and solving them. From there, find an executive sponsor and form a core ITSM team to justify, fund, communicate, and ultimately drive ITIL adoption.

Beyond executive sponsorship, “people” are critical to ITIL’s success. But too often, Forrester finds that I&O executives invest more time and energy improving processes or selecting technologies compared to assessing, developing, and hiring the right people. A common issue is employing staff based on ITIL qualifications rather than experience, work ethic, and common sense. However, the reality is that the ITIL Foundation Certificate is not a particularly difficult exam to pass, so don’t view people with it as a passport to ITIL adoption success. More important than the qualifications in many respects is having people with relevant experience, the right soft skills set, and a mindset geared for service and customer centricity.

Step 2: Be realistic about existing ITSM process maturity and improve it gradually

Whether you call it ITIL or not, you are likely “doing” a lot of ITIL already, given that common starting points are incident and change management, or change and configuration management. But don’t overstate your level of maturity. For example, some may say they’re doing problem management and decide to move on when in reality their process is completely reactive and not proactive. Likewise, Forrester often finds confusion between priority and maturity. The most severe consequence of this is that identified business priorities and pain points that could be solved by ITIL process improvement don’t get addressed first. As a result, the time to value from your ITIL efforts are only extended and likely not appreciated.

Before undergoing any sort of process improvement program, determine which processes are most important to delivering key business priorities or solving key business pains. Prioritize the processes and then conduct a maturity assessment to close gaps between where you are and where you need to be. In the spirit of continual improvement, use this data to guide staffing, skills, and technology decisions.

Step 3: Evaluate technology only after you’ve addressed goals, people, and processes

Getting the right ITSM technology is not as big a key contributor to success as many might think. But too many I&O organizations, unhappy with their current ITSM technology, jump feet first into replacement mode. This is the equivalent of applying a new coat of paint to a house that is falling down; people will still not want to live there.

Think long and hard about what you want from your ITSM tool. What business and IT issues do you need it to solve? Which ITIL processes does it need to support both now and in the future? In addition, consider the effect of tool design — single application or integrated solutions “hit the spot” for I&O’s growing need for simplicity. Turn on capabilities only when you have addressed the required people and process aspects; and insufficient planning for technology integrations with other corporate systems can be a painful oversight. Consider the benefits that alternative vendors and delivery models, such as SaaS, can provide — but recognize that SaaS itself is in many ways a red herring.

Step 4: Plan beyond the “technology project”

Be sure to plan beyond the initial people- and process-based change activities and technology implementation. A common error is to plan for a shorter adoption window than is realistic, normally driven by how long it takes to install the technology. Moreover, do not plan for the technology implementation to take a year. Rather, get the technology up and running quickly and tweak as needed based on real-world execution rather than how your old ITSM tool was set up.

Step 5: Regularly communicate ITIL’s value and involve the IT and non-IT stakeholder

Ensure that your core ITSM team and executive sponsor(s) have a consistent message on ITIL’s value, plans, and implications in a language that will resonate with IT and non-IT audiences. As an example, be clear in your messaging that ITIL is not a silver bullet for all of your IT service delivery woes or even the “desired” future state — rather it is a “compass” to that destination. To do this effectively, you will likely have to tailor your message based on the audience because IT professionals expect and likely require another layer of detail than a business user needs. From there, set clear expectations on who will be involved and what their role will be. Likewise, be sure that that all parties responsible for ITIL’s success — not just those in IT operations — are exposed to ITIL awareness, education, and training.

Stephen Mann is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. In his role, Stephen helps IT leaders and their teams understand the business value of service management, develop their strategy, evaluate and select vendor tools, and implement service management processes such as those espoused by ITIL.

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