ITIL gains steam

When Toronto-based Hydro One Telecom Inc. brainstormed on the best service delivery strategy for its enterprise customers, it wasn’t cutting-edge technology that became the key differentiator, but a made-in-the-U.K. best practice framework called the IT infrastructure library (ITIL).

The move to ITIL was a year-and-a-half journey, commencing in 2003, that involved not just a technology upgrade, but an ITIL-enabled organizational culture shift that changed Hydro One Telecom’s entire business operation.

“We put ITIL right into the core business delivery part of the company,” says Aaron Cheng, director of IT systems at Hydro One Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of utility firm Hydro One Inc. and provider of high-speed Internet service to enterprise and government entities.

The combination of technology and ITIL-based processes allows the telecom firm to effectively fulfill its customer service level agreements (SLAs) with a “certain level of quality,” Cheng points out.

ITIL is a set of best practices developed in the late 1980s by the U.K.’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC) as a standard for IT service management. It provides a systematic and professional approach to managing IT service provisioning.

The framework consists of a series of books that give guidance for delivering quality IT services. The book titles include Service Support, Service Delivery, Planning to Implement Service Management, ICT Infrastructure Management, Security Management, Software Asset Management and The Business Perspective: The IS View on Delivering Services to the Business.

ITIL is at the centre of Hydro One Telecom’s operational infrastructure, which involves incident, change and configuration management, says Cheng. For instance, when an event is detected on the network, the automated process of incident management takes place: creation of an incident ticket, determination whether this is a previously known error or a completely new one, imposing specific service levels and targets for resolving the issue. All these processes are designed based on ITIL best practices, says Cheng.

“If you’re the operator sitting in the frontline and you get an incident, you should be able to know whether it is a four-hour or a two-day turnaround. With the tools and processes in place, the frontline people can manage the priority…and more importantly, meet the different SLAs we signed with our customers,” he says.

According to the OGC, the development of ITIL is driven by a general recognition that organizations are increasingly becoming dependent on IT to satisfy corporate objectives and meet business needs.

Over the last three years, ITIL has figured prominently among European organizations. Based on a Forrester Research survey of 101 European companies, 72 per cent have either adopted all of the ITIL domains or certain aspects of them. The majority of these companies are recent adopters, with 68 per cent having implemented ITIL between 2004 and 2006.

The survey also indicates that among organizations that have not adopted ITIL, 66 per cent say they will implement ITIL within the next five years.


In North America, about one out of two Fortune 1000 companies are adopting some form of ITIL, according to Stephen Elliot, research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Vendors in this part of the world have also started to capitalize on the European framework by offering products that support processes within ITIL, says Elliot. “[Vendors] would actually market and position their solutions as supporting an ITIL process through data collection, through integration, through reporting.”

The top motivations for both ITIL adopters and those that plan to implement the framework centre on quality and efficiency, such as getting more output from the same resources, better process efficiency, as well as faster and more responsive process operations, writes Forrester analyst Richard Peynot in his research document entitled, Firms Must Take ITIL Beyond IT Operational Goals. Cost saving ranks low among the expected benefits, he adds.

Regulatory compliance associated with legislations such as the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Sarbanes-Oxley and Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act is also driving ITIL adoption in North America, helping to establish a framework of governance within an organization, says Hydro One’s Cheng, who is also vice-chair of Toronto-based IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF) Canada, a global organization promoting best practice standards for IT service management.

In Canada, adoption of ITIL-based best practices has been increasing over the last two years, according to Cheng. This is evidenced by the rising number of ITSMF members throughout the country and the organization’s expansion to other areas outside of Ontario, such as British Columbia and Alberta, where it has branches in both Edmonton and Calgary.

Chapters in Winnipeg and the Atlantic provinces are also expected to be established soon, says Cheng.

As in any IT project implementation, executive buy-in as well as user support and acceptance are two of the most important components of a successful ITIL deployment, says IDC’s Elliot.

He says the first order of business is getting a leading technology executive to be an advocate for the utilization of ITIL as a de facto process definition.

The next step is to organize a cross-silo team that would undertake an assessment of current technologies and processes in place. They would then map these existing technologies and processes to the ITIL framework, evaluating where the gaps lie.

Some organizations initially implement ITIL with one or two business processes as a starting point, says Elliot. “As you start to chip away…you start to bring in more and more people into that process standardization.” And that, he says, could sometimes spell the difference between a successful implementation and a failed one.

Elliot explains: “Some companies want to do too much, too soon, too fast. And you’re just going to fail doing that. It’s (about) taking one or two processes and really flushing those out first, and creating successful projects with those is critical.”

Echoing Elliot’s observations, Forrester’s Peynot says ITIL implementation require preparation, training and phasing. “Firms that embark on this exercise inevitably face obstacles like employee resistance.” Fifty-two per cent of Forrester respondents say they have encountered internal resistance to change during ITIL implementation.

Such resistance to new ITIL-driven processes can come from both IT operations staff and end users across the business, says Peynot. Justifying ITIL adoption by emphasizing to the staff the added value and benefits derived from it, as well as involving user representatives in the implementation project, could soften staff resistance to process change, he adds.

Firms that have gotten through the birth pains of ITIL adoption report that they have achieved the concrete results they were aiming for, according to Forrester. Over 50 per cent of users claim increased process efficiency and 36 per cent say they have improved operational productivity.

Most firms adopting ITIL, however, don’t seem to be looking for financial return from their ITIL investments. Only 21 per cent of ITIL adopters prepared a business case with ROI evaluation to support the decision, according to the Forrester survey.

Peynot warns, however, that without an ROI firmly in view when implementing ITIL, companies run the risk of facing “strong opposition” from their business leaders. “IT departments can’t afford to jump into ITIL without a clear business case.”

Forrester expects ITIL adoption to accelerate with the release of ISO/IEC 20000 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). As the new standard for IT service management, ISO/IEC 20000 is aligned with and complementary to the process approach defined in ITIL, Forrester analyst Peter O’Neill says.

“Recognition that ITIL has contributed to the creation of an ISO standard will support its further proliferation,” says O’Neill.

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