Process training decreases confusion

Awareness of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) training and implementation appears to be on the rise, and many believe that’s a good thing, due to the order it can bring to many a chaotic IT department — which in turn helps improve morale.

ITIL is a framework outlining best practices for IT service management. Its concepts support the planning of consistent, documented, and repeatable processes that improve IT service delivery to the business.

The uptake of ITIL has increased dramatically in recent years, largely driven by the compliance requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley and Bill 198. According to a recent CNET/TechRepublic survey, 71 per cent of respondents rate best practice frameworks such as ITIL as critical. That’s in sharp contrast to a 2003 study that revealed 74 per cent of respondents were not at all familiar with ITIL.

ITIL is not a cookbook, says Jack Probst, executive consultant at Pink Elephant, a Toronto-based consultancy that provides ITIL consulting and training. “The ITIL framework provides overall guidance about what processes should look like, but it’s up to each organization to interpret those general principles for themselves,” he says.

Pink Elephant offers a range of courses to help organizations train their people and develop that judgment, from two-day courses that cover the essentials of ITIL, to intensive 10-day service manager courses that help IT managers and process owners interpret and implement ITIL.

The training helps some people sort out what’s broken in their IT areas, says Probst, and it also helps do-it-yourselfers, typically from smaller organizations, who just need enough training to handle the implementation themselves. Even people from large organizations that plan to use consultants attend the courses, he says, so they have the knowledge they need to avoid being bamboozled by the terms and concepts some advisors can throw around.

That was one of the reasons Denys Gagnon, manager of business process optimization at Domtar Inc., a Montreal-based pulp and paper company, attended Pink Elephant’s service manager course.

“It helped us understand exactly what the consultants were telling us, and it also gave us the opportunity to speak with people from other companies to see if we were going in right direction,” he says.

Gagnon is the leader of the company’s ITIL project, which won the 2004 ITIL project of the year award at the International IT Service Management Conference.

Unlike many companies, the driver for Domtar’s ITIL implementation was growth, not compliance requirements. The company recently acquired four U.S.-based paper mills, each running different systems, resulting in the usual integration headaches. Change management became a big issue, since Domtar’s Unix and Windows servers were hosted by an outsourcer, and IT staff in Montreal and Atlanta needed to coordinate system updates.

“Everyone was playing with the system, and we weren’t organized properly to handle this issue,” says Gagnon. “We suddenly realized we weren’t a mom-and-pop shop anymore. You can’t just stand up in your cubicle and shout, ‘OK, I’m going to reboot the server now!’ Those days are gone.”

Training and communication played a major role in Domtar’s ITIL implementation. All IT infrastructure staff took a four-hour Web-based course to obtain a basic familiarity with the essentials, says Gagnon.

But generic ITIL training is just a first step, he adds. “It doesn’t tell you the detail of how you should use it in your system, what button to push, where do you find the form for this or that,” he says.

Once Gagnon and other project leaders decided those details and implemented processes, Domtar staff needed training on the new internal processes they’d developed. “For incident, problem, change and release management, everyone in IT got training, as well as some business users involved in approving changes,” he says.

Now that ITIL has been implemented at Domtar, Gagnon says it’s playing a big role in improving morale. “It gives confidence to IT staff. Now they know there’s a process — if they follow it, they’ll get their approval. If things go wrong, they won’t be blamed because they did what they were supposed to do. And that’s the point: they don’t create problems because they’re well-organized and they consult people.”

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