The Practical Value of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

When well-executed, ITIL can focus an IT organization on business strategy. But ITIL’s processes are only effective if your staff adopts them.

By William Golden

CIO — If you’re considering ITIL or have already launched down the ITIL path, you don’t really need to worry about whether it works. It does. That’s the consensus of members of the CIO Executive Council, many of whom are implementing several stages of ITIL’s 12-process framework. ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a process-based best-practice framework for supporting and delivering IT services. Among its benefits are its ability to improve IT service levels and aid CIOs in helping their staff gain a better understanding of how IT affects the business. That said, implementing ITIL requires significant change management.

Seeing ITIL for What It Is

ITIL is a framework, not a set of instructions to be followed by rote. “ITIL is meant to keep you between the curbs of the road,” says Brent Stahlheber, CIO at The Auto Club Group, a $2 billion automotive travel services organization. Having participated in ITIL and led CMM implementations at his previous employer, Allstate Insurance, Stahlheber cautions CIOs to not get too caught up with the framework itself, but rather to focus on the processes behind it. “People spend way too much time creating complex diagrams instead of understanding the processes and how to best apply them,” says Stahlheber.

When well-executed, ITIL can shift an IT organization’s culture and focus from the technology (how things work) to the business strategy, how the services IT provides affect business performance. But culture change is probably the hardest type of change to manage, and ITIL’s processes are only as effective as the degree to which your staff adopts them.

Ken Yerves, CIO at JM Family Enterprises, an $11 billion Toyota distributor for the Southeast, cites the change in thinking and communication among his staff as ITIL success factors. “We would not have been as successful with ITIL had we not changed the way IT associates viewed the business. We were able to get them to think and talk in business terms,” says Yerves. He laid the foundation for this mind-set by making ITIL part of IT’s strategic plan. He assigned one person to evangelize ITIL, holding town hall meetings with all IT associates. And he incorporated ITIL into performance reviews. Yerves’s ITIL mantra was simple yet powerful: “From servers to service.”

Stahlheber prepared his organization for ITIL by first reorganizing IT from a siloed structure of network, mainframe, desktop and server support functions into one that is aligned with process. This silo structure had perpetuated an IT service perspective in which problems were passed from one group to another, instead of being solved collaboratively. This led to a culture of blame and about 30 outages a month. Now service desk, operations and break-fix processes are spread across three levels of support: triage, diagnosis and root cause analysis. The process-based structure has helped ITIL do its work. Since implementation, Auto Club Group has experienced a decrease in service outages of about 86 percent. All of its infrastructure managers are ITIL Foundation-certified.

How to Get Started

With 12 service management processes, ITIL offers CIOs many starting points. And as is the case with any IT initiative, getting quick wins for customers is important to validate the effort.

ITIL is one of several initiatives to improve process at Capital One, which has received three awards for its success with ITIL from training and consulting firm Pink Elephant. Robert Turner, Capital One’s senior vice president of enterprise technology organization, advises CIOs to “keep it simple, focus on one process at a time and start with simple metrics to help your business partner see value as you go.”

Capital One’s first ITIL implementation was incident management. To make sure IT was focusing on the right processes, Capital One created a global incident severity matrix, which measured IT incidents on a severity scale of zero to five. This helped prioritize problems and provided the opportunity for trend analysis. The tool was also helpful in demonstrating ITIL’s near-term value to the business.

Next came ITIL’s change management, followed by problem management processes, which Turner says allowed IT to provide an immediate lift for the business.

“Once you get incident and change management in place,” Turner advises, “move on to problem management, which allows your staff to conduct root cause analysis across the organization and enables you to move from a reactive approach to proactive maintenance.”

Incident management was also the ITIL starting point for both JM Family and Auto Club Group. Stahlheber established a service desk and single point of contact for all problems, which gave Auto Club Group much better visibility into IT problems occurring across the enterprise. Since then, the company has implemented problem management, change management and performance management and has started on configuration management.

It Works If You Work It

When it comes to managing ongoing ITIL implementation, Council CIOs agree that IT leaders should apply the same standard project management best practices as they would to any other initiative. They should adapt the ITIL framework in a way that makes sense for their business, and be sure to take it one step at a time.

Case Study: How Capital One determined the ROI of its ITIL

Capital One created a business case to clarify its goals and to quantify the value of ITIL. First, IT quantified (in general terms) the net present value of recently deployed IT-enabled products and services, and then, using generally accepted industry metrics, estimated the savings that the improved incident, problem and change management processes would create. This revealed the potential difference between Capital One’s ROI in new products and services with and without ITIL in place.

After the analysis, the implementation of ITIL was estimated to save 10 percent to 20 percent in technology support costs over a five-year period. Actual returns have been higher, according to Robert Turner, senior VP of enterprise technology organization, but it’s difficult to attribute all of the savings directly to ITIL.