Beginners Guide to ITIL®

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The art of servicing a customer needs certain guidelines, direction and a vision. ITIL® is the leading de-facto standard for delivering services to customers, and is unparalleled in the IT industry. Either there is ITIL or there is nothing else – there are no competitors. I hope you know what ITIL® is or else you are lagging behind by a fair distance.

Read on to find out more about ITIL®, and its significance in today's IT industry.

What is a Service in ITIL®?

A service is a way of supporting customers to achieve their intended goals. This sounds a little complicated, so I hope an example will ease the tension. I have a cellphone; the connection which allows me to make and receive phone calls is a service. The cellphone by itself is not a service (it's a product), but the connection that allows me to achieve my intended goals (like calling a friend) is a service.

Some examples of services in the IT world could be internet service, blackberry service, telephony, and web hosting. Non IT services are landscape maintenance, car washes, cable TV, and trash collection. Remember that any service that a customer receives helps the customer achieve the intended goal of the prescribed service. A trash collection service gets rid of the trash, cable TV connections keeps the customer entertained, and a clean car is the outcome of a car washing service.

What is ITIL®?

ITIL® is an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library®.

ITIL® is a collection of best practices related to managing services, and the inputs that came from various organizations. It guides service provider organizations in setting up services, and running it efficiently and cost effectively. This in turn makes the customer happy, and brings in more business – which is what all organizations are set out to do.

ITIL® was designed initially for infrastructure services alone, like Windows services, mainframes, and storage among others. As it evolved, ITIL® became more and more relevant for application services as well, like providing Microsoft SharePoint services, or maintaining database through SAP.

The abbreviation of ITIL® mentions infrastructure, but ITIL® covers much more than infrastructure, hence the custodians – OGC have decided to keep the name ITIL® and annul its abbreviation.

ITIL® is a certification bestowed upon individuals, and not organizations. Organizations embrace frameworks built on ITIL® such as ISO 20K.

I will demonstrate what ITIL® can do in later sections of this article.

A Brief History of ITIL®

It all started under Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of United Kingdom during the eighties. The cost of IT in the government agencies was not in control with disparate processes ruling the roost.

Central Computer and Telecoms Agency (CCTA) was commissioned to bring down the cost and streamline processes across agencies. It took CCTA 4 years and 8 billion pounds to come up with a set of best practices, it was called Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management Method (GITIMM), conceptually similar to ITIL®. Consultants who were taken on board this project visited a number of private institutions (including IBM) to understand their processes, and how they performed their IT related activities. The processes and activities were passed through a sieve, and the best sets of processes were retained to give birth to ITIL®.

GITIMM, throughout the eighties and early nineties evolved to become ITIL® v1 which consisted of over 30 books.

In 2000, the United Kingdom's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) took over CCTA, and a year later ITIL® v2 was released. V2 sub divided ITIL® as service support and service delivery. Maintenance of services came under service support while putting up a new service or modifying it came under service delivery. This version consisted of 8 volumes.

The subsequent version - ITIL® v3 was published in May 2007, and it provides a holistic view of services. It covers the entire lifecycle of a service – from the nascent stages of strategies through design, transition to live environment and support when services are active.

A major difference between v3 and its predecessors is the inclusion of a continuous improvement phase in the former. This phases stresses on the need for continuous improvement throughout the lifecycle of a service – which makes ITIL® much stronger than what it was envisioned to be.

ITIL® v3 further reduced the number of books to 5, called as the core volumes.

Sometime last year, there were talks of ITIL® v4, but it turned out to be hoax in the end.

How does ITIL® Affect the IT Industry?

I recently attended a conference on IT service management. One of the topics in a debate session was – ITIL® is required in my organization. The team speaking against the topic stressed on the foundation that an organization had to lay in order to support ITIL® processes. You would need funds to develop processes, document, implement and audit them on a regular basis. Support staff needs process trainings, which costs money. As they rightly argued, these are the overheads companies would like to give a miss.

Well, I agree with the team speaking against the topic, but there is more to it than meets the eye. The return on investment (ROI) in implementing ITIL® is multi-fold. Some benefits include:

  • increased uptime of services,
  • better response and resolution rates,
  • enhanced quality of service provided,
  • cutting down the cost of services
  • maybe even passing on the cut backs to the customer which could lead to better customer satisfaction and more business.

These are just a sample of benefits an organization can derive by putting aside a small portion of the budget to be an ITIL® convert.

Example of ITIL® in Action

Let me run this with an example to demonstrate ITIL® capabilities – your internet connection is down. You call in the toll free number provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The call center which receives your call is a derivative of ITIL® – called the service desk. The folks answering your phone call try to fix the issue by asking you to do some basic things like restarting your modem. If they cannot solve the issue, they inform you that somebody else will contact you in the next 8 hours (another concept of ITIL – service level agreement). Your issue gets fixed in the next 2 hours, and you receive a call confirming resolution (final step in incident management process). In the end you are happy as your service is restored within 2 hours, although the person on the phone told you 8 hours (exceeding customer expectations – ITIL again). When you are happy, you spread the good news to your friends and colleagues who believe you and would want to jump onto your ISP.

The call center serves as a medium between the organization and customers -- act as a single point of contact which is one of the goals of service desk.

Technicians do what is necessary to bring the service back to life -- their aim would be to bring the service back at the earliest time (one of the goals of incident management process), even if it means fixing a few glitches at a later point in time. In case they are unable to fix it permanently, they try to apply a temporary workaround and push the case to senior technicians who are a lot more adept with the underlying technology. These senior techs would investigate and find a permanent solution – problem management process in action.

All the activities performed by call center personnel and technicians are recorded on a ticketing tool which provides data as proof for what has been done and serve as inputs for further analysis.

In this example, I have given you a brief sneak peek of what ITIL® looks like on the inside, and how it affects customers on the outside.

Why Should IT Professionals Learn ITIL®?

The IT world we live in is becoming more and more service based by the day. Product organizations want to ensure status quo is maintained on all their products under warranty; and the activities that do not surround their core business area be outsourced.

Maintaining services is generally not a profit making unit of a customer organization. Hence, they would like to keep the costs at a minimal without sacrificing neither the quality nor the customer satisfaction ratings. This unique combination of requirements by a customer organization can most definitely be sufficed by ITIL®. Industry leaders have seen it in action and have bought into it. Most major global corporations are running their services on ITIL®, and this means that IT professionals who are aware and good at ITIL® are in demand.

Secondly, job security is higher with jobs involving ITIL®. In times of recession, product companies would dare to lay off their employees by cutting back on the number of product launches. But, service companies do not have the same luxury. They have made agreements with their customers for a certain number of years, and this translates to holding onto ITIL® professionals in dire times as well.

Embracing ITIL® is the current trend in the industry, and the number of ITIL® IT professionals continues to grow. If you aren't one of them yet, now is the time to get yourself ITIL® trained and certified.

Sign up for a free 3-day trial to get access to TrainSignal's entire training library, including accredited prep for ITIL® v3 Foundations.

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Cabinet Office.

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Abhinav Kaiser

Abhinav Kaiser is a veteran in service and in project managements. He advises businesses, organizations and enterprises on how to build service management framework and deliver value. He is currently penning a book on communication in organizations, specifically aimed at IT departments. He holds PMP, ITIL© V3 Expert and Cobit 5.0 certifications and is an accredited ITIL© trainer.