Best practices, better performance

Infrastructure library helps you clear hurdles of IT management.

The Beatles started it all in the ’60s. Since then, it seems, there has been one British invasion after another. The latest one, however, has a lot of relevance to federal agencies. Invading agency IT shops across the nation is the IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL, a best-practices framework that is now being adopted broadly in big government.

“We are implementing ITIL’s Incident Management processes across all of IT in the help desk and in troubleshooting,” said Jeanette Cook, service level manager at Idaho National Laboratory based in Idaho Falls, an engineering lab supporting the Energy Department in nuclear and energy research, science, and national defense. “It is helping us to restore services faster.”

“ITIL has become the de facto standard for enterprise service delivery processes,” said Thomas Mendel, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. According to Forrester Research, 40 percent of billion-dollar corporations have now adopted ITIL, and that figure will rise to 80 percent within two years.

According to IT consulting firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., an organization can achieve up to a 48 percent reduction in total cost of ownership of IT equipment by fully implementing ITIL. Anecdotal evidence backs up those numbers, according to Gartner.

Policies and standards back ITIL

Further, this system of best practices has been getting support from standards bodies and government policies. The first International Standard (ISO 20000) covering how organizations are to manage IT services is built around ITIL. In addition, the President’s Management Agenda specifically emphasizes the adoption of best practices.

The Office of Management and Budget has published multiple circulars that relate to the adoption of ISO 20000, such as A-123, A-119 and A-76, noted David L. Farris, IT service manager for the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, based in Raleigh, N.C.

“OMB Circular A-119 directs the use of voluntary consensus standards, which ISO 20000/ITIL is and will continue to be,” he said.

It has been nearly two decades since the United Kingdom’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (now called the Office of Government Commerce or OGC) introduced ITIL.

In essence, ITIL is a widely accepted approach to IT service management. But rather than being a standard, ITIL offers a framework of best practices and guidelines. Organizations don’t become “ITIL Certified.” What ITIL provides, though, is a systematic and professional approach to the management of IT service provisioning.

“ITIL is high-level and focuses on what should be done, but doesn’t describe at a detailed level how to do it,” said Gartner research director Ed Holub. “It is important that IT and business executives work together to understand what specific business problems they are trying to resolve, and how ITIL can be an enabler to solving them.”

The ITIL is divided into two main aspects. One is Service Support, which deals with day-to-day operations. This includes Service Desk, Incident Management, Problem Management, Configuration Management, Change Management and Release Management.

The other aspect is Service Delivery, which offers a strategic look at future events that the organization can use to prepare for potential changes. This encompasses Service Level Management, Financial Management, Capacity Management, Continuity Management and Availability Management.

While U.S. corporations are starting to use ITIL, government agencies could end up using it more widely.

“The U.S. federal government is probably better positioned for ITIL than most private-sector organizations, [because its] roles, responsibilities and hand-offs are usually better defined,” said Ron Potter, manager of best practices for TeamQuest Inc. of Clear Lake, Iowa, which provides capacity management software and tools.

My ITIL Idaho

Role-playing might not seem related to ITIL, but that’s exactly how INL became involved. Software giant CA Inc. of Islandia, N.Y., runs an Apollo 13 ITIL simulation role-playing game that is designed to help organizations learn about ITIL. Such role-playing enables teams to learn about managing processes more effectively. The result can be an educational experience that demonstrates the benefits ITIL can offer to both sides of the business.

INL’s Cook attended one of these workshops, and saw the benefit. She said that processes such as incident management tend to become dispersed across multiple divisions and facilities. That makes it hard to see how well, or how badly, that process is actually performing. By breaking the members into the various groups responsible for each aspect of incident management and then simulating an incident, they could clearly see where things were breaking down—and the value of having an agreed-upon process to accomplish incident resolution.

“We had an epiphany—we could observe the bottlenecks and take the right actions to tweak the processes to eliminate them,” Cook said. “That enabled everyone to see the value of ITIL and buy in to the concept of a common language around ITIL.”

She followed that up by bringing in a service management consultant from Castle Rock, Colo.-based LaBounty & Associates Inc., who told INL the same thing—implementing incident management across the entire organization would provide the biggest bang for the ITIL buck.

Despite the training, Cook said that implementation progress is slow, as the lab is in the midst of preparations for the 2008 cybersecurity audit. But she said she finally got three people assigned to ITIL a couple of months back. One is working full-time on INL’s incident management process. And some service level agreements have been set. Meanwhile, training continues.
“Enthusiasm for any ITIL implementation is critical in order to get people to believe in it,” Cook said. “And get your people on the same page via training and workshops.”


USDA’s APHIS unit is a geographically dispersed organization that supports approximately 9,000 customers worldwide via five data centers. These house almost 700 servers—running mainly Windows and Unix.

Although ITIL work began about four years back, Farris reported little progress until Dr. Gregory Parham arrived as the new CIO about nine months ago.

“Modifying a culture to accept best-practice processes such as ITIL is a tremendous change management program in which every level of management needs to be engaged and supportive,” Farris said. “It is our hope that education and awareness will overcome the cultural barriers to acceptance as we move forward.”

Like INL’s effort, this education program is aimed at getting everyone speaking the same language. The agency is being assisted by Pink Elephant, an ITIL consultancy based in Burlington, Ontario.

But Farris admits his agency has a long way to go before achieving any kind of ITIL nirvana.

“ITIL is a journey with no beginning or end. It’s a continuous process improvement program.”