Saturday, November 21, 2009

ITIL: The Hitchhiker's Guide to ITIL - Introduction

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to ITIL – EXAM Preparation Guide

Part II of too many ...

So, what is this ITIL thing doing in my back garden?

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of five books (not including “The Official Introduction to the ITIL Service Lifecycle”, which would make it six) that focuses on the management of an IT infrastructure (bits and pieces that process zeros and ones) using a combination of good, better, and best practices.

ITIL provides you with a whole bunch of processes, functions, roles and other service related components that your organization should consider having in place for efficient and effective delivery and support of IT services to your customers.

The ITIL framework is not more and not less than a big, mind-boggling big, set of books. Personally I refer to them as volumes, as this makes more sense when referring to a library. It’s a set of collected good practices and ideas sourced from various public and private based organizations, many of course being operational themselves in service support and service delivery space.

ITIL has received an almost magical (Deity-like) status over the last couple of decades, but in reality it provides you with nothing more and nothing less than the ability to perform a rough-cut sanity and reality check of how well you're managing your IT infrastructure, but guess what, this happens to be exactly what so many organizations seem to need. Something that allows them answering the question:

"What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong and where should we start improving the delivery and support of our IT services, so we can provide maximum value to our customers?"

The librarian is on the move again!

Definition of a "Library": “A place in which literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes, are kept for reading, reference, or lending.” Source:

So, ITIL is the place where we store and maintain today's good practices for where it relates to managing an IT infrastructure in an efficient and effective manner. What's the best way to manage IT and deliver and support IT services to our customers? Well, ITIL answers a large chuck of this question!

The initial library (ITIL v1) that consisted of dozens of books (some say 48, but I prefer the number 42) was published late 80s, with a lot of support from large IT companies (e.g. IBM, EDS, CSC, etc.). The newer revised library (ITIL v2) was released late 90s and currently has 9 volumes in it. The latest release (ITIL v3) contains (as it stands) six volumes: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, Continual Service Improvement, and The Official Introduction to the ITIL Service Lifecycle. The first five volumes are also referred to as the ITIL Core Set, and really make up ITIL v3.

It seems that ITIL revisions have a 10 year refreshment cycle, which means that studying and certifying in ITIL creates long term business and personal benefits, whereas studying for something like a more technical certification scheme has a lifetime of say roughly 18 months (if not superseded earlier). This makes answering the question: “ITIL WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)?” relatively easy. The demand for ITIL (fully interchangeable with Service Management) expertise has been steadily on the increase since ITIL’s inception, and more and more companies are making ITIL certification a prerequisite when employing new staff or career-guiding existing staff.

What do Norwich and Greenwich have in common?

Time starts in Greenwich, but ITIL starts in Norwich! ITIL is developed and maintained by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), located in the United Kingdom (Norwich, Norfolk)(also see Initially it was developed as a guidance/framework to support UK government in doing their business more successfully using fewer resources and creating better results. It was such a success in government that it was soon to become adopted by private organizations and is currently used worldwide as the most successful guidance to setup and maintain IT infrastructures.

Before OGC was known as OGC it was known as CCTA; the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency. Therefore the older ITIL books will carry the CCTA name and not the OGC name. Please realize it is the same organization – well – almost that is. If there’s anyone out there with old ITIL v1 books I’m more than happy to receive them, being a weird collector myself. Some people collect stamps – it seems this author collects IT Service Management memorabilia and artifacts. Yeah, I know, it's weird, very weird!

Framework versus Standard

ITIL is a framework; it is not and will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, become a methodology. It is a flexible, tailorable, twistable, bendable, tweak-able, customizable (I ran out of words here) set of guidelines and extremely useful (if not mind-boggling fantastic and sometimes incredible) ideas. It is based upon proven good and world's best practices. It is not a theoretical bookwork written by an ninety-five year old professor that works in a dusty corner of a long forgotten part of a mostly unseen University (read Terry Pratchett), but it’s based on current work practices.

Even if you decide to use only one third of a page of one of the many ITIL volumes to make a small business or IT improvement, then you are still using ITIL. ITIL is not about quantity, ITIL is about quality! Believe me, a lot of organizations don't get this and believe they have to implement all of ITIL at once.

You can never be fully compliant to ITIL, but you can sure try to be compatible to the framework. For all those organizations out there calling themselves ITIL compliant, or calling their tools ITIL compliant: “You’re just being plain silly!”

There’s no such thing as being ITIL compliant. You cannot be compliant to a highly dynamic and customizable framework, but you can be compliant to a standard like ISO/IEC 20000. Compatible to ITIL? Yes! Compliant to ITIL? No! Only organizations (or parts thereof - depending on the agreed scope) can become "fully" compliant (read officially accredited by an certified auditing organization) to the ISO/IEC 20000 standard, unfortunately there is as yet no international accepted standard to benchmark ITSM tools (ITSM tool-sets) against, although some proprietary services are offered.

ITIL is not a bible (although some seem to think it is); it’s a tool to long lasting success, and the volumes, once thoroughly read, can also make your desk stop wobbling, depending under which leg you put them.

ITIL is not a destination, but a journey to success! Sounds like a load of waffle? Yes, it does, but does this really matter if it allows you to save your sanity, valuable dollars, and sometimes even your business?

ITIL provides you with a checklist of what and what not to do, and who really cares where the information comes from when it prevents you from making costly mistakes and reinventing wheels?

The fairy tale of the ITIL out-of-the-box implementation

There is no such thing as the ITIL implementation! An ITIL implementation will depend on many factors such as politics, stakeholders, support, complexity, size, attitude, geography, technology, people, goals, time, commitment, vision, involvement, quick wins, roadblocks, resources available (especially money) and much, much more within an organization. In other words: “IT DEPENDS!” Where Douglas Adam uses the words “DON’T PANIC!” on his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I would like to print or at least you, the reader, to visualize the words “IT DEPENDS!” on a sparkling glittering cover of this Hitchhiker’s Guide to ITIL.

Don’t expect ITIL to be your own personal Oracle, as it will not give you all the answers you’ll be looking for, and definitely does not go into a whole lot of details. ITIL is relatively high-level – the detailed design and implementation, well my dear reader, that’s your own challenge!

Building your own house

Just like a house needs sewerage, foundation, walls and a roof. Information Technology (IT) needs planning, support and proper understanding of services that are delivered to the customers and users. Although all houses need a front-door (Service Desk), you can still decide on the color, material and size of that door. In other words, ITIL gives you the framework/skeleton/coat-hanger and you fill in the details based upon your own specific requirements and personal preferences. The framework is always the same, the differences exist in the interpretation and implementation of the framework.

Some organizations like Microsoft have already filled in many of these details for a specific Microsoft Windows environment and have called their specific ITIL interpretation the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). Nowadays most large IT organizations (read vendors/suppliers) offer their tailored versions of ITIL as one of their value-adding services.

Please realize that these tailored versions will not always match your specific needs and may not be suitable in cross-platform environments. ITIL is typically used as the overarching umbrella framework on which all tailored Service Management versions depend on for their existence. It’s like the queen-ant (I told you before I like crawling critters), which has lots and lots of offspring, or maybe you can refer to it as the Rosetta stone, as it allows you to translate business best practices to your organization.

Everyone should speak Dutch!

ITIL puts a lot of emphasis on using the right terminology and definitions. It makes it a lot easier if we all speak the same language. There is a huge difference between Customers and Users, and Incidents and Problems. We do need to get the terminology and definitions right in order to prevent Babylonian speech. We don’t have a universal translation device, such as the Babel fish that you can simply stick in your ear, or some high tech Star Trek device that will translate from Martian into an Arabic language (although it seems these devices are currently becoming available), so we must somehow agree on the language we use within IT management space.

This is exactly one of the many spots where ITIL fits in, and it might be the very reason why you are reading this manual at this very moment in space and time. This guide contains the most important ITIL terminology and definitions you will need to know of to pass your ITIL Foundation Exam. Let’s all start to communicate more effectively and efficiently by using the same IT language: the ITIL language.

“Ik kan natuurlijk ook lekker Nederlands gaan tikken, maar dat werkt niet zo goed als jullie moedertaal engels is!” (Translating this is your homework for tonight)

Of course personally I don't exactly understand why many of these so called frameworks based on good, better and best practices keep changing some of the core terminology and language. It seems many just need to find a reason to flog their latest books to the public in order to maintain their very existence. This is wrong and should not be allowed to happen. If a common language is accepted by the public, and there is no need to change, then it should not be changed.

Processes, Functions, and Roles

ITIL is mainly process based, not functional, although ITIL (especially in version 3) also seems to cover some basic functions. Processes are typically (but not always have to be) cross-functional; it’s rather rare for a full process to reside in one function, although this occasionally occurs (especially in smaller IT organizations).

When establishing processes people in various functions (business units) will have to come down from their ivory towers and will have to start working together to make something happen (i.e. manufacturing an airplane). Let’s all work together sounds pretty straightforward and the common sense thing to do, but what’s common sense to most people, is commonly not done at all! We all “love, admire and respect” our colleagues, now don’t we?

A process is an example of a closed-loop system because it provides change and transformation towards a goal and utilises feedback for self-reinforcing and self-corrective action. It’s measurable, it provides specific results, it has customers, and it responds to a specific event. It’s the stuff that’s set in action and delivers something to someone. It the stuff we do to achieve things!

The following 5 ITIL core volumes are discussed in this summary:
  • Service Strategy

  • Service Design

  • Service Transition

  • Service Operation

  • Continual Service Improvement

It's all about synergy

All ITIL processes have strong relationships with all the other ITIL processes, and all ITIL functions have strong relationships with all the other ITIL functions. Synergy will occur when these relationships are fine-tuned to the specific conditions of the organization where ITIL is implemented.

None of the ITIL processes or functions will perform optimally in isolation: the sum of all functions and processes integrated is larger than all individual functions or processes implemented in isolation.

So, ITIL is about creating synergy! It’s a buzzword, but it’s definitely true. ITIL is all about creating synergy.

Friction and overlap

The ITIL processes are like tectonic plates. Sometimes they nicely connect with each other, sometimes they overlap without too much friction and sometimes they collide with heaps of friction, and cause an organizational earthquake. By assigning the proper roles and responsibilities to the appropriate people and exercising monitoring and control, friction can be kept to an absolute minimum.

However an organization without friction doesn’t exist – that’s stuff for fantasy stories! It’s the ability to recognize friction and dealing accordingly with it that separates an effective and efficient organization from an immature organization.

Efficiency and effectiveness

So, what are efficiency and effectiveness?
  • Efficiency: Achieving an outcome using minimal resources (time, money, materials, and people)! Doing things right! Sending an email to someone is typically a lot more efficient (faster) than using the manual and labor intensive postal services (hence the terminology snail-mail).

  • Effectiveness: The ability to achieve outcome! Doing the right things! Selling a blue car to someone who is actually after a pushbike is not very effective.

ITIL's value

ITIL is all about
  • increasing quality of services

  • managing (if possible decreasing) the costs of delivering these services and

  • ensuring that the services are aligned with the business needs and (future) business direction.

This is in a nutshell what ITIL all comes back to, it is fundamental, it is core to ITIL, and written between all the lines in the ITIL books! It is also the reason why so many organizations worldwide have embraced ITIL and are currently reaping its benefits. It's basically using the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM), but this time giving it the name ITIL and focusing more on the integration of TQM and the IT environment.

Can you afford not managing your IT infrastructure?

The continuous improvement of quality of services is safeguarded when Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s model of continuous quality improvement or total quality management (TQM) is followed. Dr. W. Edwards Deming ( tells us we should Plan first, Do the things we have planned, Check (monitor/measure) whether or not we’re doing the right things (effective), and things right (efficient), and if not take appropriate corrective action (Act). These four key activities (Plan, Do, Check and Act) should be carefully monitored using internal (self-assessments) or external quality reviews (audits) and supported with the right standards, policies, process descriptions, procedures, work instructions, and job descriptions (Quality Assurance).

Formalized standards are available to gauge and benchmark (compare to other organizations) your IT Service Management’s maturity.

These standards are known as:
  • BS15000 (UK)

  • AS8018/BS15000 (Australia) and

  • ISO/IEC 20000 (Global).

Again, you cannot be compliant to ITIL, as ITIL is only a set of good, if not excellent, ideas, but you can be compliant to a recognized IT Service Management standard, such as ISO/IEC 20000. Many tool providers claim they are compliant to ITIL – I guess some of them don’t really get the picture that ITIL is a framework and not a standard. Your tools are compatible with the framework's ideas, but they're not compliant and will never be.

The journey

Short-term, the road to pure vanilla-cream ITIL can be perceived to be too time-consuming, expensive, bureaucratic, curved, filled with roadblocks and painful, but medium to long-term it almost always turns into a success where all the painful obstacles will belong to history and real benefits will be visible, measurable and tangible, to all involved.

When embarking on the ITIL journey, it is not the cobbled road we travel on, but the divine destination that should drive our motivation and passion. Sounds a bit heavy doesn’t it? Just start to use ITIL and you will see what’s meant with this statement.

Okay, enough now! Let’s start to look at ITIL v3 in more detail.

Live long and prosper

Nanoo... Nanoo...


ITIL ® is a Registered Trade Mark, and a Registered Community Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce, and is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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