ITIL needn't be an all-or-nothing pursuit, GSA CIO Casey Coleman says. Agencies can expect improvements by undertaking "one or two practice areas at a time."

Feb 10 2011

The ITIL Ideal

Agencies explore this pathway to consolidated, top-notch IT services and support.
Photo: Gary Landsman
ITIL needn't be an all-or-nothing pursuit, GSA CIO Casey Coleman says. Agencies can expect improvements by undertaking "one or two practice areas at a time."

Return on investment can turn heads, even when the catalyst for that ROI is a fairly arcane IT management strategy.

Return on investment can turn heads, even when the catalyst for that ROI is a fairly arcane IT management strategy.

Consider the example of the General Services Administration’s IT support consolidation effort, which applied the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology over several years to collapse more than three dozen contracts into one super-support infrastructure.

The savings? $19 million. Every year.

“Combining 40 contracts into one cut $59 million in annual costs down to $40 million,” says Ted Stehney, assistant inspector general for auditing in the agency’s Office of Inspector General, which evaluated the ITIL implementation. “It was a logical step.”

For the novice, ITIL can seem daunting. The ever-evolving approach to IT management, which originated in Great Britain and is based on a set of publications in five key areas (Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement), acts as a guide to improving delivery of IT services.

But don’t be fooled, says GSA CIO Casey Coleman: “ITIL is not simply a back-office technical initiative. It can and should lead to improvements in customer service, customer satisfaction, and improved service delivery and quality.”

For agencies, using ITIL processes can definitely improve IT efficiency and services, adds Ed Holub, ­Gartner research vice president and role service director for IT infrastructure and operations. ITIL can help agencies catalog their services and comes in particularly handy when dealing with shared-­services initiatives, he says.

GSA is not the only agency that’s convinced ITIL makes a difference. “The government right now is the largest purchaser of ITIL services, consulting, training and integration,” says Rick Lemieux, vice president of sales, business development and marketing at itSM Solutions, an ITIL training and consulting company. “They’re an early adopter in this space.”

But what are the critical factors for success? Here, users and experts share must-dos for agencies making their way along the ITIL path.

Assess Your Situation First

It’s crucial to create an initial organizational profile that maps out every role and responsibility for the IT services in question, Lemieux says. “A lot of organizations skip that step, or they get consultants to do it. You have to learn to do it yourself because the consultants go away.”

When getting started, it’s critical to list the problem areas so that everyone understands the key issues, adds Bob Haycock, a management consultant and former federal CIO. That will allow the agency to apply the part of ITIL that will lead to the most-needed improvements first, he says. With the way ITIL is set up, “you don’t have to go in order. Identify the areas you can put into practice.”

The initial assessment establishes the baseline of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses, Holub says. It creates a ruler against which to measure that coveted ROI. Once in place, organizations can do follow-up maturity assessments at regular intervals. “That way,” he says, “management knows the gains are measurable.”

Choose Your Focus

“ITIL is best implemented in small incremental steps,” Coleman points out. It makes sense to do “one or two practice areas at a time, rather than implementing all practice areas at once.”

As Haycock notes, many organizations don’t start at ITIL’s first set of guidelines (the Service Strategy phase), but choose other phases.

“Service Strategy can seem academic, and it’s fairly intimidating,” Holub explains. “Service Operations or Transition can deliver tangible benefits easier.” But don’t forget change management, he says, because making changes in one area can cause ripple effects in other areas.

“The biggest problems for many agencies are managing their services,” Haycock says, “especially their help desk capability, or what ITIL calls Service Desk or Service Management.” That’s often the first place agencies start when improving management practices.

Realize that One Size Does Not Fit All

Each of the five phases of ITIL has a set of processes from which an organization can choose, and no two instances of ITIL are the same. “The basics might be the same, but the details will be different,” Lemieux says.

Plus, ITIL itself continues to evolve, says Scott George, Enterprise Services Center account manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Systems Management Facility data center in Oklahoma City. The FAA data center began adopting ITIL Version 2 five years ago by creating policies, processes and procedures to meet business and customer needs. Then they added additional IT Service Management processes.

“Each business needs to evaluate what their objectives and goals are,” George says, “to make an informed decision whether to adopt all or some of the processes.”

Ultimately, the FAA data center found that all ITIL processes fit its framework. Now, George says, “all of the IT Service Management processes serve a daily purpose for our customers and stakeholders.”

Win Over Management

Management must be on board to support and fund ITIL adoption, says Lemieux, or efforts will only go so far. “ITIL is an enterprisewide initiative, and everyone has to be involved,” he says.

The People Challenge

40% of respondents said implementing ITIL requires extensive cultural change. Improved Quality of Service Respondents identified a service bump as the #1 driver for pursuing ITIL.

SOURCE: Gartner’s annual data center survey, December 2010

Two issues will be para­mount to the agency’s executives, says Drew Jaehnig, chief of the IT Service Management Office at Defense Information Systems Agency: They will want to know about ROI possibilities and why there’s a need to implement widespread process change.

That’s why it’s critical for the IT team to be prepared, Jaehnig says. “Don’t give leadership the ROI until you’ve done an analysis of what the process should look like,” he says. “You don’t want to guarantee returns that are off base.”

Win Over Workers, Too

Obviously, if processes change, there will likely be changes that also affect the people within the organization. “ITIL is a people change initiative and a cultural change initiative,” Gartner’s Holub says.

Finding a champion or sponsor for ITIL is essential, he says. The champion should be someone who has institutional knowledge or who can tap into it, but who also has access to information about the agency’s future or planned needs.

“Understanding the people change side is where most of the pitfalls come in,” Holub says. “People, down to first-level management, need to support ITIL and not see it as more forms and more bureaucracy.”

To read more on ITIL certification, go to

To gain that support, don’t try to win hearts and minds up front, DISA’s Jaehnig says.

“It’s almost insulting to staff, who are performing miracles every day, to talk about how badly you’re doing,” Jaehnig says. “Overcoming cultural dysfunction is a management failure. It has nothing to do with staff.” Understanding that is the first step toward cultural change, he says.

Develop the processes that will make people’s jobs easier; that’s the way to win buy-in from the masses. “As we deliver results, it gets easier and easier,” Jaehnig says, “especially for those folks who benefit the most from process reform.”




<p>Photo: Gary Landsman</p>