Business Management US

Recipe for success

James Prunty on why ITIL is the ‘secret sauce’ that aligns IT and business

Pick up almost any information technology (IT) trade magazine published during the past quarter of a century and you will be hard put not to find editorials and case studies decrying the lack of alignment between the IT and business organizations.

Some of these articles lament the lack of business knowledge on the part of IT professionals who cannot communicate effectively or even understand the business (and business customers) they are supposed to serve. Some look at the other side of the equation and place the blame for dysfunctional IT systems and operations with business managers who continually change their specifications, which means the IT department is forced to function in crisis mode 24/7.

The truth is there is plenty of blame to go around. We’ve all met IT professionals who fall in love with the latest and greatest technology, even though it’s untested, expensive, hard to install and difficult to use. And we all know more than our fair share of business managers who are so techno-phobic – or downright lazy – that they hardly know how to use their e-mail, word processing or spreadsheet applications. They’re the ones calling the helpdesk at all hours asking about things they should have learned years ago.

The ironic thing is that after discussing every conceivable aspect of IT/business alignment for the past 25 years, so many smart companies and dedicated IT and business professionals still have not managed to crack the code. And yet the stakes have never been higher. IT and business managers are faced with a daunting array of challenges, including reducing total cost of ownership, increasing return on investment in IT assets, delivering competitive advantage, deploying and integrating IT systems quickly and cost-effectively, meeting service level agreements that guarantee high availability, and recovering rapidly from IT systems failure.

The good news is that more and more companies have found a way to align their IT and business organizations by adopting the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). ITIL is a framework that codifies best practice guidelines in IT service management (ITSM) and delivery learned over many years in organizations around the world.

ITIL best practices help to ensure that the IT department is run like a business and has a keen customer focus. For example, IT managers learn how to ascertain their customer’s business goals and negotiate effective service level agreements. And they learn to solicit customer feedback through surveys, focus groups and the like. The framework is flexible enough that it can be customized to suit the needs of companies in particular industries – for example, pharmaceutical firms that must conform to strict Food and Drug Administration regulations that govern many aspects of their IT operations, or banking and financial services firms that likewise must obey strict government requirements on how they operate and maintain their IT systems and data.

So what exactly is ITIL, and how does it foster alignment between IT and the business? The ITIL framework consists of seven books that provide best practice guidance on the principal IT service management disciplines that support and benefit business activities. When most people speak of ITIL, they are referring to the two ‘main’ books or modules: Service Support and Service Delivery.

Service Delivery provides guidance on how to assess, negotiate and meet service level agreements. It includes disciplines like high availability, capacity management, business continuity and disaster recovery. This module also takes into account the cost of delivering services and helps IT managers make financial management a key part of their service delivery practices. IT managers cannot run IT like a business unless they learn to be good financial managers and know the cost of delivering their IT services and can forecast for their business colleagues the financial impact of changes to SLAs or other service delivery practices.
Service Support outlines best practices in areas like service desk and provides guidance in related disciplines such as incident management, change management, configuration management, problem management, release management and so on. This module speaks to the issues that most directly affect business customers on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, when customers have a problem they call the helpdesk. The quality of the customer experience – and their opinion of the IT department – will be colored by how well the service desk has mastered processes such as incident management, configuration management and the like. Incident management focuses on processes like monitoring systems, detecting incidents, opening and tracking trouble tickets, restoring service and capturing those steps as operational metrics. However, you cannot have a strong incident management practice if your configuration management database is out of kilter. How can you monitor and manage systems if you don’t know which systems you have or how and where they are deployed and used? As with every ITIL module, the processes within the Service Support module are mutually interdependent. If one of them is weak, the others will be negatively affected.
• ICT Infrastructure Management governs the management of the physical IT infrastructure. It begins by helping IT managers learn to determine the infrastructure they will need to meet business requirements, and then moves through the management processes needed to design, deploy and operate that infrastructure. This module addresses issues and prescribes processes that bring IT managers into close proximity and collaboration with their business management colleagues. Indeed, it addresses some of the most challenging issues affecting IT and business alignment, requiring IT managers to understand the business goals and then recommend, design, develop, deploy and manage the infrastructure to meet those goals throughout its lifetime.
Planning to Implement Service Management addresses initial implementation of ITIL on through to issues such as continuous improvement and the impact of culture and organizational change. It also focuses on key business alignment issues by providing guidance on how the IT and business organizations should develop a shared vision statement that determines where they want to go and how they intend to get there. The guidance also speaks to the issue of setting benchmarks and measuring progress toward achieving the shared vision.
Application Management speaks to the entire lifecycle, providing guidance on application development, deployment, performance and so on. Whether IT develops the application in-house or buys it off-the-shelf and deploys it, applications management is one of the most challenging areas in achieving alignment between the IT and business organizations. Numerous studies have documented the fact that it is more common than not for companies to find that their software development and deployment projects fail to meet expectations, whether because they are late, over-budget or fail to deliver promised features and functions. By addressing the entire application lifecycle, this module provides invaluable guidance on how to avoid ‘death march’ projects.
• The Business Perspective volume addresses key issues about the business organization, what IT professionals must understand about its goals and operations, and how they can deliver value through their practice of ITIL and IT service management. The module outlines strategic, tactical and operational linkages between the IT and business operations. By learning business perspective, IT managers are well equipped to couple their organization and culture to that of their business customer.
Security Management provides guidance on everything from planning to managing a highly secure IT environment. Business today is exposed to more security threats than ever before. This module provides valuable guidance on how to minimize vulnerabilities, manage incidents and audit results.

Managing IT in a way that aligns it with the organization’s business goals and practices is one of the most challenging assignments in any organization. IT and business managers in the world’s best managed companies have been trying for more than a quarter of a century to develop methods that would make this job easier and more predictable. Finally, we have at our fingertips a body of best practices that provides expert guidance on the most difficult aspects of this job. ITIL is a godsend to IT managers and their business customers who have been looking all these years for the secret sauce to IT/business alignment.