Business Management US

ITIL certification: the next generation

The nature of technology-based services is in a constant state of flux, posing challenges to all practitioners to maintain currency in their respective service areas.

Demonstrating the value of investment in professional development opportunities for growth and currency is equally challenging, argues James Prunty.

According to the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Dr Roy Swift, certification and credentialing programs “have become widely recognized as effective tools for universally and consistently qualifying and recognizing the competence and proficiency of personnel.” While ‘certified’ is the most commonly used term for a formal professional credential, some organizations use accredited, registered, approved, qualified and (usually in cases where a regulatory body is involved) licensed.

The certification is generally structured based upon five elements: 1) the definition or ‘scope’ of the certification; 2) whether certification will be mandatory or voluntary; 3) the goals of the certification in terms of specific skills; 4) the breadth and depth covered by the particular certification; and 5) the benefits and pitfalls of certification for individuals and their industry as a whole.

As service management has emerged within IT as its own profession, the need for a full range of certifications that substantiate educational level, employment experience and successful completion of professional development programs has increased. While certification is not a guarantee of satisfactory performance by every practitioner, hiring certified workers and managers affords some degree of assurance that staff are qualified and demonstrates a good-faith effort on the part of the organization to maintain high levels of quality and performance in their operations. With the implementation of standards such as ANSI/ISO/IEC 17799 and ISO/IEC 20000, it becomes imperative for some organizations to employ certified professionals to ensure compliance with those standards. This is also driven in large part by requirements to comply with such regulations as Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

In most certification schemes, training organizations and certification providers are accredited by a responsible authority and are accountable to the industry for the service based on a set of standards provided. Typically, these programs establish a minimum standard of knowledge that is consistent among practitioners. Employers can rely upon the certification as evidence that the employee has met the competency requirements with successful completion of the certification program. In some cases, certification programs involve specific training and education beyond a typical college program of study.

For the individual practitioner without certification, employment opportunities may become more limited. Certification elevates the perceived value and credibility and thus enhances the professional identity of the certificate-holder.

Employers of professionals who complete certification programs reap equivalent rewards in terms of being able to assert enhanced consistency and quality of performance. Achieving corporate certifications may also be easier because employee certification serves as evidence of required training. These certifications signify to the customer that the team working on their project has a demonstrated, verifiable skill set within a specified body of knowledge.

Surveys have indicated that there is a high correlation between a certification’s ROI and the percentage of solution providers willing to pay the cost for practitioners to maintain their certifications. For example, many defense contractors filling positions will score applicants with a relevant certification higher than those without such a credential.

For some employers, human resources best practices look to certification as a requirement for filling positions in certain technical areas. The marketing for business and services stress the competence of service providers by their professional accreditation. With the growth of the ITIL framework in service management here in the US, we are already seeing ITIL certification requirements in corporate recruiting job descriptions.

Two major initiatives are about to change the landscape of IT service management (ITSM) worldwide. The first is the recent contract award by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to the APM Group as the new accreditation body for ITIL under the OGC’s Commercial Activities Recompetition (CAR). Under the new contract, the APM Group Ltd (APMG), which specializes in the accreditation of training organizations and the certification of people within a range of industries and management disciplines, will have authority to establish and control the processes by which practitioners achieve certification. They will also be responsible for enforcing the intellectual property rights of the OCG. Training providers and examination institutes are still in negotiations with APMG and OGC to determine the full scope of the changes that will take place between January 1 and June 30, 2007, with regard to the existing ITIL body of knowledge, frequently referred-to as ITIL Version 2.

The second is the development of ITIL Version 3, also known as ITIL Refresh. This work is reported to be on-target for publication in the first quarter of 2007. Once published, it is estimated that it will be an additional eight months before the certification scheme and training can be developed and implemented. The core content of the existing body of knowledge will be assimilated into the ITIL Refresh work ensuring the value of existing certifications. Considerable additional material covering such areas as business alignment and lifecycle planning will afford opportunities for enhancing the breadth of available professional development and certification.

Change management in ITSM refers to both cultural change and technological change. We need to establish for the benefit of all stakeholders a good understanding of the changes between the existing program and the new program. Certification program outcomes are positive when certification develops with care and thoroughness. By working to meet the needs the of the industry while providing opportunities to the practitioner community to maintain currency and enhance their skills, we add value and bring about positive change that benefits customers, service providers and practitioners.

Both leadership and line operational management continually need to update their skills to take advantage of evolving best practices and standards to manage environments that require different approaches, different ways of thinking and different structures. Certification provides evidence of and underpins those skills.

James Prunty is the Executive Director of itSMFUSA, headquartered in Pasadena, California.