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The Future of the Future: The role of ITIL in building the enterprise of the future

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This article appears in the issue January 2007 [Volume 16, Issue 1]


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In an ever-flattening world, organizations must quickly learn and adapt to changes in the marketplace. While we have become better at implementing new business processes, changing IT remains slow and difficult. To make matters worse, organizations have become totally dependent on their IT infrastructure. The result: That which we depend on the most is the very thing that slows us down. Fortunately, the upcoming version of IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides a powerful framework for making IT more responsive to business needs. Developed by the U.K. Office of Government Commerce (OGC), the ITIL is an important ingredient in building the enterprise of the future (enterpriseofthefuture.org).

Sustained high levels of business performance are not possible without high-quality IT services. That means transforming the IT department into a true learning organization, where new knowledge is quickly generated, freely shared and correctly applied. Increased pricing pressure, due to commoditization and disintermediation, adds to the problem. We must continually find ways to improve the quality of IT services, while reducing costs.

The stovepiped organization

One of the major challenges facing CIOs is aligning IT with business strategy and processes. That has proven extremely difficult, due in large part to organizational stovepiping. In the example shown in Figure 1 (Page 22, KMWorld, Vol 16, Issue 1), each organizational component typically has its own data and applications, and, in the case of many large organizations, its own IT infrastructure. That condition also exists in many IT organizations (see Figure 2) Page 22, KMWorld, Vol 16, Issue 1).

Stovepiping is a major reason for the slow responsiveness of IT to business requirements. Such fragmentation breeds lack of ownership and accountability, particularly in matters concerning customer service. In today's competitive environment, individual IT processes must now share knowledge in a systematic and standardized way.

On the back end, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have made progress integrating data across departments. However, those systems tend to be cumbersome and very difficult to customize, especially when attempting to accommodate changes in business processes.

ITIL as a unifying framework

ITIL is organized around a global knowledge-sharing community aimed at developing and sharing best practices in IT services. It has relevance to the enterprise of the future in a number of ways. First, ITIL focuses on direct value to business service management. IT is meant to serve business, not vice versa.

Second, accommodating rapid change is a major thrust of ITIL, which makes it a key enabler of an agile enterprise. Third, ITIL supports the migration to service-oriented architecture. The knowledge economy is primarily service-oriented, so it follows logically that the underlying IT infrastructure should be as well.

Finally, ITIL is helping to drive the convergence of information management and knowledge management through processes, databases and organizational structures.

It not only supports the sharing of actionable information among business processes, it mandates it.

ITIL Version 3, scheduled for completion in mid-2007, consists of five main areas or core texts. Figure 3 (Page 23, KMWorld, Vol 16, Issue 1) illustrates how the processes within a traditional IT organization would be enhanced by those five areas.

Rapid response

Figure 4 (Page 23, KMWorld, Vol 16, Issue 1) provides an example of how ITIL breaks down organizational stovepipes and makes IT more business-responsive. An incident occurs, adversely impacting a critical function. ITIL provides a single point-of-entry to report the incident. An incident manager reviews it and determines, based on available knowledge, how to recover from the error in the fastest possible way. That may involve a quick fix or workaround, because the function is critical, along with an escalation to the next level. The quick fix is recorded and monitored. At the same time, the problem resolution process is activated, to seek a more permanent solution. A root cause analysis is performed, and the type and cause of the error are determined.

Next, a request for change (RFC) record is generated, which triggers the change management process. At that level, all RFCs are filtered, prioritized, categorized and assessed for risk and impact. Once a change has been formulated, the release management process is initiated, and the change is implemented. To ensure the knowledge cycle continues, a post implementation review (PIR) is performed, which captures lessons learned, evaluates the efficacy of the change and makes recommendations for similar situations in the future.

At each of those steps, knowledge is generated, shared and applied. The transfer of knowledge among the various processes is enabled by a common language and a shared configuration management database (CMDB). In addition to federating other databases such as availability management, capacity management, etc., the CMDB can also reconcile, synchronize, map and visualize a vast array of configuration items.

The ITIL-enabled enterprise

The ultimate goal is to incorporate this new way of doing business throughout the enterprise (see Figure 5, Page 23, KMWorld, Vol 16, Issue 1). IT now becomes truly foundational, supporting the business, and not vice versa. Given today's industry clock speeds, changes in business strategy must be supported by changes in IT, without the usual delays. That increase in performance comes with a cost. In almost all cases, the resulting performance will follow a J-curve pattern, in which there will be a temporary reduction in process efficiency, while the organization adjusts to the new system.

That requires making short-term sacrifices in exchange for long-term gains. The alternative, which is to continue business as usual, means a steady loss in the ability to compete, and ultimately being rendered irrelevant. .


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