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ITIL -- What network managers need to know

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an IT service management framework surrounded by industry best practices. This tip answers questions that network managers may have about implementing ITIL and explains how it can be beneficial to networking.

If you're a network manager, you may have heard some interest from upper management in implementing ITIL. Here's...

why you shouldn't be afraid.…

In its third iteration, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an IT service management framework surrounded by industry best practices. Developed in the late 1980s by the British government in conjunction with a number of industry experts, ITIL is now considered the industry standard for IT best practices.

The first version was highly technical and addressed topics such as cabling infrastructure strategy, computer installation acceptance, and network services management. The second version took a higher-level view, integrating the technical pieces into a service management framework with components such as service delivery and service support. The recently released third version takes an even higher-level view, integrating IT and business processes with the core components discussed later in this article.

What's so great about ITIL?

ITIL is a collection of best practices wrapped around a framework. It recognizes that each organization has its own set of strengths, talents and culture, so it is designed to be very flexible. ITIL helps IT organizations:

  • Customize workflows, functions and processes to best fit their particular organization.
  • Define and document IT workflows, functions and processes needed to support and sustain business processes.
  • Define roles and responsibilities so people understand what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the success of their organization.

What does this mean to the network manager?

The current ITIL version takes a service lifecycle approach. That means the applications and infrastructure staffs work with the business to plan, build and run IT services that enhance business processes and invoke decommissioning processes when services cease to provide value. Network managers and others are an important part of the design phase because they know in advance what is coming at them, why it is being done, and what they need to do to make it happen.

For example, you will be present when the business proposes purchasing an application designed for local LAN and they want to roll it out to 24 offices in six countries. You will be in a position to raise the technical issues before the application is purchased. The business will understand the impact of latency and probably look elsewhere. And if they don't, at least you are aware and can ensure that service levels are set appropriately and that you have the funding to buy the technologies needed to mitigate the technical constraints.

After an organization implements ITIL, network management roles will be well defined along the lines of the ITIL core components:

  • Service strategy
  • Service design
  • Service transition
  • Service operation
  • Continuous service improvement

In each phase, you will know the source of the input to your workflows, what steps you need to take, the output of the work, and to whom it goes. The goal is to achieve repeatable, quality processes that deliver value to the business within agreed-upon timeframes.

Everyone will know their roles and responsibilities, and dropped hand-offs will be the exception rather than the rule. Each time you perform a network-related task for a project, such as a configuration change, you will get the information you need from documented sources with sufficient lead time. You will perform a documented workflow and hand it off to the next group in an expected manner and format once the work is completed.

More ITIL resources

ITIL defined (with further resources)

The ITIL Open Guide

Wikipedia's definition of ITIL provides details of the v2 framework

The ITIL Community Forum: An interactive portal; includes frequently asked questions about ITIL

Introduction to ITIL: TeamQuest's downloadable PDF whitepaper

ITIL implementation challenges and benefits

From a service delivery perspective, levels of service are defined and agreed upon. Metrics to measure service are defined in ways that portray business benefits and impact. Perception is no longer a valid measurement of service performance.

When a call center worker has a bad day and calls you complaining of bad response times, you have the tools and data to assure her that response times are the same today as they were yesterday and the week before, and remain well within the levels management agreed upon and was willing to fund. Without the tools and data, all you can do is react to the call.

ITIL promotes an increased proactive approach to IT service management. The problem-management process analyzes outages and commissions work to alleviate them. This work frees the information worker to focus on more fruitful tasks such as performance tuning, capacity planning and research into future technologies that could provide the business with a competitive advantage if implemented in a timely fashion.

The same tools you use to troubleshoot that application response time issue can be used to analyze historical data proactively and see, for example, that network utilization will exceed your CIR in the next 90 days, so you can take action to prevent network slowdown. This time it might be tuning a misbehaving application, and next time it will be adding capacity. In all cases, these processes and best practices permit you to take deliberate actions that increase business value, be it customer satisfaction, cost, productivity or service quality.

Yes, implementing ITIL brings change, but it also provides benefits to you, the network manager. Meaningful and measurable metrics will be put in place to quantify your team's success. All IT organizations that interface with you will understand their roles and responsibilities toward you and will understand the value that you and your workflows bring to the success of the organization as a whole.

Is it easy to implement ITIL? Absolutely not. Like any worthwhile endeavor, it requires persistence and hard work. I have been through the process and, believe me, it's worth it. My company enjoyed a number of cost and service improvement benefits, so don't be afraid of ITIL. In the long run, it will make your job easier and the work more manageable, and the business will appreciate your value.

Ron Potter

About the author:
Ron Potter has been involved in IT for more than 30 years, working in a number of different roles and industries. Before retiring, he was closely involved with a multi-year IT improvement project at a large insurance company that embraced the ITIL framework and its best practices. He established a capacity-modeling process, working closely with business, applications and infrastructure teams. He is currently working part-time spoiling grandchildren and, when not tackling that tough assignment, he is Best Practices Manager at TeamQuest Corporation.

This was last published in November 2007

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