ITIL was developed by the British Government in the 1980s as a framework to standardize the way that information technology departments operate. Practitioners in ITIL use a set of best practices to enhance the efficiency and improve the experiences and satisfaction of the end users of their systems, and to maximize the value delivered to the organization.
ITIL establishes a common organizational structure for information technology departments that is separated into four groups, called functions; IT Operations Management, Technical Management, Applications Management and Service Desk (routinely called the help desk in many organizations). The offerings of the IT department, which are decided upon by the business, are referred to as services, which are documented in a catalog. Services in themself become valuable with agreed upon service levels that are documented and adhered to in service level agreements.
Services are conceived, developed, implemented, supported and improved through the five stages of the ITIL lifecycle – Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement, respectively. Throughout the lifecycle, there are various defined roles, processes and best practices that focus IT professionals on supporting the mission of the business. ITIL is customer oriented, not technology focused. During an ITIL implementation, the dissimilar structures found in the remnants of MIS groups that developed as data processing was revolutionized in the past two decades are transformed into standardized, effective bodies.
A comparison can be made to the way fast food restaurants operate; perhaps the McDonaldization of computer departments. If you walk into a McDonalds or other fast food restaurant – perhaps the pinnacles of service management, you know exactly what to do. You walk up to the cashier (service desk) and place an order, there is a catalog (the food they offer with the price clearly displayed) for you to chose from, and there are policies, processes, procedures and work detail that are strictly adhered to so that you receive what you ordered in a consistent manner regardless of which location you happen to be at.
What would happen if they decided to shut the grill down and clean during peak lunch or dinner hours? What if you saw their newest menu offering advertised on television only to find that the cashier had no idea what you were talking about, or if the staff had no idea how to prepare it? Or if menu items were routinely unavailable or did not taste the way that you expected it to?
The results are obvious; you would be an unhappy customer and the business would lose money on your transaction, and potentially you as a future revenue source. The standardized framework and methods that are deployed to each restaurant, their capabilities, enable them to maintain uniformity even with a low skilled, transient workforce, their resources.
Unlike the fast food industry, IT departments are composed of highly educated, skilled professionals, and minimizing attrition is a critical factor for success since the loss of an employee includes the loss of their accumulated systems knowledge and experience. Nevertheless, for a moment, apply the thought pattern to IT – policy, process, procedure and work detail, standardized and methodical.
When a user ‘s service has been disrupted or they need something, they call a central point of contact, the service desk, and the technician attempts to quickly resolve their difficulty and restore service. In the case of a fulfillment, such as a need for a toner cartridge, password reset, access to a resource or instructions on how to accomplish a task, the technician services their needs by following a set of documented, pre-approved and authorized procedures.
Behind the scenes, there is a set of operating procedures and work detail instructions that make sure that computer systems are running according to agreed upon service levels, that changes are strictly controlled, that documentation is developed and maintained, and unless absolutely necessary, changes are applied at the most opportune time to the business with minimal disruption to services.
Whether a customer is having a meal prepared for them or using a sophisticated information system, their objective is actually quite similar. The customers want the services without the ownership and risks of the infrastructure that delivered that service to them. And if they are not satisfied with the service that they receive, they will find it elsewhere; in these examples, a different restaurant, or a service provider outside of the organization.