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Is ITIL the key to happiness and contentment?

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Reg Reader Studies Imagine a world in which users are always happy and everyone in IT is treated with the respect and admiration they deserve. This blissful state of affairs has come about because IT maintains a deep understanding of what the business needs, consistently delivers systems on time and within budget, and solves problems quickly and efficiently when users need help thereafter.

This is the world defined by industry best practices, blueprints for how to do IT right that are sweeping across the industry and harmonising business and IT operations wherever they touch.

Well, that’s the theory, and often what’s preached by consulting firms looking to sell you best practice implementation services. IT vendors using compliance with specific best practices as a product differentiator or reason to upgrade often tell the same story.

If we put this vested interest noise to one side, however, the whole best practice discussion is nowhere near as cut and dried as many would have us believe. This is an area explored by the latest Reg Reader survey, which reveals some interesting findings about how much organisations are taking best practices on board and the results they are achieving, particularly in the area of IT support.

First the good news. The research suggests that best practice guidelines such as ITIL, COBIT and various ISO equivalents are starting to be embraced by larger organisations and seem to be delivering good results. Indications are, for example, that end user satisfaction can be elevated by more than 35% on average by fully implementing a best practice framework.

But it is also possible for big companies to achieve positive results, albeit less dramatic, by just “cherry picking” selected ideas from guidelines they think are most relevant, rather than going for full-blown implementation. This selective and less formal approach, in fact, seems to actually be more effective than full adoption for midsize organisations. Anecdotal feedback suggests this is because process-heavy frameworks like ITIL that were originally designed for managing the scale and complexity of larger environments can often be overkill.

Not surprisingly, the level of industry best practice adoption is particularly low among smaller organisations with less than 200 employees. Apart from the perceived lack of relevance, finding the time and resource to implement best practices also stands in the way of adoption at this level.

The following freeform comments received from readers illustrate some of the challenges:

“Simply finding the time with the staff available”

“Finding a good reason to implement them other than for the sake of it, also tailoring it to fit the business, and most importantly identifying the benefits you want to realise before you implement”

“Changing processes and procedures without impacting support levels”

“Sometimes strict models like ITIL just don’t fit the real world exactly. It’s a case of using the processes and acknowledging that there’s value to be had, but the processes need tailoring for specific implementations”

“Time constraints, we’d love to implement at least some of these practices and are sure we’re (technically) capable, but understaffed for the job”

A short report detailing the findings of the research, which was designed and analysed by Freeform Dynamics and sponsored by Numara Software, is available from the Reg Research library here. This discusses some of the implications of the research and includes a few recommendations and things to think about for those checking out developments in this area.

In the meantime, it is important not to believe everything you hear about best practices from vendors and consultants and consider what’s right for your organisation before committing to formal adoption of something like ITIL. As the results suggest, these frameworks in their current form are right for some, but not for others. ®

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