Man managing connected assets

As new services explode, a 20-year-old tracking tool is called back to action

If you're a government IT professional, chances are you have at least a little experience using an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). After all, the concept has been around for about 20 years.

But with the advent of large-scale data center consolidation and the growth of cloud services, ITIL as a resources management tool may be poised for surprising new growth. Those who manage government enterprise architecture planning often require a solution like ITIL to help them plan, structure and manage multiple sets of IT services – especially as a means of tracking how those available IT services relate to specific business processes.

The concept of ITIL is to use a centralized resource to describe the structure of the specific IT reference resources that have been made available within an organization. This can include both internal and external computing assets, with specific details on how they can be used for management needs or decisions. Such a library often includes a detailed set of practices for how a service is set up for enterprise-wide use.

Once it's established, some organizations simply treat an ITIL as a compliance tool. They use it to outline locations and best practices, while the available IT resources and services are used to manage the delivery of IT services and support. But it can be used for more than that. A well-structured and implemented ITIL can be used to map IT services to the specific needs of an organization's business flow.

And it can be especially useful when used as an enterprise-wide solution. Today, government facilities such as NASA and the Navy's Second fleet use an ITIL framework to improve the integration, delivery and ongoing documentation for IT services delivery. IT managers can use it to coordinate services delivery in a way that helps meet or exceed IT business objectives and (hopefully) to reduce service disruptions. NASA also has stated in published reports that ITIL helps the space agency meet Office of Management and Budget guidance and reporting requirements.

ITIL as a management concept didn't catch on in the United States, but with the appearance of  ITIL v3, it's found a decent fan base here, including within government facilities. ITIL v3 focuses on IT service lifecycle management, with the following pieces:

Service strategy. This helps define the IT customer and the business functions that customer desires. It then sets up a structure for integrating the services required to meet the customer's IT needs. Part of this effort is also to establish delivery costs in a way that meets the required value parameters for a business function. This is a very important part of the equation as more cloud-based IT services become available. It helps organizations make informed decisions as potential costs (internal vs. external services) are reviewed.

Service design. This ensures that any system changes, or newly added services, are planned in a way that will cost effectively meet customer expectations. This step leverages the initial service strategy by providing an enterprise-wide structure to help IT managers select the solutions and set processes – specifically those which are needed to meet the needs of specific business processes. As this stage progresses, it also establishes the tools needed to monitor and support the available IT solutions, while setting standards for measuring service levels and outcomes.

Service transition. The focus here is on implementing and servicing the selected solutions. It also should include monitoring customer satisfaction to make sure the desired results from the system implementation or upgrade were achieved. It also may set the configuration rules for the end-to-end system.

Service operation. Based on the rules set in the previous phase, this phase manages the long-term delivery of the required services. Requirements for daily (weekly, monthly, yearly, etc.) management tasks are implemented here. Compliance with service-level agreements is monitored. System evaluations and remedial steps are taken, if needed.
Continual service improvement. Based on monitoring that takes place during the service operation phase, and based on long-term user needs that may result in requests for new functions, this phase seeks to measure and improve the service levels.

Each of these steps is used to describe a specific business function and to outline the IT solution used to deliver that function. Developing an ITIL helps establish a baseline from which enterprise IT architects can continue to strategize, implement and expand. In turn, it also can be used to standardize IT services across an organization, leading to better economies of scale.

Government CIOs continue to struggle to integrate such services into their large-scale enterprise architecture efforts. ITIL is an approach that seems to work for coordinating multiple services. But it also takes a business process approach to that management, which is something many agencies need. This approach basically means that as business processes (and the needs of a specific solution) are defined, they are in turn mapped to specific IT services. This helps make efficient use of available services and help architects make decisions on which services to add and which to remove from an agency's overall IT portfolio.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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