The Cosmology of the Expanding ITIL Universe

by Wayne Kiphart of Logicalis

Industry standards transformed the hardware and software markets and unleashed tremendous innovation. Today, the evolution and increasing acceptance of ITIL best practices promises to transform IT service management (ITSM) and facilitate the controlled expansion of IT environments to include business services operation centers, and public and private clouds.

This column by Wayne Kiphart, Logicalis’ vice president for Managed Services Solutions, looks at how the ITIL framework promises to unleash “right-sourcing” innovation by enabling ITSM for increasingly distributed IT environments.

Every CIO must contend with the same basic challenge of coping with a heterogeneous distributed IT environment — run scores of applications in an environment with multiple OSes and an increasingly distributed infrastructure, and you have to be able to monitor and manage how your IT services are getting along or risk a demonstration of how quickly everything can go suddenly very wrong.

Fortunately, CIOs don’t all have to invent the same solution. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a collection of best practices that CIOs can adapt to implement their own ITSM strategy in their environments.

While most CIOs already know about ITIL but what many of them don’t seem to know, however, is how to begin applying all those good ideas in their own IT environments.

Behind data center walls

As a provider of managed services over the course of more than a dozen years, we have had a chance to see what really goes on behind data center walls in hundreds of large and small organizations across a broad range of vertical markets. It goes without saying that everyone is doing the best they can but, with the exception of the very large organizations that can afford sophisticated ITSM tool sets and processes, most IT departments are spending so much of their time trying to keep the lights on that they are flying blind when it comes to the quality of their services.

Implementing ITIL best practices and developing an ITSM strategy sounds like a great concept, but reacting to the latest crisis always seems to take precedence. Unfortunately, not implementing ITIL best practices creates a situation that makes periodic outbursts of mayhem inevitable. It’s a vicious circle that’s all too familiar:

  1. Your costs get out of control.
  2. You aren’t able provide adequate services to your business.
  3. You don’t have the facts and figures to communicate effectively to your executive management what you need to do to stop going around in a circle.

Where push comes to shove

Pressure is mounting on the status quo in IT. The need to cut costs and shift expenses from the capital expense budget to the operational expense budget is driving IT departments to consider extending their infrastructure to third party service providers beyond their own data centers.

At the same time, CIOs know that if they expand their current IT infrastructure to include private, public and hybrid clouds, managed services, and software as a service (SaaS) (all the options their CFOs have been pushing to save money) the chance of triggering IT mayhem escalates exponentially.

The lack of an effective ITSM strategy, as a result, has caught many IT departments at the point where push comes to shove. They can’t afford to stay where they are, but they can’t go forward without what looks like losing control.

ITSM based on ITIL best practices makes it possible for IT departments to move forward and adopt right-sourcing options without taking a leap of faith. For one thing, it doesn’t all have to be done at once. The first step to implementing ITIL best practices is developing a service catalog which defines the IT services in enough detail to outline the technology and processes that are required to provide them. This is admittedly not a small task. In some organizations the service catalog can include upwards of 100 distinct IT services.

But describing all the services IT provides an organization in a service catalog not only creates an important reference for the IT department, it also has the distinct advantage of helping IT show executive management all the valuable services IT provides the rest of the organization. It’s the right answer to the “What have you done for me lately?” question.

Once the service catalog is developed, the next step is to begin to implement the processes that are outlined by ITIL. The number of processes required will be determined by the complexity of your service offerings. These three processes provide a good foundation to start with:

  • Incident Management, including help desk best practices to categorize issues and automate the workflow to resolve them.
  • Problem Management, including processes for pattern analysis that will help you minimize the impact of problems.
  • Change Management, to ensure that you have and can manage standards and procedures for making changes and supporting your end users.

Once these processes are defined it is possible to develop a configuration management database (CMDB) which allows you to map every service to the technology you need to manage and track. You’ll be able to determine what each service is costing you and identify the services like service desk, select managed services, and cloud computing, that could be more efficiently handled by a qualified third party. Implementing an effective ITSM strategy, is both a requirement and an enabler of out-tasking and cloud computing.

All the information a service provider needs to set up automation and orchestration parameters for a cloud solution, for example, is available in your service catalog.

IT’s turn to automate

Automation is the key word here. By systematizing and standardizing your service offerings, you can begin to automate their management and delivery. We in IT have only to look at how automation has transformed the manufacturing industry in the last 30 years to get a glimpse into our own future. The IT industry has gotten away without widespread automation until now because it involved so many disparate components that were difficult to automate. Advances in automation technology and orchestration suites, however, are setting in motion the same kinds of changes in IT that transformed manufacturing.

Instead of focusing on infrastructure, IT professionals are increasingly going to need to focus on services, applications and process. IT technicians, as a result, are going to need different skill sets. I used to hire network engineers. Now I hire engineers who can manage an orchestration suite. Being a great Unix admin or knowing how to patch Windows is not going to provide much job security going forward.

Re-defining control

By following ITIL best practices and implementing effective ITSM it becomes possible to leverage all the advantages of hybrid clouds (public and private), managed services, and SaaS without losing control. ITIL best practices are, in fact redefining what control is in a truly distributed IT infrastructure. It’s impossible to anticipate all the innovations that will emerge as more organizations step up to the opportunities that ITIL-based ITSM is making possible.

We are on the threshold of the day when the IT infrastructure can respond dynamically to change according processes and parameters that we set in advance. Our job in IT will be as overseers of those parameters. This transformation is going to require at least as much cultural change within IT departments as technical change in the IT infrastructure.

In the past, IT has been seen as a necessary cost of doing business. Increasingly, IT has become the way businesses do business. In the near future, the measure of accomplishment for the IT department in an organization that makes widgets isn’t going to be how many servers are in the data center or how many nodes on the network. The measure of accomplishment for IT in the widget industry is going to be how many widgets get sold and distributed around the world.

Business and technology really are one.

Wayne Kiphart is vice president for Logicalis’ Managed Services Solutions. In this role, he is responsible for sales throughout the U.S. and has P&L responsibility for Logicalis’ managed services group. With nearly 12 years of experience in the managed services industry, Mr. Kiphart brings a wealth of industry knowledge to Logicalis. Prior to joining Logicalis, Mr. Kiphart spent four years at Cincinnati Bell Telephone. During his career at Cincinnati Bell, he worked as a technician focused on delivering the latest broad band technology and network operations manager in Cincinnati Bell’s network knowledge center. Mr. Kiphart began his career in the U.S. Army providing combat operations support.