The IT industry has a track record of producing acronyms that fail to live up to their initial hype. Fortunately, one four-letter acronym has largely kept its promise: ITIL, or the IT Infrastructure Library.
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The rise of ITIL was underlined in a research paper published in August by Forrester Research. It said IT departments can improve efficiency by using these guidelines, and added that ITIL is becoming the standard way for running the different services in an IT department.
ITIL allows users to improve efficiency, simplify IT processes and define IT services so that they can be compared with those of external suppliers to determine whether these services should be run in-house or outsourced.
ITIL has come a long way since its introduction in 1989 by the government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency. Originally intended for the UK public sector, it has now been adopted internationally. It is used by organisations including pharmaceutical company Procter & Gamble, aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Barclays bank.
So what is it about ITIL that makes it attractive to such a range of organisations? Its real strength lies in its simplicity and reliance on common sense.
If you follow ITIL guidelines you are inevitably doing things that are almost impossible to argue against. Its core principles include knowing what services you provide to your internal customers; identifying the components involved in delivering the service, knowing the skills and knowledge those services depend upon; recording details of everything that goes wrong; and using what you learn to solve problems the next time.
Although ITIL has the potential to boost an IT department’s efficiency, it will probably not bring immediate cost savings. But if an organisation can take the bigger perspective, it will see that savings in one area of the business can be felt elsewhere.
For many companies which see IT as a cost rather than an essential business enabler, ITIL has been done through the back door - implemented from the bottom up by keen junior managers.
There are now similar rival standards to ITIL, such as Cobit and Six-Sigma. All the standards are being touted as a way to streamline compliance projects for regulations including Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel 2.
The core of ITIL - the service support and service delivery books - is now almost four years’ old. A revamp and rewrite would take about 18 months. This should ensure that at least one unwieldy acronym in the IT industry delivers value for money.
Richard Foden is area vice-president for marketing at Peregrine Systems EMEA
What is the IT Infrastructure Library?
The government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency created the IT Infrastructure Library in response to the growing dependence on IT to meet business needs and goals.
ITIL provides businesses with a customisable framework of best practices to achieve quality service and overcome difficulties associated with the growth of IT systems.
Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft are two businesses that use ITIL as part of their own best practice framework.
ITIL is organised into "sets" of texts which are defined by related functions: service support, service delivery, managerial, software support, computer operations, security management, and environmental.
ITIL services and products include training, qualifications, software tools and user groups such as the IT Service Management Forum.