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Internet operations provision, from co-location to full outsourcing, is an area of IT services that's crying out for service...

Internet operations provision, from co-location to full outsourcing, is an area of IT services that's crying out for service management standards. By that I mean one against which the support and delivery of Internet operations can be measured, managed and judged.

Unfortunately, standards are perceived as a dry area. But their apparent blandness belies their crucial role at the heart of many important aspects of our lives.

In all areas, standards are marks of reassurance and confidence that allow us to compare like with like. Without this certification a product could be faulty or sub-standard.

It's the same with IT service management standards: failure to adhere to them could put your business at serious risk. They could mean the difference between winning and losing customers, between success and failure, so companies should take them seriously.

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the worldwide de facto standard for IT service management. It is, in fact, a set of best practice standards for IT service management, which allow businesses to deliver a high level of service and proactively manage the growth of IT systems. Accreditations, such as BS15000, or those governed by global technology providers, such as Compaq or Microsoft, act as a basis for assessment of adherence to this standard - in effect, a set of benchmarks against which service management can be judged.

Unfortunately this message just doesn't seem to be reaching the people it should. For example, Internet operations and hosting providers and their customers are largely apathetic about following recognised service management standards.

In a survey of 100 senior IT decision-makers from large companies which purchase these services, 62% said they did adhere to standards. Yet 20% admitted that they observed only their internal standards. This must imply huge variations and prevents any form of industry-wide benchmarking.

There are compelling financial arguments for the adoption of robust service management standards. Industry estimates put the lifecycle management costs of a typical IT system at four times the cost of its development.

These costs will increase if standards are not implemented. Companies will inevitably have to pay to fix unnecessary problems that could have been alleviated had standards been adhered to from the start.

The problem is that service management standards are not well enough known, particularly amongst smaller enterprises. In fact, 84% of people questioned in the survey didn't know what ITIL is.

To compound this, compliance is largely seen as a cost rather than a benefit, and any benefit identified tends to be unquantified and undervalued. The implementation of ITIL-compliant service management is often seen as an unnecessarily robust approach.

Adherence to recognised service management standards is not regarded as a necessity. Users often buy services without checking that the provider meets such service management standards. But this is a huge gamble.

Buyers must begin to look for rigorous service management when they take on an IT operations provider. Companies that maintain these standards deliver a higher level of application availability and increased customer satisfaction.

Added to this, standards have the capability to create real transparency in the marketplace, allowing customers to choose the service that best suits their needs.

Certified suppliers are seen to be professional companies that deliver on promises and make service level agreements credible and realistic instead of marketing messages.

Standards could also facilitate collaborative commerce. Companies looking to integrate their infrastructure with another organisation will be more confident working with a partner that adheres to industry-wide standards.

Linking multiple applications via the Web increases the importance of high application reliability and implementing an ITIL-based service management approach will improve your chances of success.
t Simon Hansford is vice-president of product and platform at Attenda

The survey, which questioned 100 IT managers and directors, was carried out by ICM Research on behalf of Attenda

Simon Hansford is vice-president of product and platform at Attenda

The survey, which questioned 1000 IT managers and directors, was carried out by ICM Research on behalf of Attenda

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