Today's IT environments are breeding grounds for problems. One company recently told me that of the application problems reported to its helpdesk, the reasons are fully diagnosed in only 25% of cases.
The remaining 75% are therefore bound to recur. It all adds up to a lot of wasted effort and frustration for users and IT staff.
That organisation's predicament illustrates how strongly the typical IT support function is still oriented towards tactical problem solving, rather than towards strategic approaches designed to prevent problems occurring.
IT staff are caught in a vicious cycle where fire-fighting tactical problems absorbs all available effort, leaving no time for strategic approaches and making more fire-fighting inevitable. Factor in today's continual upgrading of technological infrastructure and you have a recipe for chaos.
More enlightened organisations recognise a need to adopt a more holistic view of processes by tackling causes and not just their symptoms. Many are turning to the IT Infrastructure Library (Itil) standard.
Itil was developed by the government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency for the public sector but has now been adopted globally. Essentially a guide to running an IT department, it covers a range of areas including the cost of IT, software control and distribution and managing change.
According to Forrester Research, Itil allows users to improve efficiency, simplify IT processes and define IT services so they can be compared with those of external suppliers to determine whether they should be run in-house or outsourced.
Board members who may be sceptical about adopting the Itil framework should know it represents a move away from reactive chaos towards a strategic and proactive way of working.
However, organisations that are going down the Itil road often find they have hampered their progress by their choice of software tools. Many tools do not give users the information they need to implement Itil effectively.
Organisations need to measure quality and quality improvement from a business perspective, so they can assess and demonstrate the improvements accruing from Itil.
What those implementing it need, therefore, is software that helps with immediate, tactical problems - making problems quick to pinpoint, recreate, analyse and fix - and supports process improvement. Ideally, the software toolset should, like Itil itself, be capable of step-by-step implementation so you choose only the elements you need and add the rest later.
This combination of Itil and the appropriate toolset allows the IT team to solve the problem users are screaming about today, and prevents a recurrence tomorrow by tackling the cause.
Itil may not solve all of IT's problems, but the processes it promotes should help reduce the number of IT failures.
Michael Allen is performance solutions director at Compuware