Picture the scene: your organization has decided to improve its IT department through the introduction of ITIL Best Practice. Some external consultants from an IT service provider came in to do a review and mapped out the project. They then implemented the agreed Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes while delivering awareness sessions to various members of staff. Perhaps you even got a few of your people v3 qualified. At last, your Best Practice project has been delivered and has finally gone live. But what now?
The Service Management experts are long gone, and you find yourself alone in managing the improved environment. Things somehow seem to be slowly regressing to their previous state -- as if the project never happened. But how can such a promising project prove so ineffective?
Unfortunately, many organizations don't seem to truly realize that Best Practice is not a one-off implementation, nor is it self-sustaining. As Version 3 of ITIL underlines, there should be an iterative and interactive lifecycle approach to the various processes. Best Practice is an ongoing commitment, and not a time-restricted project. It's essential to continually revise, reassess, and improve the people, processes, and technology in order to produce real benefits, especially in the long term. To do this, several elements must be taken into consideration -- post-implementation support from service providers, ownership within the organization, and understanding and commitment of staff at all levels.
It is undeniably important that the consultants who have implemented the processes make themselves available for further support, to embed the discipline in the organization. The service provider should come back regularly after the project has gone live to see if the new ways of working have been adopted across people, process, and technology and to help the organization find ways of measuring the effects, evaluating the benefits, and identifying the areas for improvement. But it's not only up to the consultants to drive through improvements and focus the internal efforts. Ultimately, they will have to hand over ownership and responsibility to the client.
Commitment of staff
It is essential then that the people, processes, and technology in the environment are subject to Continual Service Improvement: the discipline must be understood, accepted, structured, and well supported by senior management as well as staff at all levels. CSI is the wrap that allows all other processes to maintain their effectiveness, through ongoing reviews aimed at identifying inefficiencies followed by improvement actions. Actually, the CSI process itself must be continually evaluated and adapted to remain relevant, up-to-date, and constantly aligned to the IT and the business objectives.
Senior management buy-in
Senior management, on the other hand, has to really understand the value of ITIL and be able to deal with any resistance to change found across the organization. They have to ensure that the various members of staff at the tactical and operational levels understand how the new processes, technologies, and roles will affect the way they work. They have to clarify what efficiencies can be achieved not only by the organization, but in the individuals' everyday work as well.
For many people, change means stepping out of their comfort zone. Many are wary of, or simply not interested, in doing that. Communication is therefore essential: employees need to be shown the changes and benefits concretely and clearly, perhaps through awareness or experiential learning sessions. Management has to be able to justify the importance and usefulness of changes and how ITIL can support and deliver efficiencies. If this isn't possible, then the project alone cannot produce the desired effects. If people don't understand the need to change and don't adopt the new processes and tools, the organization will not reach what it aims to achieve and, in some cases, may even go back to the previous state.
It's the people across the organization who will ultimately determine whether the ethos of CSI will be embedded. The key to making ITIL a framework that adds value and not just a nice-to-have feature is not solely in the technology or the processes but in the cultural change produced across the organization.
It's through regular assessment and review that the benefits of ITIL can be realized. To ultimately create a shared culture of Continual Service Improvement, management has to take ownership and highlight the benefits of change.
Steve Connelly is Head of Service Management at Plan-Net, a specialist at transforming IT operations into high-performance, cost-efficient platforms for business success.