The push for ever-greater IT efficiency is inspiring more midsized and large businesses to seek discipline for their technology management and service through the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices framework.
But roughly 20 years after the original ITIL concepts were developed, very few corporate IT organizations describe their ITIL maturity level as high.
A survey conducted in late 2009 among roughly 500 IT decision makers in the U.S. found that just 12% apply ITIL to its fullest extent, by continually improving their IT processes. Another 20% monitor certain IT processes for ITIL compliance, while 24% have documented elements of their service management. (The survey was sponsored by Hornbill Systems, which sells IT service management software. You can request a full copy of the results here.)
So, where does that leave IT service providers? Here are four things to consider if you're evaluating ITIL services as a certification investment for your services team.
1. More enterprise RFPs specifically mention ITIL skills
While ITIL knowledge is not necessarily a requirement for IT services companies working within larger businesses, it could make the difference in winning a deal, according to some IT solution providers.
"There are definitely larger corporate clients who want you to follow the practices, even if they don't explicitly state it," noted Rory Sanchez, president of SL Powers, a managed services provider in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Sanchez agrees that there are certain suggestions within ITIL that offer valuable insight, such as service desk management principles and guidelines for service level delivery, but he is skeptical that a full-fledged investment in ITIL certifications is necessary for every solution provider. This is especially true if your company's customer focus tends toward small businesses with no more than 250 client seats. "They probably don't even know about this," he said.
There are actually four certification levels for individuals under ITIL version 3, which is the current edition of the framework. Those levels are Foundation, which focuses on comprehension of the key concepts and processes; Intermediate, which focuses on application of specific skills across the IT services lifecycle; Expert, which demonstrates a broader and deeper knowledge of the entire IT services lifecycle; and Master, which tends to be limited to the most senior service practitioners or managers. Certifications are managed by the ITIL certification Management Board and conferred by accredited training organizations.
ASI System Integration, a leading systems integrator in New York, began certifying its services managers in core ITIL practices about three years ago in order to create some common ground for agreements between its services team and clients.
"Customers do not necessarily require it, but we have been seeing [requests for proposals] that are asking about our best practices, even specifically naming ITIL," said ASI System Integration senior vice president Angel Pineiro. "We believe that because we have taken on ITIL skills, we have a competitive edge over other IT services providers."
2. ITIL principles could improve your managed services practice
Aside from making customers more comfortable with ASI's service skills, ITIL has helped the company document and improve its internal service delivery procedures, Pineiro said. "It makes it easier to verify that we are delivering in the way the client wants."
Todd Simpson, vice president of operations for Unis Lumin, a technology integration and managed services provider in Toronto, said his company certified four members of its services team in ITIL practices when it began updating and formalizing its own practices for incident response and patch management.
"ITIL is gaining momentum in our company, especially as we move farther into the realm of managed services," Simpson said. "With customers looking to put their faith and trust in us, ITIL knowledge gives us huge credibility."
Unis Lumin also discovered that a growing number of the customer satisfaction surveys being fielded on its behalf by some of its key vendor partners were aligning their questions more closely with ITIL-inspired procedures. Over the next two years, Simpson said, Unis Lumin plans to provide ITIL training and certification for all the support personnel within its network operations center and all of its customer relationship managers.
3. ITIL services don't have to be all or nothing
It's possible to be certified on portions of the ITIL framework without becoming a full-blown expert on all pieces of the library.
Of the four people certified by Unis Lumin, for example, two are certified at the Foundation level in service support, with two others certified at an Intermediate level for operational guidance. The cost for the Foundation certification was about $900, which included three days of classes (which of course translates into lost billing time) plus the exam. "If you're going to start applying the principles across your business, it is a much larger investment," Simpson said.
Pineiro estimates that it cost about $2,000 per engineer to put the ASI Integration team through the certification process at the Intermediate and Expert level. ITIL credentials aren't something you have to renew every year, although some of the practices are currently evolving, and any individuals who were certified on version 2.0 may invest in certifying on the current framework. "The value that we get out of it makes the cost more insignificant to us," Pineiro said.
Chris Poe, chief technology officer at Atrion Networking, a technology integration and services company in Warwick, R.I., is investing in ITIL training for his support and services operations managers. But Atrion doesn't plan to start up a full-blown ITIL practice or offer ITIL consulting.
"I just think we need to be aware or its existence and be able to talk about it on the same level as our clients," Poe said. "We need to ensure that the services we create and deliver are done in a high-quality, consistent and profitable way."
4. ITIL practices are evolving
The Hornbill survey cites the following as the top-five benefits realized by those that have implemented ITIL practices:
- Improved service quality
- Standardized process adoption
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Benefits from best practice experience
- Reduction in IT downtime
But any IT solution provider considering an ITIL certifications investment should be aware that even though version 3 is officially the current framework (and has been for a couple of years), many of the IT operations using ITIL-inspired management practices are basing their processes on version 2.
The Hornbill-sponsored survey, for example, found that more than 32% of those already using ITIL version 2.0 plan to stick with it for the time being, although they may plan to cherrypick and apply some version 3.0 concepts to their services practices. Approximately 31% of the survey respondents believe they will upgrade to version 3.0 over the next two years.
ITIL adoption aside, all mature businesses are seeking to improve their IT operations on behalf of core business processes, Poe said, which makes some ITIL services knowledge worthwhile for virtually any IT solution provider.
"Whether or not they call for ITIL, IT is a more valuable asset to businesses today. ITIL isn't a cookbook or prescription," he said. "But it is a great framework for thoughts and best practices that will make you more credible and relevant."
About the author
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist with a passion for emerging technology and corporate sustainability issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.