ITIL v3 isn't just for IT. The framework establishes best practices in five IT disciplines, but solution providers can learn a lot by applying these practices to their own services business.

By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer

Our Channel Explained series provides targeted articles that flesh out detail on channel terminology but avoid information overload. This week we examine the question, What is ITIL v3?

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of books published by the British government that establishes a framework for IT best practices. Originally published in the 1980s as a manual to modernize the British government's IT departments, ITIL underwent its third revision, called v3, in 2007 and now stresses IT as a services-based resource.

Companies cannot be certified as ITIL-compliant, although there is an ISO standard, ISO 20000, based on ITIL that companies can be audited for. While businesses can't be certified, individuals can be accredited under four levels for ITIL v3: Foundation, Intermediate, Expert and Master. The Foundation level covers the terminology and basic concepts of ITIL as a whole, while the higher levels go into greater depth for each of ITIL's five major topics.

While previous versions of ITIL focused on procedures, such as deployment or maintenance, ITIL v3 treats an IT department as a utility that delivers services to the rest of the company. The five categories ITIL focuses on are service strategy (i.e., predesign research), service design, service transition (i.e., major upgrades), service operation and continual service improvement.

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ITIL v3 is of particular interest to value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs), because its services-based approach applies as readily to companies that provide those services to third-party clients as to traditional IT departments, said Don Boylan, a consultant with Pultorak & Associates Ltd. in Seattle. For instance, ITIL's service strategy book "is like a mini MBA," Boylan said, and it focuses on how to do research to figure out what services potential clients need before you develop them.

Because ITIL specifies a general framework and approach to IT, rather than specific procedures, it doesn't make sense to have just one or two people understand it, Boylan said; the whole IT department -- or, in the case of VARs, the whole company -- needs to buy into the concept for it to work. All technical workers should be ITIL Foundation certified so that they understand the basic terminology and framework, Boylan said. Managers and advanced technicians should be certified at the Intermediate level, which explains not just what the approaches are but how to implement them. Each of the five books has its own Intermediate-level accreditation, so managers should be certified for whatever topic corresponds to their specific role in the company.

Finally, at least one person in the organization -- typically a CIO or similar executive -- should be certified as an ITIL Expert or Master, Boylan said. This level of certification ties together several of the Intermediate-level accreditations and explains how to handle conflicts among them. For instance, ITIL v3 covers "instance management" -- handling help desk tickets and fixing problems -- as well as "problem management," which seeks to find the underlying cause of those problems. The problem is that while instance management seeks to fix problems as quickly as possible, problem management often calls for keeping systems in a failed state in order to find the root cause. An Expert- or Master-certified manager would be responsible for determining which problems should be fixed right away and which should be kept failed, and for how long.

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