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ITSM and ITIL basics: Understanding ITIL and service support

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) forces you to view information technology from an IT service management (ITSM) approach, rather than a product approach. Find out why and how to align your IT services with the ITIL framework.

IT Reseller Takeaway: In part one of our ITIL and ITSM podcast series -- ITSM and ITIL basics -- Adelle McIlroy of GTSI Corp. introduces you to ITIL and ITSM services, so you can determine if your customers may benefit from such processes. This tip is excerpted from our ITIL podcast series.

If you're within the enterprise you may be seeking options for effective IT management, including both internal and external options, and looking at IT infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a way to measure performance internally and to interact in a measurable way with an external provider.

If you are a provider of technology tools or services, your customers may be asking how can you support their move to ITIL. How will your services align with the ITIL framework they intend to adopt?

There are convincing financial reasons to consider it. Gartner has reported that transitioning to a full ITSM model can decrease an organization's total cost of ownership (TCO) by as much as 48%.

Listen to the ITIL podcasts
Podcast 1: ITIL and ITSM basics

Podcast 2: ITIL service support

Podcast 3: ITIL and ITSM FAQ

ITIL's benefits correspond closely to the fact that it redefines information technology from a supporting IT product mindset to a support IT services mindset.

Traditional IT includes a lot of firefighting, a lot of operational specific activity, whereas an IT Service Management (ITSM)framework defines services as the outcome of the IT infrastructure and thus provides a more customer-oriented and business-oriented approach.

Readily measured improvements include:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • ROI
  • Reduced training
  • Reduced turnover
  • Better asset utilization
  • Better productivity
  • Reduced incident costs

ITSM defines an approach to using IT best practices in a coherent and very service oriented manner. It is essential that the set of those best practices allows for the implementation of a service-oriented approach.

Brief history of ITIL

ITIL was developed by the UK government in 1991 as set of best practices for ITSM and it's not internationally recognized. They wanted to create a framework that provided a common-sense, structured approach to the essential processes involved in service management. Because ITIL is so process driven, it's scalable and flexible and can fit any organization.

When developers of ITIL introduced the first version, the library consisted of over 40 books. About 10 years later, in the late 90s, version two was released, which updated and revised the library and consolidated it to17 books. In 2007, version three will be released to again refresh the library and in particular provide more best practices around aligning ITIL with the business objectives.

As ITIL has evolved over the last 15 years, there have been several successes, both in the public sector and the private sector. The most publicized example is that of Proctor and Gamble who attribute nearly $125M in IT cost savings per year to the adoption of ITIL, which constitutes nearly 10 percent of their annual IT budget.

Similarly, Shell Oil utilized ITIL best practices when they overhauled their global desktop PC environment, which required the overhaul of more then 80,000 desktops. After the project was completed, they're now able to perform software upgrades in less than 72 hours, potentially saving them 6,000 man days and $5M.

Research commissioned by CompuWare corporation, a software and services company, indicates that in the face of ongoing IT delivery problems within the public sector, 61% of those organizations have started to implement the ITIL best practice framework. In addition, IBM, Caterpillar, Boeing, the IRS and a host of other household names have all reported great success of significant operational cost savings as a direct result of ITIL adoption.

ITIL's seven books

The library I mentioned consists of seven books:


  • ICT Infrastructure Management covers all aspects of ICT infrastructure manager, from the ID of business requirements, to the tendering process, to the testing, installation, deployments, ongoing operation and optimization of components and IT services.


  • The second book, Planning to Implement Service Management, examines the issues and tasks involved in planning, implementing and improving service management processes throughout the organization. It also addresses the issues associated with addressing cultural and organizational change, the development of a vision and a strategy and the most appropriate method of approach.


  • The third book, Application Management, describes how to manage applications from the initial business need, through all stages of the application lifecycle, up to and including retirement. It places emphasis on ensuring that IT projects and strategies are tightly aligned with those of the business throughout the application lifecycle, to ensure that the business obtains the best value from its investment.


  • The fourth book, The Business Perspective, provides advice and guidance to help IT personnel to understand how they can contribute to business objectives and how their roles and services can be better aligned and exploited to maximize that contribution.


  • The fifth book, Security Management, details the process of planning and managing a defined level of security for information and IT services, including all aspects associated with reaction to security incidents. It also includes the assessment and management of risks and vulnerabilities and the implementation of costs justifiable countermeasures.


  • The sixth book is Service Delivery. It covers the processes required for planning and delivery of quality IT services and looks at the longer term processes associated with improving quality of IT services.


  • The seventh book is Service Support, which describes the processes associated with the day-to-day support and maintenance activities associated with the provision of IT services.

The last two of these books, Service Delivery (sometimes called the Red Book) and Service Support (sometimes called the Blue book) are what comprise the majority of best practices for IT infrastructure processes. These two books form the framework for managing complex IT infrastructures in the best possible manner. Along with portions of the security management book are the basis for certifications on ITIL fundamentals that so many folks are looking for these days.Service Delivery and Service Support are really the heart of ITIL. There are five infrastructure processes associated with each of those two books.

Service Delivery

  1. Service level management
  2. Financial management
  3. Availability management
  4. Capacity management
  5. Service continuity management

Service Support

  1. Incident management
  2. Problem management
  3. Configuration management
  4. Change management
  5. Release management

The process of security management, which I mentioned, is in one of the other books, and is closely associated with service delivery, even though security is not one of its five processes. The reason security is grouped in with service delivery is because of the close tie in to security with availability management. One of the primary charges of availability management is to ensure that data, programs, systems and networks are often accessible to authorized users.

Here is the reason it's important to know and understand the differences: They can play an important role in deciding how to go about implementing ITIL and how much to start with. If tactical management oriented issues are a more pressing need, you may want to start with service delivery. If improvements in day-to-day resolving of incidents and problems are more of a concern, then implementing service support processes may be your starting point. Some experts recommend that you implement all 10 processes together, but in reality most people find that implementing the ITIL processes in phases is a much more realistic approach.

About the author: As senior manager for Cyber Security and Enterprise Software for GTSI Corp., Adelle McIlroy's key responsibilities include leading the Cyber Security & Enterprise Software practice, and taking successful techniques and technologies from the private sector into public sector environments. A 15-year veteran of the information technology sector, she has experience comprised of hands-on technical, management and consulting experience in both services organizations and financial services. She received her Bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Miami, and has held the following certifications during her career: CISSP, CISA, CBCP and MCSE.


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