ITIL: Not Just Another Acronym

tinerstake-apple-feat-1015Years ago, we used to talk about IT and AV convergence. I think that most of us would agree that the “convergence” is over. AV is part of IT. As we went through the process of convergence we, discussed how best to prepare for this eventual converged state. Many AV specialists went on to get typical IT certifications, from companies like Microsoft and Cisco. Having these certifications helped us discuss our needs with our network administrators with more ease. One of the certifications that you may have heard about but never knew much about is ITIL.

Rather than a technical certification, ITIL is a best practices guidance. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) began in England over twenty years ago. It was recognized that IT, and any business process really, could benefit from a standard set of best practices. After several revisions, the ITIL is currently at version 2011.

ITIL breaks down IT processes into five lifecycles. These lifecycles and their definitions are:

  • Service Strategy — Defining the services you provide, why you provide them and the value they create. Develop business cases for each service that answer the why and how much questions.
  • Service Design — The stage at which your services are defined. This will include information other than just technology. It is critical to tie the design of your services to expected business outcomes.
  • Service Transition — The process through which you bring new services online, change services and retire services.
  • Service Operation — How you support the ongoing operations. Best practices for service desks.
  • Continuous Lifecycle Improvement — A process through which you consistently review your services, including service management, and look for ways to improve them and create additional value for your customers.

I have recently completed the ITIL foundations course through a training company called Pink Elephant. I chose to take a self paced online course. It took about two months for me to complete the course and it prepared me well enough to pass the exam on my first attempt. Now, I am taking the course that is specifically geared towards service strategy. If you have taken the CTS courses and exams you have an idea of what you are in for. The information can be a bit dry at times, and the writers are very picky about using the correct language. In the end though, you stand to gain a great deal.

So why does this matter to the readers of this column? More and more higher ed institutes are beginning to implement ITIL processes into their decision making. If you are a tech manager struggling to explain budgets or staffing these best practices give you a foundation on which to base your arguments. I am on several list serves, and at least once a month someone asks a question about standards at other institutions. For example, how many tech do you have per classroom? Or — what is the lifecycle of your technologies? While it may be interesting to know these answers, we all should be asking some questions of ourselves first, and these questions are well spelled out in the ITIL guidance. Before I can answer how many techs I should have on staff, I should be able to describe what service they will provide, via a service level agreement. Examples of the information I should have include: expectations for response time to problems and acceptable downtime of technology. Before I can answer how often I should refresh the technology I should be able to answer the expectations of my users regarding their uses of this technology. ITIL does not just encourage you to think about these things, it guides you to have these discussions with your customers and to write down the agreements reached. Through this method you then create a budget to support the agreements made. If the budget is not acceptable, negotiations are had about where the service levels can be changed to bring the budget in line.

If you are an integrator, it is also critical for you to be able to understand the ITIL framework. It is likely that you will be working with institutions that have implemented the framework, whether it be an educational institution or a for profit firm. Just as a local technology manager needs to know what type of uptime is expected from equipment, the integrator/designer needs to know this as well, in order to deliver the appropriate product. In addition to being able to use the same language as your customers, it will help you define how you want to run your business and the services you want to provide.

Over the next few columns, I will discuss each of the lifecycle stages in more detail, and help readers understand which of those lifecycles may be relevant to them.