Can ITIL Work Without All-or-Nothing Approach?

Ann All
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14 Tips for a Successful ITIL Implementation

Tips on completing a successful IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) initiative.

For every IT Infrastructure Library success, like the often-related example of Johnson & Johnson that Blue Elephant Consulting's Jim Anderson writes about on The Accidental Successful CIO blog, there's a less successful implementation.


In many cases, resistance to the structure imposed by ITIL, from business users and/or IT staff, is a big problem. (Resistance may have been an issue at J&J, though Anderson's post only emphasizes the benefits the company attributes to ITIL, including what it says are annual IT savings in the neighborhood of $30 million.) I offered some tips for overcoming resistance to ITIL in a post earlier this year.


Resistance to ITIL can be so great that Patrick Bolger, chief marketing officer for service management software provider Hornbill, told me his company advocates starting small, addressing obvious pain points, and using ITIL principles without launching a big ITIL campaign. He said:

We advise them not to talk about ITIL, which will probably raise some objections, but to talk about service improvement or "service first" or whatever they want to call it.

That was the approach used by the University of San Francisco, one of the organizations I included in a story on ITIL. Tracy Schroeder, vice president of information technology for the university, told me the school didn't invest in a new tool until nearly three years into its ITIL initiative. Before buying tools, she said, it's important to develop and understand IT processes. "That way, when you get to the tool, you know what you want it to do and it's serving you rather than you shaping yourself around it."


It's not always necessary for organizations to adopt all aspects of ITIL, said Nigel Arbery, who was the practice lead for IT service management at Getronics when I interviewed him way back in 2007 and is now in a similar role at CompuCom Systems. He said:

You also need to be aware that the whole of ITIL won't be relevant to all organizations. It really is a matter of picking not only the parts of it, but the levels of adoption that are necessary, to achieve your business goals. Many organizations just jump on the bandwagon without truly understanding what they are trying to achieve from it. So really understanding the current position they are in and what their goals are should help many organizations be better adopters of ITIL.

Picking and choosing relevant ITIL principles and modifying internal processes accordingly was how Touchstone Behavioral Health approached it, according to a article. (Free registration is required.) The nonprofit's CIO and his seven-person IT staff have adopted some aspects of ITIL, but as guidelines rather than in a formal way. ITIL's highly structured approach would be a burden for his small team, said CIO Steven Porter:

Our developer is also our help desk guy -- we clearly do not have the resources to follow a specific discipline. And ITIL can't help us with that problem.

That works fine for some organizations, said George Spalding, an executive vice president at IT management consulting company Pink Elephant. Echoing Hornbill's Bolger, Spalding said organizations can introduce a tool and indicate it will require making some workflow and process changes "without hitting the IT people over the head with the ITIL frameworks."


Organizations that don't ultimately adopt more aspects of ITIL, however, miss out on the abilty to use it in a strategic way to solve long-term problems, Spalding said.

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