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IT Service Management beyond ITIL

April 24, 2008

As IT has evolved, the field of ITSM has expanded beyond ITIL’s original scope, encompassing the following new areas:

  • Network management and the establishment of end-to-end services.

  • Application management, covering the increasingly complex nature of distributed environments.

  • Software management, satisfying the need to manage software quality in a continuously changing environment.

  • Security management, addressing the increased risks to IT systems resulting from distributed architectures and the Internet.

  • Improved financial management, spurred on by the vastly complex array of costs and business benefits that have arisen from recent IT developments.

At least a dozen standards have emerged that support this expanded role of ITSM. These are complementary in nature, and are supported by the ITSM community through it SMF. It is beyond the scope of this document to look at all of them. Instead, we will focus on the three that are most likely to matter to the SME: COBIT, Six Sigma, and MOF.

Controlled Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT)

Many enterprises will have run into COBIT before considering ITIL. If Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is on the agenda, COBIT is not an option but rather a requirement.

COBIT was published and is maintained by the Information Systems Audit and Control Foundation (ISACA) and the IT Governance Institute. Like ITIL, COBIT is in the public domain. COBIT is commonly used alongside ITIL to formalize the accountability links between various aspects of IT and the financial governance structure of an enterprise.

COBIT puts emphasis on the factors that matter most: risk management, security, consistency of data, and cost control. To this end, COBIT establishes 34 control objectives, each linked to a number of specific activities. These are all tied together by means of a common control framework, supported by a number of management guidelines.

Many of the control objectives in COBIT are present in ITIL. Therefore, using them both is not an “either or” proposition — the processes in ITIL will help, not hinder, adoption of COBIT. There is some overlap, particularly with regard to ITIL’s Financial Management function, but this is easily manageable. What COBIT adds is much more detail on the financial and management side, and interfaces well with formal accounting and audit principles.

COBIT, in spite of its relation to formal audits, is an “adopt and adapt” framework. As a case in point, the IT Governance Institute has published COBIT online to make it easy for users to adapt it for their own enterprise. Furthermore, and of special interest to SMEs, there is a version called COBIT QuickStart, which is designed for SMEs who don’t have the depth of requirement as would a larger enterprise.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma and ITIL have common roots. The beginnings of Six Sigma go back to 1920, when Walter Shewhart, the creator of the same Shewhart Circle used by ITIL, established a set of statistical principles about the dynamics of product variation. The big breakthrough for Six Sigma, however, occurred in the 1980s — the same time ITIL was being created. Bill Smith, a Vice President at Motorola, created the actual Six Sigma body of knowledge for use with by his own enterprise. Six Sigma remains a Motorola registered trademark. However, much of the notoriety of Six Sigma was achieved through General Electric’s high profile adoption of it in the ’90s under the helm of Jack Welch.

As a method, Six Sigma provides a set of tools that allow variations to be quantified, and for performance to be planned around quantifiable goals. Six Sigma adheres to the following multi-layer structure:

  • As a measurement tool, it provides means for calculating deviations in quality. The overriding law is that defects must be limited to 3.4 out of one million instances.

  • As a method, it provides a toolset for quality improvements projects. As in ITIL, these projects involve teamwork and the elimination of functional silos.

  • Six Sigma is also a philosophy in that it promotes a culture about quality.

Many vendors provide Six Sigma consulting as a complement to ITIL, and it can be used to help enterprises understand how successful they are at managing their IT infrastructure. In fact, many SMEs contemplating ITIL already have Six Sigma processes in place. The two methodologies often have a complementary relationship. If ITIL is the machine that monitors and regulates IT, Six Sigma is the precision measurement tool.

Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF)

Like many other software vendors, Microsoft has been actively involved with the ITIL community over the past few years. However, Microsoft has taken this involvement a step further by developing a complementary framework, which is widely regarded as a significant contribution to the field.

Using its own environment as a test bed, Microsoft developed MOF — a framework based on ITIL principles optimized for maintaining large Microsoft-based environments. Released in 2000, MOF is available for free and is posted on the Microsoft Web site.

Microsoft makes a strong point that MOF is not a departure from ITIL, but instead an “actionable and prescriptive” realization of ITIL principles. MOF is well-accepted in the ITIL community, and a number of ITIL training enterprises offer MOF courses as an adjunct to ITIL training.

As a framework, MOF provides the following:

  • Processes mapped specifically to Microsoft products. These cover areas such as security administration, directory services administration, storage management, and print and output management.

  • A lifecycle model that makes it easier to create, evolve, and track specific services over time.

  • A teaming model that reflects that fact that teams may be geographically distributed and from a variety of disciplines.

  • A risk model that clarifies the day-to-day management of IT risk through a five – step process.

  • Correspondence with another Microsoft process framework — Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF). MSF in turn provides a methodology for the planning and rollout of enterprise applications in a Microsoft environment.

MOF is particularly suitable for SMEs because it reduces the workload of implementing service management as well as outside consulting costs. The cost-reducing elements are as follows:

  • Microsoft has released software plug-ins that make it easy to manage applications such as Microsoft Exchange using MOF principles. These greatly speed up the implementation process, and set up “plug and play” workflow processes that ensure that service management is executed thoroughly and accurately.

  • The MOF documents also include many of the practical “middle layer” processes that are not included in ITIL. As opposed to the broad definitional approach of ITIL, these processes are actionable and ready to implement.

  • The completeness of MOF helps enterprises avoid the complexity of incorporating other standards and methods with ITIL.

Microsoft made the wise choice to not re-invent the wheel, and to keep the ITIL principles intact. This means that a MOF environment will easily accommodate ITIL-compliant software such as HP OpenView, which may play a prominent role in the IT management of an enterprise. But more importantly it means that an enterprise that works with MOF can use ITIL-trained staff, and can work easily with partners that have implemented ITIL-compliant processes in their enterprises.

However, the “adopt and adapt” motto should be kept in mind. Like ITIL, MOF is not a religion, and should never be seen as an automatic fix for all IT problems. Furthermore, MOF is optimized for Microsoft environments. Enterprises with significant investments in other platforms such as Linux, HP-UX, or AIX may find that the exceptions outweigh the benefits.

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