Continuous Improvement in the ITIL World

Continuous Improvement in the ITIL World

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a framework for Information Technology Service Management or ITSM and IT Operations. The first set of best in class practices and recommendations were put together in the 1980s by the UK Government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency to manage the growth and dependence of IT and to establish a common set of guidelines on IT management, since most companies were creating their own management practices and these were not consistent.

The basic format of ITIL is based on a process management approach and is, at times, credited to Deming’s PDCA approach. This set of management practices formed the IT Infrastructure Library. The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency later merged into the Office of Government Commerce under UK Treasury and has been managing the different versions since then. The current version in circulation is ITIL v3. ITIL is increasingly being adopted by companies as the source of good practice in service management and is applicable to all types of organizations that provide services to a business.

As per the ITIL handbook, “The service lifecycle is an approach to IT service management that emphasizes the importance of coordination and control across the various functions, processes, and systems necessary to manage the full lifecycle of IT services. The Service Management Lifecycle approach considers the strategy, design, transition, operation, and continuous improvement of IT services.” A’s we see ITIL focuses extensively on continuous improvement and calls for a separate Continual Service Improvement function as part of the Service Lifecycle. As per ITIL, “Continual Service Improvement is responsible for managing improvements to IT Service Improvement Processes and IT services.” In fact the ITIL Continual Services Improvement model is based on the Deming Plan-Do-CheckAct cycle.

The biggest challenge that corporations implementing ITIL have to face is the change management issue that arises when the company needs to restructure to meet the ITIL recommended approach. This, at times, makes it difficult to implement a continuous improvement program simultaneously because of the change management issues that could arise from managing multiple large scale implementations. However, companies that have successfully implemented Six Sigma or Lean programs in conjunction with ITIL have actually leaned on the Continual Service Improvement ITIL best practices and leveraged the streamlined functions that ITIL puts in place along with indentified roles and owners for all major processes. So ITIL implementation can practically help a company in speeding up the acceptance of a structured continuous improvement program.

As per the ITIL Continual Service Improvement guide/handbook a combination of Six Sigma, Lean, and CMMI works best for IT services organizations. Six Sigma is recognized by ITIL as one of the best practices that supports Continuous Service Improvement in the information technology industry. In fact, from the list of Bloomberg Businessweek Digital Elite Top 10 IT Companies for 2010, seven have Six Sigma programs or Black Belts in their organization. Listed below are those six companies:

Apple ranked second, but there is no information readily available whether Apple has a formal Six Sigma program but they have Black Belt certified employees; Amazon (ranked fourth); Tata Consulting Services (ranked fifth); Priceline (ranked sixth); CenturyLink (ranked seventh); Cognizant Technology Services (ranked eighth); and Infosys (ranked ninth), all have Six Sigma programs.