ITIL: Small is Big Enough


To this day, it still never fails to surprise me when people correlate the size of an organization with its ability to implement best practices. “They’re only suitable for a big business…”, “You have to be a large corporate…”, “It requires a substantial investment…” - heard any of these, or something similar? I am sure you have, but perhaps it’s time to set this perception straight. After all it is the 21st century and looking at which organizations are driving economic growth, small really is the new big!

When it comes to the pace of change in the world of Information and Technology today, lightspeed probably doesn’t even begin to describe it. We’re almost at the point where information (and technology) is at our fingertips… literally. Who said technology wasn’t wearable, never mind fashionable? And while it’s debatable which is happening faster -  demand driving technology or technology driving demand, there’s no question that the customer is still king, and that servicing customers has never been more important than it is in this new age of information everywhere. No matter the industry, location or size of the organization, finding an optimal way to manage and deliver information technology services presents the same challenge. So why then should the solution be any different?

Well actually, it doesn’t need to be.

In the domain of IT Service Management (ITSM), there’s a one size fits all best practice framework, that’s not only everything under one roof, but also happens to be the most widely accepted approach to ITSM. The IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL as it’s more commonly known, provides key capabilities to help individuals, and organizations of any size, to use IT to realize business change, transformation and growth. And it doesn’t stop there, having ITIL in the stable can help organizations get and maintain competitive advantage by ensuring that the delivery of IT services not only meets but exceeds customer expectations.

Without the resources of large enterprises, small to medium businesses often assume that best practices are out of their reach. They believe that these best practices and frameworks are resource intensive, and that their implementation is all or nothing – a Big Bang. Fortunately this is most definitely not the case, in fact the opposite is not only true, but recommended! Small organizations are often characterized by their flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness, and the close relationship they have with their customers. But what small businesses often fail to recognize is that these characteristics can be exactly what gives them the edge when setting about implementing best practices into their fold. When IT services go wrong in a small business, it’s true that everyone knows about it, but what to do to change the status quo… well, that’s where lack of best practice guidance can become very clear and detrimental.

The ITSM Lifecycle defined in ITIL presents a broad, integrated framework, covering:

Service Strategy with processes for planning services with utility (performance) and warranty (reliability)

Example: Financial Management process to secure appropriate funding to design, develop and deliver services that meet the strategy of the organization, while balancing cost and value

Service Design with processes for designing high quality, cost effective services

Example: Supplier Management process to obtain value for money from suppliers and to ensure that suppliers perform to the targets, terms and conditions within their contracts

Service Transition with processes for transitioning new/changed services into operations

Example: Change Management to ensure that authorized changes are prioritized, planned, tested, implemented, documented and reviewed in a controlled manner

Service Operation with processes to achieve optimal efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of services

Examples: Event, Incident and Problem Management processes

Continual Service Improvement with processes to create and improve value to customer through services

Example: Seven Step Improvement process to define and manage the steps needed to identify, define, gather, process, analyse, present and implement improvements

By implementing some of ITIL’s best practices, small businesses can realize benefits in processes where they are typically weaker than their large enterprise counterparts, such as managing and optimizing IT investments and costs, monitoring, measuring and improving the performance of service providers, and managing risk. The need for high quality, cost effective and consistent IT services, and delivery of these to customers, is even greater in small to medium enterprises (SMEs). SME’s can ill afford for services to go wrong, and when they do, they need to not only fix them as quickly as possible, but prevent a future repeat.

Implementing ITIL is in no way a Big Bang exercise, not even for the largest businesses. It’s also not a one-off initiative; another misconception. Embedded throughout ITIL, and a phase within the ITSM lifecycle, is Continual Service Improvement to drive organizations to keep getting better and better in the management and delivery of IT services. The key thing to remember when planning the adoption of ITIL is to identify specific challenges your organization is facing and determine where and how quick wins can be made. Start small and manageable, and incrementally increase the implementation of specific ITIL processes and functions as business needs demand and resources allow. ITIL is not something that needs to be implemented ‘all at once’, rather its framework structure allows for one or a combination of a few elements to be put in place as and when needed.

Imagine a small business whose key challenge is that they are experiencing a significant number of disruptions to services, directly impacting the ability of the organization to deliver and meet service level agreements (SLAs). To make matters worse the customers keep phoning in to inform the business that their services are failing!  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Enter ITIL…

Focused on achieving effectiveness in the delivery and support of IT services, the Service Operation phase of ITIL’s ITSM lifecycle contains key processes to address some of these exact challenges:

Event Management to detect events, rationalize them and determine appropriate response

Incident Management to ensure normal service is restored as quickly as possible in the event of a disruption and minimize adverse impacts to the business

Problem Management to prevent and minimize the potential impact of future incidents and problems

So while it’s true that small businesses face unique challenges in building organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services, it doesn’t in any way hinder them in choosing, implementing and benefiting from service management best practices like ITIL. To the contrary; less bureaucracy and red tape, a more adaptable organizational culture and an easier route to management/owner buy-in, makes most small businesses the perfect incubators for ITIL adoption. ITIL doesn’t discriminate based on the size of the organization, it is size ‘agnostic’ one could say; fit for large, medium and small enterprises. Like other best practice frameworks, for example COBIT 5, it isn’t a framework which needs to be wholly implemented all at one time, it is structured and flexible enabling organizations in the SME sector to select the processes and functions most important to their operation, strategic objectives and enterprise goals – and in line with their available financial and human resources. From the biggest to the smallest, I’ve yet to find an organization of any size that wouldn’t benefit from embarking on a quest to make IT service management a strategic asset in their business – which is exactly what ITIL can do for you. Small really is big enough!

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