Considering the many challenges faced by IT service providers today, leveraging frameworks to assist in managing and controlling IT services is a logical, yet difficult task. With so many best practices in the market today, how can you know which ones are applicable? There are several methodologies and frameworks competing for the attention of IT leadership, and they all have valuable contributions. If you’re looking for a good overview, watch this webinar where I discuss this in more depth.
Frameworks are becoming so popular because the rising demand for best practices is driven by requirements to be more competitive while holding costs down and ensuring the performance and conformance of IT services. Historically, IT Service Providers were self-directed and considered cost centers. Today, best practices help these providers focus on meeting enterprise objectives. As IT moves up the list of strategic goal priorities, justifying technology investments grow – therefore the need for best practices.
With the overall goal of providing value to the business, consider two core tenets of every IT service provider: 1) provide value in delivered services, and 2) ensure proper governance and control of the processes that support them. This is where the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT) play a valuable role.
ITIL is a widely adopted approach for IT Service Management that helps identify, plan, deliver and support IT services to the business and is detailed within five core publications (Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement). It enables the delivery of appropriate services that continually ensure benefits delivery and business goal achievement.
COBIT is the latest edition of ISACA’s globally accepted GEIT framework that provides an end-to-end business view of the governance and management of enterprise IT by integrating other major industry frameworks such as ITIL, TOGAF, PRINCE2, and related ISO standards. COBIT effectively helps govern enterprise IT with five principles and seven enablers.
Pick One or Use both?
So, where would I start? It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. From my experience, most organizations are in one of three situations (or worse, more than one). I’ve described these below, with my suggestion on which framework seems to make the most sense to lead with.
Remember, the goal is to implement and manage IT services to achieve business benefits while meeting governance and control requirements. Because of its high-level approach, broad coverage, and foundation on many existing practices, COBIT can easily be used as the integrator that brings multiple practices under one framework which links those to business objectives. With this in mind, the following table will help you understand how COBIT and ITIL fit together.
Critical Success Factors
Whichever approach you choose, there are a few critical success factors that should always be considered when adopting frameworks:
- Focus on value. This is why IT service providers exist—to realize benefits while optimizing risks and resources. Don’t get caught up in adopting framework capabilities unless they have a real positive impact on your business.
- Management commitment. Without it, you’re spinning your wheels. Leadership must be involved in any framework adoption. Grassroots movements sound great, but business priorities must be understood, communicated, and monitored by management.
- Process ownership and accountability. Processes don’t manage themselves. Identify process owners and ensure that they’re accountable. Use RACI charts to assist in determining who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.
- Training and communication. Certifications aren’t required but are certainly a plus. Consider foundation level training (at a minimum) for both ITIL and COBIT. One challenge, I see, is that when a limited number of people at a company are trained, they fail to effectively communicate and transfer that knowledge across the organization. Create a communication and training plan that supports the goals of your framework adoption.
- Continual improvement and measurements. Embrace and embed a service culture. Don’t just stop improving once you’ve started seeing initial wins. Ensure that the culture continually improves on successes, and base these on measurements. Both ITIL and COBIT have excellent models to help here.