ITIL® – adaptive guidance for IT services

July 2012 saw the Home Secretary’s Strategic Policing Requirement put the emphasis firmly on service capability, consistency and collaboration. She highlighted the need for an aggregated response to national threats, where police forces can collaborate effectively. For the police and all other public services, IT services underpin all operations and are critical to future development plans.

Public services are having to deliver against demanding national targets in an environment that increasingly calls for evidence of improved efficiency. Add to that the need of services such as the police to combine effectively to produce a coordinated national response, and it’s clear that we’re entering a period of transition towards new ways of working. IT services will need to be increasingly consistent and reliable to support collaborative operations and information sharing.

What is ITIL?
The ITIL framework, from the UK government, offers effective and efficient management for IT services. It has been widely used as a best-practice standard for IT service management (ITSM) for more than 20 years, and is regularly updated to ensure it stays in step with the challenges of the latest technology. The principle of ITIL is not a ‘one size fits all’ standard, it provides comprehensive guidance that is adaptable to help organisations meet their own IT needs, and respond fast to the needs of their customers.

ITIL works equally well whether IT services are provided from inside an organisation, or by an external provider. In either case the emphasis is on the business goals of the client organisation. The core guidance supports the five stages of the ITIL service lifecycle, with a publication dedicated to each: ITIL Service Strategy, ITIL Service Design, ITIL Service Transition, ITIL Service Operation and ITIL Continual Service Improvement.

It’s significant that the ITIL Service Strategy core publication is the hub of the framework, moving through to service design, the transition phase, and then service operation. In line with the periodic reviews that keep public services responsive to changing needs, continual service improvement surrounds and supports all stages of the service lifecycle. ITIL provides a framework to help control the complex interrelationships affecting each stage of the lifecycle, and provides a set of checks and balances that ensure business processes remain robust in the face of change, allowing services to adapt and respond effectively.

Practical Guidance
Each of the five core ITIL publications includes practical examples and guidance showing how ITIL best practice can be adopted and adapted in all workplaces including public services – for instance, ITIL Service Design includes examples for ‘Typical contents of a Capacity Plan’ and ‘Examples of Service Acceptance Criteria’, which are also cross-referenced to other relevant areas. Areas such as information security management are covered in detail, with data centre management guidance being included in ITIL Service Operation together with a comprehensive framework for physical access control and security auditing.

Often the concept of ‘standards’ is understood to point towards unwieldy bureaucracy where a process can get in the way of efficient practices. ITIL’s focus is on an organisation’s business strategy and its main objectives, making sure that every step in every process is fully supportive of key goals and helps to create the fastest routes to the results needed – and a fast response for public services.

Cost Savings
Public services are under increasing pressure to deliver more with less. Although some organisations may be concerned that adopting best practice could be time-consuming and costly, increased efficiency can lead to cost savings. ITIL highlights the importance of focusing on value to the business, and increasing efficiency. Measures such as customer satisfaction, business benefits for the investment made, and response rates, may be more valid and more useful.

In its strategic plan for 2009 to 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US stated a target of improving efficiency through giving ‘people the technology they need’. They said they wanted ‘to deliver a quality and timely service to our customers while cutting costs’ and chose ITIL as the best approach for achieving this. The IRS recognized that they needed to change their perspective, so that each IT department became not a ‘cost centre’ but a ‘service delivery centre’. This switched the focus onto the value to the business, allowing the service to streamline processes and make them more efficient and repeatable – cutting costs while protecting quality and response.

Value goes well beyond technical benefits. To make an assessment of value, you need to take full consideration of the context for current challenges. For instance, the Strategic Policing Requirement highlights the need for collaboration across force and institutional boundaries, and to apply an integrated approach across borders. The design processes in the ITIL framework outline best practices for identifying, defining and aligning IT solutions alongside specific business requirements. ITIL points towards what needs to be done to realize a strategy and to produce the outcomes needed. The guidance offers processes, and clear steps to achieving the best possible value – the right results, with the quality needed.

Capabilities and Resources
ITIL makes an interesting distinction between capabilities and resources. Resources are critical if anything at all is to be achieved, but take away capability and you are left with very little. Capabilities represent an organisation’s ability to coordinate, control and use resources. You can buy an IT application, but the organisation will derive little value from it without capability. The Strategic Policing Requirement reflects this distinction, noting that forces will need to connect both their resources and their capabilities to be able to collaborate effectively and respond to national emergencies.

Developing the right capability sets across all your teams is a critical first step for delivering any strategy. ITIL acknowledges that every role within IT service management requires specific skills, attributes and competences so that all team members can work effectively and efficiently. All five core ITIL publications include generic and process-specific role descriptions and information on competence and the responsibility model.

The skills and training of each individual team need to be considered in such a way that collaboration becomes straightforward on larger projects, and where a consolidated response is needed across boundaries. ITIL qualifications are modular, so that capability can be built in a tailored way, focusing on the specific goals of the service, but always to the standard.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) used the ITIL framework, and ITIL professional accreditation qualifications, for a 2011 enterprise-wide IT update that upgraded all their services to comply with new legislation, and reduced costs at the same time. They achieved their technical goals and upskilled their workforce in parallel, aligning their teams to the latest standards and qualifications in IT service management.

Collaboration and Communication
Consistency is a critical basis for interoperability and collaboration, and can ensure that reliable quality standards are reached right across the board. What starts off as a local issue for a public service such as the police can quickly and dynamically escalate to create national or cross border requirements. Where best-practice processes are consistently followed, local issues can seamlessly be extended across boundaries with little disruption. ITIL is about improving business processes and instilling the discipline and rigour that allows them to be relied upon in a crisis.

ITIL doesn’t have a separate process for communication, but recognizes that good communication is a core principle for every process and situation. The guidance covers the impact of changes on people, as well as processes and technology, and provides a framework designed to improve performance across a range of situations. ITIL Service Transition includes a chapter on ‘Managing People through service transitions’, explaining the role of communication during times of change, highlighting the need to explain the reasons for a change, as well as the technical impact; getting people behind the changes proposed and securing their full commitment. Where details can’t be shared, for security reasons, then ITIL recommends this should be openly stated, creating a culture where teams move forward together.

ITIL Service Operation explores the issue of communication from a number of different perspectives, including communication related to an emergency or incident, communication between shifts, and global communication.

Continual Service Improvement
ITIL has been successful not only because of its comprehensive and robust content, but because each process is surrounded by ways to ensure that practices move forward in a continuous drive for improvement and added efficiency. Whilst it provides all the information needed to comply with the ISO/IEC 20000 standard, it’s an essentially practical approach representing the experience and practices of the world’s best service providers. It suggests only that organisations adapt the framework to do what works best for them. ITIL is owned by the UK government, and isn’t based on any particular technology platform or industry type, so it’s equally relevant across the board and whatever the starting point.

For the police targeting the Home Secretary’s strategic requirements, and for other emergency services looking to cut costs, raise efficiency levels and ensure a fast response to public requirements, the ITIL publications could be essential reading.

Further information
You can find out more about ITIL and the ITIL publications portfolio at

Using ITIL guidance

Are you using the ITIL guidance already? Please let us know your story, so we can share your valuable experience with others and support raising standards in IT service management. Please email


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