Powerful Processes

After using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the city of Oklahoma City reduced its systems’ downtime per year from 200 hours to seven, despite a 26 percent staffing decrease. Procter & Gamble estimates that it saved $500 million in the first four years after implementing ITIL. And today, many K–12 districts, including the Broward County and Sarasota school systems in Florida, are looking into ITIL to save time, increase productivity, and cut costs.

Developed by the United Kingdom’s Office of Government Commerce in the late 1980s and adopted throughout the world during the 1990s, the IT Infrastructure Library represents a whole new spin on managing IT. Simply put, ITIL is a set of best practices for managing IT using processes. The process distinction is an important one. For example, under ITIL, staff members focus on the process of determining whether adequate service has been delivered to users. This is in stark contrast to organizations where post-service reflection is ad hoc at best.

The good news for schools is that ITIL is non-proprietary and can be adopted by any organization wanting to streamline IT. ITIL does not prescribe how processes should be implemented; it merely provides a framework. This means district leaders can expect to spend a significant amount of time adapting ITIL’s processes to align with specific organizational needs. Most will find, though, that ITIL’s overarching framework, powerful self-assessments, and flexibility are worth the investment. Just ask Oklahoma City.

Meet the Processes

There are 12 ITIL processes organized into two categories: operational procedures that focus on service support, and tactical procedures that zero in on service delivery.

Operational Processes:

Service Desk: ITIL defines an organization’s service desk as a single point of contact and first line of support for all end users who need assistance. Under this model, IT staff members resolve incidents with customers via e-mail or over the phone, classifying and prioritizing incidents as they are received and collecting data for feedback on IT department performance. This represents a huge departure from the traditional site-based model, where each IT technician works exclusively with a small unit of the organization.

The advantage : Patterns—and problems—throughout the IT infrastructure can be easily spotted, and staff can be strategically assigned based on their strengths.

Incident Management: ITIL draws a sharp distinction between incidents and problems. An incident is any disruption in normal IT service, no matter what the cause. A problem is a pattern of incidents that has a common cause. Incident management, then, is a procedure for restoring normal IT service as quickly as possible by resolving the incident (e.g., resetting a corrupted user password) or identifying a temporary work-around. Effective incident management involves “escalating” incidents that require time or expertise beyond the capabilities of the service desk staff and carefully recording incidents and their resolutions. The use of a trouble-ticketing system is common in an ITIL incident management process.

The advantage: Incident management means increased system uptime. Information about incidents and resolutions informs other IT processes and identifies patterns that suggest larger problems.

Problem Management: Problem management describes the process an organization uses to minimize or eradicate problems, anything from a misconfigured router to a software bug. Often a key component of problem management is a good documentation system. Many organizations find that wikis or online collaboration spaces such as Microsoft SharePoint are effective tools to support collaborative problem solving.

The advantage: The number of incidents is reduced because underlying problems are identified and fixed quickly.

Change Management: Few things are harder to make happen in organizations than change. Software updates, new hardware, and other significant technology changes affect end users throughout the system. ITIL recommends a more formalized change management process than those found in most school districts, including a detailed request for change (RFC) procedure that is reviewed and approved (or disapproved) by a change advisory board (CAB).

The advantage: There is a substantially reduced risk of negative consequences related to technological changes.

Release Management: Release management refers to the actual process of rolling out new technology systems, ensuring they are properly tested before deployment and that problems are quickly identified. A centralized software update server is an example of a release management tool that many school districts may already have in place.

The advantage: Release management tools increase confidence among end users.

Configuration Management:Configuration management means tracking configurations for all systems in your district, typically through an asset database, a library of system documentation, and a configuration management database (CMDB), which informs other ITIL processes.

The advantage: There is a reduced risk of configuration-related problems such as incompatible software.

Security Management: The security management process is exactly what it sounds like: a framework for developing network security plans and policies.

The advantage: The security management process increases the availability of technology systems by preventing problems such as Internet worms and viruses.

Tactical Processes:

Service Level Management: Tactical processes in ITIL help organizations improve their delivery of IT services. For example, customers are often dissatisfied because they have unreasonable expectations. The service level management process helps IT departments define customer needs and outline what departments can reasonably deliver. The resulting service level agreement ( SLA) then serves as a standard against which the performance of the organization's technology and IT service can be accurately measured.

The advantage: With adequate data, operational deficiencies can be identified and corrected.

Financial Management for IT Services: The financial management for IT services process is concerned with budgets, the actual cost of delivering IT services, and (optionally) charging for services.

The advantage: Without this information, districts cannot make accurate total cost of ownership calculations or conduct precise cost-benefit analyses.

Availability Management: The number of technology services that could be deemed "mission critical," from student information systems to data warehouses, has increased dramatically in districts. The goal of the availability management process is to minimize downtime of these key technology systems by proactively monitoring and maintaining them.

The advantage: End users trust the technology more. Collecting and analyzing availability data helps justify expenditures designed to increase system reliability.

Capacity Management: Insufficient capacity in the technology infrastructure leads to poor performance and frustration on the part of end users, while maintaining excess capacity is a waste of scarce resources. The Capacity Management process attempts to balance those extremes by monitoring current utilization of resources and planning for future needs.

The advantage: Expenses are deferred until they are truly necessary to meet the organization's needs.

IT Service Continuity Management: How much time and money would it take for your organization to recover from a disaster that completely destroyed your main data center? The IT service continuity management process includes extensive disaster and recovery planning as well as training for IT staff to implement recovery procedures.

The advantage: Valuable student and employee data are protected, fulfilling districts’ responsibility to the public trust.

Dr. Scott McLeod is co-director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. He is a member of School CIO’s advisory board.

Tim Wilson is a technology integration specialist for the Hopkins ( Minn.) School District. Tim blogs and podcasts at technosavvy.org.

Learn More

Intrigued by ITIL? Check out these resources.

Office of Government Commerce (UK)

ITIL Community Forum

The ITIL Toolkit

ITIL training: HP and IBM