As technology use becomes pervasive in our homes and on college campuses, its influence on our lives and on the landscape of higher education has been prominent. We are at a point in its history where we have enough data to help assess how we provide technology services in higher education, and to ascertain what can be done to improve the practice. What are some of the best practices in technology services delivery and support applicable to higher education?
"While educational institutions have been slow in adapting the practice, many of them are being attracted to the basic tenets of IT service models promoted by ITIL"
Most institutions today are completely reliant on could applications, email, Microsoft Office applications, employee share drives, Enterprise Relational Database programs (i.e. Banner, Janzibar, Colleague, etc.), and other basic IT infrastructure applications and services in order to do their business. If any of these systems go off-line, the productivity of the organization is negatively impacted. However, many of the IT support models for these critical applications and services are the result of sporadic growth, acquisitions, or adding new support tools and personnel only when introducing new technology. Few campus IT installations today are the result of a "big picture" IT infrastructure approach. Instead, they are fragmented groups that often do not communicate well with each other, leading to repetitive systems and support models that do not respond quickly or efficiently to change. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) was developed by the British government specifically to address these issues.
What is ITIL?
ITIL is focused on the IT organization and its personnel, not the business or production of products. This allows ITIL-compliant organizations to quickly integrate processes, procedures, and best practices for the benefit of business improvement. It is also non-proprietary, which makes it attractive to many institutions, including Worcester State University, which is at the initial stages of ITIL implementation. The basic framework has ten core processes grouped into two sets called Service Delivery and Service Support.
Service Delivery is the management of IT services (tactical), and involves a number of management practices to ensure that IT services are provided as agreed between the Service Provider and the User.
The five Service Delivery processes are:
1. Service Level Management
2. Capacity Management
3. Contingency Planning
4. Availability Management
5. Cost Management / IT Financial Management
Service Support is the practice of those processes (operational) that enable IT Services to be provided. Without these disciplines, it would be almost impossible to provide these IT Services, and at best in a very unmanaged and haphazard way.
The five Service Support processes are:
1. Configuration Management
2. Incident Management
3. Change Management
4. Problem management
5. Release Management
The primary business benefits of ITIL include:
• Reduced costs for delivering IT services through standardization
• Improved IT services, delivered using proven best practice processes
• Improved client satisfaction through a more professional approach to service delivery
• Consistency through standards and guidance
• Improved employee productivity, for both IT and business line employees
IS ITIL Applicable in Higher Education?
ITIL is now the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world. It provides a comprehensive, consistent and coherent set of best practices for managing service delivery processes and promoting a quality approach to achieving business effectiveness and efficiency in the use of information systems. The ITIL framework is supported by a comprehensive qualification scheme, accredited training organizations, and tools for implementation and assessment. It has been prevalent in the private sector of the IT community for years, and is beginning to gain popularity lately in higher educational institutions.
As technology has allowed true globalization of organizations, the ITIL process is now becoming increasingly popular across the United States, with many companies requiring their partners/ vendors to comply. While educational institutions have been slow in adapting the practice, many of them are being attracted to the basic tenets of IT service models promoted by ITIL. It is only a matter of time before it becomes pervasive as defacto set of best practices in information technology service delivery and support in our colleges and universities.
A Good Fit: Structure and Culture
ITIL is a good fit for the structure and culture of tertiary institutions because it reduces cost for delivering IT services through standardization and provides a necessary structure. The organization chart for a typical tertiary institution in the United States is likely to include a Chief Executive Officer at the helm (chancellor or president), with a cabinet of direct reports (usually vice presidents or vice chancellors). And each of those subordinates lead a division or department. The governance structure is also likely to include all or some of the following; board of trustees, faculty leadership, staff senate, faculty senate, employee union and student government. While the groups are usually well organized, the culture of campus governance is far from being well organized. It is not unusual to find faculty and staff who are entrenched in their practices, and operates in isolation, sometimes referred to as silos. They can be described as fragmented groups that often do not communicate well with each other. ITIL provides a much needed structure in IT service delivery and support for the campus and all of its major constituents.
Consider what is happening at Worcester State University (WSU), where we are in the initial stages of ITIL implementation, with the goal of turning help desk into a service desk. We are asking our users to call one number for all service requests. That has been a culture change for some users, especially those accustomed to calling directly the technician they know for all their helpdesk needs. All support calls go to a single point of contact, where it is triaged to the proper service provider or technician. This ensures that service calls get to the right technician and cuts down incident resolution time and improves our SLA. Before the change, people will call whomever they know for help. Sometimes I will get a service request call, as simple as login failure from users, thinking they can get quick service by calling the CIO directly. When I receive the call, I will try and find a manager, who will then look for a technician to respond. The entire process can easily take hours, depending on staff availability, and tire up three people - the CIO, a manger and a technician. As one can see, it is not a very efficient way to provide service. The initial incident, login failure is something that could have possibly been resolved by a password reset, a task that people at the call center knows how to do. Asking users to call the help desk for all services may be a culture change for some but it pays off if done right, and implementing ITIL can be very helpful to the process.
A complete ITIL implementation is costly and time-consuming. The good news is that it is not be necessary for most institutions. My recommendation is that each institution adopts part(s) that fits its goals and budget. Here at Worcester State University, we are focusing on help desk functions. Also while a good functional knowledge of ITIL is critical for its success, it is not necessary that every IT staff member be ITIL-certified. Some of our staff are trained by an ITIL-certified trainer and others have even been certified, but a bulk of our training is provided in-house, thereby cutting cost and creating ownership of the process.