ITIL Gains Acceptance

Florida's Sarasota County joins a growing number of governments deploying IT best practices to improve their help desks.

ITIL Gains Acceptance
Florida’s Sarasota County joins a growing number of governments deploying IT best practices to improve their help desks.

Implementing ITIL has boosted team collaboration and led to “fewer surprises,” Sarasota County’s Dale Ott says.

The Information Technology Department for Florida’s Sarasota County fixes computers, resolves network problems and provides forgotten passwords for the county’s 2,500 employees. But for the past four years, the IT staff has also been busy troubleshooting itself.

In 2003, the county’s business centers, such as public works and environmental services, ran their own help desks, while the central IT organization managed the network and shared applications. There was little structure or communication, which sometimes led to duplication of effort. Engineers who needed to work on bigger IT projects were often busy working on rudimentary problems.

Now, four years into its implementation of IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of best practices for managing IT, the county’s help desk is a model of efficiency and effectiveness.

The IT department centralized the help desk, whose staff handles all service requests and resolves most problems, saving engineers for more complex problems and giving them more time to work on their large strategic projects. Each group within IT is also communicating better, which improves and speeds customer service.

“Our level of service has improved immensely, and there have been greater efficiencies and fewer surprises through team collaboration,” says Dale Ott, service manager for Sarasota County’s Enterprise IT Group.

The ITIL Model

ITIL, increasingly popular in the United States, is a set of IT best practices created by the British government in the late 1980s. It offers guidelines on managing seven disciplines, including applications and security.

Most IT organizations focus on two disciplines, Service Support and Service Delivery, which help department staffs develop processes to improve customer service and overall IT perception within their organizations.

“IT departments have historically been tech-focused, but with ITIL, it drives them to focus strongly on the customer,” says Michael Disabato, service director at the Burton Group, an analyst firm in Midvale, Utah.

ITIL is not a standard but a set of high-level recommendations on how processes should work. IT departments must develop the processes for their own organizations. ITIL adoption is a multiyear process that requires good planning and patience because IT organizations will have to dramatically change the way they have traditionally worked, Disabato says.

The first step in implementing ITIL is developing new business processes and changing the organization’s culture. “A good attitude is key,” Disabato says.

Sarasota’s ITIL Implementation by the Numbers

2 years: The time it took to set up the service desk, including developing service-level agreements with business centers

7: Employees who work on the service desk

150: Customer calls and e-mail messages handled daily by the service desk

4 to 24 hours: The range of deadlines assigned to problems

8 business hours: Time the desk allows itself to resolve e-mail problems

8: Percentage of incidents not resolved within the self-imposed deadlines last year

23: Percentage of incidents not resolved by deadlines in 2003

The ITIL Service Focus

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library’ Service Support features six processes to manage and quickly restore services.

First, a Service Desk must be the central point of contact, and second, it must use the Incident Management process to triage and log each customer request.

Through the Problem Management process, the IT team analyzes incidents to spot trends or bigger problems it needs to address, which helps reduce repetitive help desk calls.

The guidance’s Configuration Management process ensures that hardware and software, and their relationships, are recorded in the database, while the Change Management and Release Management processes require the IT staff to analyze potential changes to the systems infrastructure, such as software fixes. They approve them and update the database so everyone is aware of the changes.

ITIL Service Delivery, which takes a strategic, long-term view of service, features five processes: negotiating service-level agreements with customers, tracking spending, performing disaster recovery, ensuring service availability and planning for IT infrastructure to meet future demands.

A key ITIL component is a data repository called the Configuration Management Database, which contains details of the organization’s elements that are used in the provision and management of its IT services.

To get more information about ITIL, check out the ITIL Community Forum at

Mar 29 2007