6 Best Practices for Using ITSM in a DevOps World

Drew Robb

Updated · Mar 04, 2016

Some organizations are well into their IT service management (ITSM) journeys, some have implemented part of it and others are thinking about it. More than a few, though, have ended ITSM initiatives in favor of what they perceive as faster routes to application success. DevOps, in particular, has caused some to abandon ITSM and ITIL – the framework that provides guidelines for implementing ITSM – due to the promised speed and simplicity of its approach.

Yet many experts believe ITSM and DevOps can complement each other.

While DevOps promises near instant results for the business through rapid application development, those relying on it often find that too many DevOps projects can cause IT to either lose control or to consume too many resources. It works well in some use cases, and not in others.

“ITIL is very process heavy, which is the polar opposite of how DevOps prefers to work in an agile way,” said John Miecielica, TeamQuest product manager.

Still, he said, ITSM and ITIL offer benefits. He has noticed ITIL losing ground to DevOps inside some organizations but feels that they are not mutually exclusive. There is room for both in modern IT organizations.

Wherever you are along the ITSM path – and especially if you are also using or considering DevOps – these six best practices will help ensure that ITSM complements a DevOps approach:

  • Use a Bimodal approach to ITSM
  • Use ITSM to clean up chaos in DevOps projects
  • Use ITSM to improve resource utilization
  • Keep ITSM focus narrow, at least at first
  • Use dashboards to show ITSM benefits
  • Take advantage of ITSM tools

Use Bimodal Approach to ITSM

Miecielica's solution is for ITSM-based organizations drawn to the allure of DevOps not to get into an either/or proposition. He advocates a bimodal approach.

“ITIL is strong and continues to gain strength in Mode 1, which is process rich and provides a platform for governance of IT,” Miecielica said. “Mode 2 is DevOps, where you can be far more agile, use cloud resources instantly and prove out new ideas rapidly in a fail fast model.”

Obviously, ITSM does not lend itself well to Mode 2. Miecielica's point is that organizations need both: to be agile when they need it but to do it within a more systematic fashion. Many analysts in larger organizations believe that the process-rich disciplines of ITSM will be called upon for governance of Mode 2 in the long run as part of the ITIL framework, he said.

“This allows both modes to do what they do best: You use Mode 2 to invent things in an agile way and Mode 1 to save money with ITIL processes,” he explained.

Use ITSM to Clean up Chaos

DevOps can be too agile – some might say chaotic – and leave loose ends all over the place.

“DevOps people often move onto the next project without cleaning up resources from the previous one,” Miecielica said, noting that ITSM can help by introducing processes that increase efficiency and boost the value of DevOps.

Use ITSM to Improve Resource Utilization

The DevOps crowd is likely to be leery of ITIL's somewhat staid nature and its documentation-heavy approach. A good way to demonstrate the value of ITSM to skeptical DevOps fans is to zero in on resource utilization. “ITSM can get involved and save the corporation money by evaluating unused and under-utilized resources and working with DevOps to stop paying for them,” Miecielica said.

Keep ITSM Focus Narrow at First

Once progress has been made in promoting the value of ITIL and ITSM to DevOps, it is vital not to overwhelm them by trying to teach them the entirety of ITIL over the next few weeks. Keep it simple.

Rusty Robinson, president and founder of Performance 360, said that incident, problem, change, and configuration management should be the primary focus areas of most organizations, at least initially. These process areas will typically involve the IT help desk and ultimately will be handled by other technical domains within the organization.

“Once these process areas gain maturity and increased capability, leadership tends to look at other areas within the organization to help leverage the ‘single system of record' concept of ITSM as a way to streamline processes and develop an integrated approach to manage business value and performance,” he said.

Use Dashboards to Show ITSM Benefits

Creating dashboards is one way to minimize the complexity inherent in the modern ITIL-based operation. The IT manager from a large telecommunications company, for example, recently implemented capacity management and other aspects of ITIL with goals of cost reduction, risk avoidance and efficiency.

“The project leader focused on dashboards first and the visibility of the project changed in a dramatic way, leading to the capacity management project team becoming in demand,” said Bill Berutti, president of Cloud Management and Automation at BMC.

In this case, the first dashboard provided actual usage numbers for data storage that led to about 40 terabytes of storage being eliminated from a purchasing contract, Berutti said.

Take Advantage of ITSM Tools

Another way to streamline any ITSM implementation is to harness available tools, which are designed around best practices to gradually add more and more ITIL elements. They can take a lot of the guesswork out of an ITSM rollout.

“There are many rapidly improving suites of tools and ITSM platforms that can help in the development, deployment and management of these best practices and processes, said Robinson. “The principles and practices of the ITIL framework are built-in and that allows organizations to rapidly design and develop custom applications and workflows out of the box.”

He gave the example of ServiceNow. It provides service management for departments such as IT, human resources, facilities, field service and more. Another example is BMC Remedyforce. Built on the Salesforce Force.com platform, it leverages ITSM tools and practices in the cloud as well as dashboards and analytics. Automation, ITSM best practices, capacity planning, performance management and modeling are included as part of the TeamQuest IT Service Optimization product. Another useful ITSM tool is CA Service Management, which aims to align business and IT around ITSM.

ITSM's Future

DevOps may get all the glory these days. It racks up the bulk of the media attention and that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. People like a fast fix, and DevOps offers that in many cases. But that doesn't mean ITSM and ITIL don't have a bright future. They bring greater discipline to IT, and that may well turn out to be the ideal complement to DevOps.

“ITIL has gained traction as more organizations seek to find best practice frameworks and standards to help them do more with less resources,” Robinson said. “Many executives are looking at ways to invest in frameworks like ITIL that are now seen as impactful across the organization and not just IT.”

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  • Drew Robb
    Drew Robb

    Drew Robb is a writer who has been writing about IT, engineering, and other topics. Originating from Scotland, he currently resides in Florida. Highly skilled in rapid prototyping innovative and reliable systems. He has been an editor and professional writer full-time for more than 20 years. He works as a freelancer at Enterprise Apps Today, CIO Insight and other IT publications. He is also an editor-in chief of an international engineering journal. He enjoys solving data problems and learning abstractions that will allow for better infrastructure.

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