Posted by John Reed on Friday, June 5, 2015 - 00:00
“The only thing that is constant is change,” Heraclitus uttered around 500 BC. This truth is hardly lost on any IT executive today.
Change comes at IT managers from multiple directions:
- From vendors releasing upgrades, altering support terms or merging with other vendors;
- From end users clamoring for new tools or fixes to infrastructure errors;
- From the executive suite, with demands to “do more with less,” outsource services, take on mobile development or offer “Bring Your Own Device” support.
The IT Service Management (ITSM) discipline, and the ITIL® framework by which large enterprises typically manage service delivery, have long embraced change management as a formal process to help companies handle continual change effectively and minimize risk to service quality.
ITIL Change Management proposes that every change, from strategic changes fundamental to the business to micro-scale changes to the infrastructure, be subject to a request-approval-planning-testing-deployment process to avoid risk, minimize disruption and prevent errors.
It attempts to calibrate the rigor of this evaluation process to the inherent risk. ITIL proposes establishing a Change Advisory Board (CAB) with both business and technical stakeholders to review and approve service and infrastructure changes.
ITIL can be daunting in its perceived formality, but even borrowing informally from its change management principles can have a positive effect on service quality.
Balancing speed and formality
The key to effective organizational change management is making sure it’s the right-sized solution, notes George Spalding, executive vice president at Pink Elephant, a global ITSM consultancy. “Too many times, well-meaning IT folks try to kill an ant with a steamroller. Minor new changes like virus definition updates can be approved and scheduled by a change manager without engaging the CAB, while larger changes use the normal CAB process.”
Nor does one CAB need the scope to review all stages of every change. “While it’s not strict ITIL, I believe that we need a separate Technical CAB meeting with the same agenda as the full CAB,” Spalding adds. “That way all the tech stuff is sorted out by technical reviewers, and the full CAB manages final approvals and scheduling.”
Vernon Clemons, director of software customer support for HP, has found it helpful to engage a network of experts in parallel with the CAB process. “The informal network can be used to capture any flags or issues not getting to the formal meetings,” he says. “The informal network can help in refining or negotiating the path or speed of change.”
That network often includes a subset of the larger team, typically including some of the most outspoken supporters or naysayers, commenting from outside formal channels. Clemons finds their sidebar dialogue a reliable barometer for broad acceptance of business process changes.
Transparency is an important principle in the change process. “The service desk maintains a central change calendar so that there is a single view of any changes that may impact our workers,” notes Lynne Hart Herrera, director of IT services for Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car. “Our process is based on a mix of traditional ITIL with practical methods that make sense in our environment. We work to stay true to our process and use the structure it provides, and encourage open communication during the planning process.”
One critique of ITIL is that it may reinforce a relatively static view of information technology that is becoming outdated as enterprises move to cloud infrastructure and Continuous Delivery or DevOps models for developing and deploying software. In DevOps, many of the change processes formerly managed by humans are automated. Some critics have questioned whether formal change management becomes obsolete in the DevOps model. It should be noted, however, that DevOps applies only to applications; change management is a permanent fixture in the administration of service quality.
ITIL, its proponents frequently stress, is a broad model for service delivery, applicable beyond the confines of IT operations. More than 2 million ITIL certifications have been awarded since the framework’s debut in the 1980s, so a large pool of resources is available to organizations that choose to make ITIL’s change process the model for organizational change management.
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