IT frameworks lay out guidelines, best practices and operating principles to help IT organizations achieve objectives defined in business terms. IT frameworks ensure alignment between the way IT services are delivered and the value they enable.
Frameworks are useful because IT processes can be large and complex. Without a consistent set of operating principles, records and governance practices, service delivery can become haphazard and inconsistent. Frameworks can protect against service failures by outlining best practices, ensuring that stages aren't overlooked.
Examples of IT frameworks
There are numerous IT frameworks that go by such names as:
All are aimed at aligning operational efficiency with business outcomes, but each has a somewhat different focus. Six Sigma, for example, is aimed at using data analysis to reduce defects. ITIL is focused on IT service management (ITSM), and ISO 20000 covers the broader category of organizational risk. There are also industry- and function-specific frameworks that address areas like healthcare, government and telecommunications.
Uses for IT framework
Frameworks are often used together. For example, IT Service Management is a set of policies, processes and procedures for delivering customer-oriented IT services. It does this by combining elements of multiple frameworks.
Frameworks will also evolve over time. ITIL, which was developed in the 1980s, has undergone numerous revisions with ITIL 4, which was introduced in 2019, integrating agile and DevOps practices. IT4IT, another framework, has also evolved over time. As an example, ITIL grew from version three to version four, which changed the reference architecture, taking a value stream approach to focusing on digital product management.
Because desired outcomes vary by organization, no two frameworks are used the same way. Rather, frameworks prompt organizations to ask questions to create metrics for success and develop operational controls that minimize needless or inefficient processes.
Flowcharts, templates, questionnaires and worksheets are typically used as guides. Stakeholders start with desired outcomes and work backwards. For example, if the IT goal is to improve customer satisfaction, a framework can help leaders identify the best ways to measure satisfaction. The framework can also help identify factors that most influence this result and the process refinements needed to achieve the objective.
Analysis may indicate that the time required to deliver a product or resolve a customer inquiry are two major sources of dissatisfaction. The framework guides the IT organization through the order fulfillment process to identify inefficiencies that can delay shipments. It also helps determine why customers have difficulty reaching qualified support personnel or answering questions via self-service. Questionnaires prompt participants to ask questions about the processes they have in place. Following a structured process ultimately puts IT in a better position to take remedial action.
Benefits of IT frameworks
Frameworks can provide numerous benefits, such as:
- Improve resource utilization;
- Eliminate redundant processes;
- Improve availability and reliability of IT services;
- Shorten IT response times;
- Reduce service costs;
- Document processes for compliance purposes;
- Reduce rework and field repairs;
- Improve customer interactions; and
- Eliminate obsolete or unused hardware and software.
Guiding principles for IT frameworks
ITIL, which is the most popular IT framework, has seven guiding principles:
- Focus on value;
- Start where you are;
- Progress iteratively with feedback;
- Collaborate and promote visibility;
- Think and work holistically;
- Keep it simple and practical; and
- Optimize and automate.
Success with IT frameworks is typically as much about cultural change as process change. Over time, organizations and workgroups tend to become invested in processes and lose perspective on how they can be improved. They can use frameworks to effect behavior change that redirects IT professionals away from technology-focused thinking and firefighting to proactive problem-solving and customer experience. Changing the language people use to talk about their work is part of the process. For example, ITSM encourages adoptees to talk in terms of optimization, problem prevention, enterprise-wide software, repeatability, accountability and adopting a customer service mentality.
Frameworks encourage collaborative work by gathering stakeholders together to identify bottlenecks or process failures and to design improvements. They are rarely prescriptive; rather, they suggest questions to ask and provide examples from real-world scenarios. The object is not to comply with rules but to apply best practices pragmatically to a particular situation. The improvements reached by stakeholders are usually documented and may spawn new forms and workflows.
Many IT frameworks offer certifications, and a huge industry has grown up around training and exam preparation -- such as with IT4IT, for example. Numerous software makers also advertise their products as being compliant with various IT frameworks and some frameworks offer certifications of compliance that vendors can earn.
Examples of framework implementation
While many IT framework adopters report tangible results within the first year, frameworks should be thought of as a tool to change attitudes, language and thought processes over the long term.
As an example, one framework success story is the Walt Disney Co., which used ITIL to push its IT infrastructure to 100% availability, improve customer service and improve the use of user profiles and business activity patterns to better understand its customers. This has enabled the company to target its marketing services to specific demographic groups, improving yields and conversions.
Frameworks can be complex and time-consuming to implement. In Disney's case, the task involved training 250 people at all levels of the organization and estimating the value of ITIL using internal marketing and small-group discussion. Gaining buy-in at the early stages is one of the factors the company credits for its success.