IT Service Management - just how educated should you be?

A common question when talking to clients is: what training does my staff need in IT SM and does that mean ITIL? So where do you start? The first question to be answered is: what are you trying to achieve? Are you intending to utilise best practice approaches in your improvement initiative? If you are not, then sending staff on ITSM training will simply frustrate them. They will learn the principles and language and then are not encouraged to employ them. If improvement based on in-house processes and experience is your goal, work with a training consultant to develop your own courses and programmes to meet your requirements.

Otherwise, consider the depth to which you intend to try to imbed best practice principles in your team.

Do you intend to provide qualifications as part of the personal development plans of your staff, or are you focussing on the practical application of IT service management without being concerned for the qualifications? Providing the education without allowing staff to achieve qualifications may be a short sighted view - although courses without examinations are undoubtedly cheaper, the loss of confidence in their development may cause staff to look elsewhere for a long term career. Investment in the individual has been demonstrated to be more cost effective than the effects of continual recruitment.

But this raises another question: what exactly is the value of the qualifications these days? Should you choose ITIL, or COBIT, or ISO 20000, or CMMI, or MOF or... the list is seems to be endless.

My own experience covers the ITIL and ISO 20000 route (with a dash of COBIT) so in the spirit of 'write what you know' I'll concentrate on those qualifications.

Once upon a time (lets go back ten years), we had a general understanding of the ITIL framework qualification scheme. It started with a Foundation, which whetted the appetite for more. With a 90% pass rate, was not particularly challenging. But it did enthuse its audience and spurred us on (myself included) to investigate further. You could specialise in a particular process area as covered in the Big Red or Big Blue books (Service Delivery and Service Support from ITIL V2 framework) by doing a 3 day Practitioner course, or if you were more experienced, head straight into the ITIL V2 Managers certificate - the one with the two 3 hour, hand written exams, which covered all the processes in the Red and Blue books. You had to know your subject, this was challenging and based on service management principles, as supported by the ITIL framework Service Delivery and Service Support books. Admittedly, there was not much encouragement to look outside these two books at the remainder of the library, but you could look at a person with a Red Badge and understand that they could eloquently describe and apply the principles of IT Service Management across a range of process areas. If for no other reason than you had managed to write for six hours with an actual pen, it commanded a certain amount of respect from your peers.

But as a qualification scheme, it left something to be desired. The jump to Managers Certificate from Foundation was significant, the Practitioners didn't count towards your progress to Managers, even though in the majority, the courses were identical to the modules you would find on the Managers course, with some more detail to provide practical experience.

Now we have the V3 scheme and sadly confusion reigns. Its not that the qualification has been devalued by the lack of a self expressive exam (plenty of others have written with passion on that subject), its just that the scheme itself is so confusing. What is an ITIL Expert - what does that title mean? How many exams do you have to take, and what combination of subjects does it cover?

The Foundation is no longer a Foundation in the same sense as it was; it covers much more information at a higher level. The Intermediate levels are pitched too high after the introductory experience of the Foundation requiring significant pre-reading, admittedly now being addressed by the 'Specialist' courses (covering one or more basic processes) but this leads to even more confusions for an onward path. But they do provide a full exploration of the ITIL framework, and are much more geared to the career progression of the IT professional. They are recognised as demonstration of an individual's knowledge of ITIL.

And what exactly do these qualifications mean, the multiple choice exams based as they are on the content of the ITIL books, rather than on the more general subject of application of service management. Do the examinations show that the delegate can apply their knowledge? The courses provide that information, but the examinations test if the delegate can apply the ITIL version of events, not a general service management approach. Are they as valuable as the previous V2 qualifications? It's a hard one to call - V3 provides a more rounded examination syllabus, covering the whole framework, but specific to the ITIL version of events, V2 provided a more general service management approach, but in a limited number of processes.

Who is the more 'Expert' - V3 or V2? The debate continues, but the more important question is surely: is this what you need in the workplace?

If you are intending to follow best practice principles based on ITIL to deliver improvements in your IT service delivery, then begin with a programme that introduces that framework.

Most organisations will benefit from an overview day, or series of overview days, to introduce the basic concepts of ITIL.

For staff development and a deeper understanding of the framework, consider a series of Foundation courses as a base level of education for your staff.

Not all of your team will require the Intermediate level qualifications, but team leaders and managers should consider these to develop a greater understanding of the framework.

If you wish to encourage a more rounded understanding of IT service management and its governance, consider providing your management team with an overview of ISO/IEC 20000, or COBIT. Encourage exploration of other methods that complement the best practice approach.

Achievement of the ISO/IEC 20000 standard will require your staff to be trained in both ITIL and ISO/IEC 20000. To maintain the standard after accreditation, you will need internal auditors trained to the appropriate level for your certification body. Full understanding and depth of knowledge of the standard (Consultant level) will be advantageous for your management leaders.

The question initially asked was how educated should you be? The answer is not simple, nor is it generic. Often it can be helpful to engage the services of an external consultancy to carry out a training needs assessment, but prior to doing so, there are questions to be answered:

Consider the level at which you are intending to adopt best practices and which of those you will employ for governance and audit. Consider the maturity of your existing processes Consider the knowledge and understanding of your teams, and the importance of holding qualifications for your department's reputation and your team's individual development.

Once you have established your requirements, ask the experts to help you design a programme that meets your organisations needs. Although it may not always be possible, try to ensure you have consistency throughout your training. There are advantages and disadvantages to in-house courses, but working with your training provider to ensure your specific needs are met (whilst still covering a syllabus), and delivering a consistent message and experience throughout your training programme, can be a definite advantage.

First published at: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/it-service-management-just-how-educated-should-you-be

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