Nationwide drinks the ITIL Kool-Aid

According to one of the U.S.’s largest insurance companies, when implementing ITIL, you should start slow, make everyone a stakeholder, and address cultural issues head on

As one of the early U.S. adopters of the ITIL best practices framework, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company learned some key lessons on how to get the most out of ITIL. We talked with two Nationwide executives to get their perspective on how to approach deploying the ITIL framework across a large organization.

One of their key themes was dealing with cultural change, as ITIL is a process framework involving people as much as technology. “You need cultural courage, senior-level management saying, ‘We’re going to change the culture of this company,’” Director of IT Program Management Doug LeMaster says. “There’s always resistance to cultural change, but if you stay true to what you’re trying to do in the process space and are able to articulate the benefits, people start looking at the benefits, and they go, ‘How can you argue with this?’ ”

Another approach that worked was using a “virtual team” to provide guidance and direction, IT Process Officer Jack Probst says. “We touched 1,000 people the first year across four large internal organizations,” Probst explains. “Folks agreed to the core processes, so [they] felt they had ownership. And then when we implemented in their organizations, they implemented off the core; that was hugely successful.” Nationwide also had a professional “process team,” dedicated project staff with formal job descriptions, to complement the virtual team.

Having clear and substantive goals and communicating those goals constantly were also success factors, Probst says. “You got to have a problem that you’re fixing; you can’t do IT process for process sake.” Nationwide also branded the initiative internally, calling it IT Service Management rather than ITIL.

Finally, “prepare for the valley of despair,” says LeMaster, referring to the period after deployment where things get worse before they get better. That’s because “people buck the process, there’s a learning curve, and productivity’s not as strong,” LeMaster says. You need to be ready with everything from brown-bag lunches to continuous improvement plans, adds Probst, who advises presenting ITIL as an operational initiative rather than a new religion. That way, “people wont think of it as something new, it just becomes operational, the way they work,” Probst says.

Gartner Research Director Steve Bittinger, another ITIL expert, offers some final device: Plan to invest in ITIL for the long haul and start simple before getting fancy. “Process improvement is what ITIL is all about,” Bittinger says. “You don’t just snap your fingers and it happens tomorrow -- it’s a combination of the tools you’re using, the process definitions you’ve created, and the culture and practices that exist in the organization. It’s a way of life … it’s not like you’re ever there. You’re on a journey.”