Is ITIL applicable for small companies as well?

Often, during discussions or ITIL trainings, arguments are heard about ITIL implementation. And there is a pattern in such conversation – for what kind of organizations is ITIL suited? What kind of organizations implement ITIL – small ones or large ones? The usual answer is – large ones. But, is that really so?

The issue is that most people see ITIL as applicable only in large organizations. I also have to admit that this opinion prevails when the people who are involved in the discussion aren’t very familiar with ITIL and don’t have experience with it in real life. Let’s see whether they are right.

What’s the point?

Let’s be honest – ITIL is stigmatized as a framework designated only for large organizations. Well, without having deeper understanding of what ITIL is – that’s the logical conclusion. ITIL is five core books (by the way, if you are “buying” ITIL to start exploring and consequently implementing it, published in purchasing the books is the only obligation you have) and contains four functions and 26 processes – so it must be a huge overhead for small companies, right?

Let’s consider big companies. They “suffer” from complexity and a variety of tools, activities, processes, services, internal politics, cultural issues… Their IT organization is extensive, with a large customer base and lots of offered services. That implies that they must have many processes in place, and each process encompasses many activities and has many people involved. The tools they use usually don’t belong in the open-source category. During an employee’s absence, there is always a possibility to catch up with his activities; i.e., the system (from a human resources point of view) is robust. Resources to deliver services are coming from inside the organization (could be from various organizational units) as well as from outside. There is always enough motive (and, let’s be honest, human resources as well) to perform process and organization optimization, i.e., improvements.

When considering small organizations we have to be aware of one thing – they also have customers, incidents, changes, etc. That means that they do many of the activities that big organizations do, so why wouldn’t they be good candidates for ITIL implementation? Yes, one can argue that ITIL processes can be complex, which is correct. But, in the case of smaller organizations pragmatism has to replace bureaucracy. What does that mean? That means that process structure should be narrow, avoiding unnecessary steps. For example, large organizations can put strong control mechanisms in place while authorizing (almost) every step during change implementation, like change build, test, and deployment. Smaller organization can skip some of the authorizations (which require evaluation of achieved results) due to the smaller team involved in change implementation, or even have some people from Change Management be involved in Release and Deployment Management (i.e., responsible for change implementation).

Beside staying pragmatic, a smaller organization will combine different roles into one person (see more about this issue in the article What ITIL roles can be combined in one person?). The company is not big, so most of the people (important for IT service delivery) are sitting in the same group. This means – no administration with OLA (Operational Level Agreement) and “political” issues. The relationship with the business (meaning, understanding business requirements and customers of the company) is much tighter and efficient, and so is the reaction to changes in business requirements.

Scope of the ITIL implementation is always a hot topic. Well, maybe the number of implemented processes in small organizations is smaller than in big ones (i.e., focusing on the most important ones), but smaller organizations may still do activities that are not part of (officially) implemented processes. For example, a small company will not have an official Supplier Management process, but the head of IT Service Management (ITSM) will be the one who will manage suppliers. Or strategy – large organizations can have someone dedicated to the topic of strategy (e.g., Business Development Manager), but in small organizations someone from management will take care of this topic.

Just like big companies, small ones will improve the quality of the ITSM by using tools. Since the organization is smaller, processes are (usually) narrower and the scope is not very wide – simpler tools can be used (there are some open-source tools that will fit the purpose perfectly). And that’s the chance to have faster implementation and efficient use of the ITIL processes and functions.

Common_elements_for_organizationsFigure: Processes, Functions, and Tools are common elements for organizations of all sizes.

Using the opportunity

ITIL has been around since the mid-1980s, which means that it has achieved a respectable maturity level. Of course, business environments change rapidly and IT has to “play the game.” That’s also valid for ITIL implementation, meaning it has to stay flexible on changing business requirements. Smaller organizations are at an advantage here.

Large organizations have invested huge effort in processes and organization, consultants have gathered vast experience through many implementations, and training organizations can provide shortcuts in building up the know-how. That’s the opportunity for smaller organizations – there is vast experience and they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

When you put all considerations together, implementing ITIL in smaller organizations seems possible. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Quite the contrary, I think that small organizations have to plan all details very carefully since they have less room for mistakes, and fewer options when choosing people or designing processes with many activities. But, it’s doable. The critical element is quality people, but that’s also a chance to make better use of their capabilities. And reward them, accordingly.

Use our free  ITIL Gap Analysis Tool to check how your organization complies with ITIL recommendations.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.