Knowledge Management from an ITIL Perspective

A customer goes into their favorite store looking for a particular product that their friends have been recommending.  She looks at the items on hand and can’t find the item.  Eventually, a salesperson approaches her and asks to assist.  Not finding it on the shelf together, the salesperson goes to their computer and searches for the item.  He finds that they are indeed out of stack presently and a new shipment will be in on Thursday.  She asks if there is another place to get it.  He finds that the store in the next town has the item in stock and calls to arrange to have it delivered to the customer’s house the next day.  The customer leaves delighted.

Behind this interaction was a well-integrated IT solution for supporting the customer.  Using the computer, the salesperson accessed several distinct services unknown to him:  customer relations management, inventory management, procurement, shipping and receiving, and vendor relations.  The scope of these services included not only the salesperson’s store, nut corporate operations, and several other stores.  All to ensure that the customer received the product she wanted.  If the IT solution could not support the effort, the customer would have left dissatisfied.

The purpose of IT in a business is to support the business.  In this respect, the focus is of the IT solution is to ensure customer satisfaction.  To accomplish this, the solution often has to enable different services within the business to interact with each other in ways that have not been conceived before.

One popular methods to ensure that the IT solution is aligned to meet business requirements is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).  This method focuses on linking services together to create a entire IT solution for the business’ primary activities.

If your company is looking for a method to link its business services together which rely on a IT solution, Service Oriented Architecture may the the way to go.

IT Service Management (ITSM) is in place to provide an infrastructure to support business operations.  To enables the distinct parts of the business to work together, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) serves as a method to pull the different IT components together.  But underneath both is a process framework to support the IT infrastructure and the IT components sitting on it, called ITIL®.  Most discussions in IT operations speak about the relationship between ITSM/ SOA and ITSM/ITIL®.  Very few speak to the relationship between ITIL® and SOA.

ITIL® supports SOA.  There are several guiding principles of SOA that are directly served by an effective implementation of ITIL®.  The purpose of SOA is to group business services together, but to do so in a manner that minimizes the dependencies required between them.  This requires that each service component has an appropriate level of autonomy to perform its own business logic with minimum impact from other sectors of the business, while having its requirements from those sectors fulfilled. Additionally, SOA looks to optimize the services to provide faster, more reliable operations to the business.

To fulfill on its commission, the IT infrastructure has to provide considerable flexibility to support each component, offering the appropriate storage, network, and application resources required by each service while keeping the costs of maintaining the IT infrastructure down.  This starts with proper planning and design of the IT solution, beginning with understanding the different requirements and service levels of each business sector..  ITIL® provides the process framework to identify those requirements and implement solutions to fulfilling them.

But the true support of SOA from ITIL® lies in continuous improvement.  As the business seeks to optimize their operations, the ability of the infrastructure to support that optimization should always be questioned.  If the IT solution does not support the desired optimization of the business, new services or changes to existing services within the ITIL® framework need to be initiated.  For this reason, IT providers should focus on the business they are supporting rather than the business of IT.   For ITIL® to support either ITSM or SOA, it’s not enough to simply maintain the IT environment, but to understand the context for maintaining it:  the customer’s business.

Managing information has been a concern to business for decades now.  Recently, the concern has extended to facilitating knowledge sharing in the environment:  to serve to strengthened a companies position in the industry and provide innovative new products and services.  Within the IT environment, the need for knowledge management has been steadily increasing.  This is highly indicated by the new version of ITIL® introduced in 2007 which finally includes knowledge management as a process within its framework.

ITIL® utilizes knowledge management to ensure that the IT organization can readily handle any situation that arises.  The framework does not specify any tool to be used or how knowledge management is to be implemented in the environment, only what should be seen from the knowledge management in the form of best practices.

Knowledge management isn’t new it ITIL®.  In its previous versions, the process framework indicated as a best practice the existence of a Known Error Database used by the processes involved in service disruptions.  In the same way, ITIL® did not specify how the database was to work or how it was to be implemented.  Since then, many knowledge management providers and consultants have focused on providing solutions to that singular requirement.

However, with the new scope in ITIL®, knowledge management solutions will have to extend their products to include components that encourage knowledge sharing, collaboration, and building community.  With these components, IT services will have grater potential to work together., specifically in the form of continuous improvements:  not just within the boundaries of a single process but across the entire process framework.

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