ITIL in Higher Education – Conversations with Universities

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Recently, I requested the EDUCAUSE ( community to share their ITIL experiences since New Mexico State University was interested in implementing ITIL for process improvement.

What is ITIL?

ITIL stands of Information Technology Information Library. It is a framework that brings together the best practices for IT Service Management. It was initially developed by the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. It has since gone through revisions and is currently the most widely adopted IT Service Management framework.

Does ITIL have a role in Higher Education?

The short answer is: Yes.

Higher Education is experiencing a shift towards delivery of educational services online including course content delivery and training. In addition, Higher Education institutions rely on their central IT to maintain systems for that are used to support university business and administrative users. The central IT in these institutions faces similar challenges as other IT shops in a business enterprise.

ITIL has found acceptance in the Higher Education community as a framework for Service Management. The purpose of the conversations was to figure out how Higher Education institutions are using ITIL and to determine their roadmap for implementation.

ITIL in Higher Education conversations

Participants and Demographics

A total of five Universities were interviewed. Three schools took a top down approach to ITIL implementation where the CIOs led the effort. Two schools took a bottom up approach where the managers took the lead in implementing ITIL (with support from upper management). The ITIL maturity levels ranged from 1 to 10 years.

Questions asked

Each school was asked the following questions:

  1. Why ITIL?
  2. How did you start?
  3. What were the benefits?
  4. What were the challenges?
  5. What were the training requirements?
  6. Did you engage consultants?


The following is a summary of responses to the questions


  1. Improve operational efficiency and quality
  2. Standardize processes
  3. Focus on value to customers
  4. Performance measurement

Operation efficiency was by far the most compelling reason for implementing ITIL.

How did you start?

  1. Trained managers or senior staff
  2. Implemented a Service Desk to resolve most issues at first level
    • All requests funneled through Service Desk
    • Permanent staff (and some students) assigned to Service Desk
    • One school has highly skilled staff working with the Service Desk on a rotational basis
  3. Common processes implemented
    • Incident Management (All schools)
    • Change Management (All schools)
    • Problem Management (2 schools)
    • Configuration Management and Knowledgebase (2 schools)
  4. In some schools ITIL efforts are managed by a specific group or a designated person

The usual starting point was creating awareness and picking the low hanging fruit for implementation. Training was the primary method used for creating awareness and in all cases Incident Management was the first process to be implemented. Change Management was almost always the second process to the implemented. One school reorganized to structurally align itself with ITIL practices before ITIL was introduced. Keeping Configuration Management records (CIs or Configuration Items) up to date was a constant challenge.

What were the benefits?

  1. Common vocabulary led to better collaboration
  2. Improved availability
  3. Improved outage information
  4. Improved definition of responsibilities of IT and customers during changes
  5. Improved response to incidents and changes
  6. Better co-ordination of changes
  7. Stable environment led to cost reduction

Common vocabulary was by far the biggest benefit of ITIL that led to increased collaboration by minimizing miscommunication. Change Management process helped improve relations with the clients and brought better clarity to the changes and the impacts of the changes.

What were the challenges?

  1. Resistance to culture change
    • Groups working directly with end users were least resistant
  2. Metrics and KPIs were viewed with suspicion
  3. Buy in from customers

Resistance to change was the biggest hurdle for all schools.

What were the training requirements?

  1. Initially trained managers and senior staff
  2. Rely on peer to peer training on an ongoing basis

It was interesting that schools relied on the managers and senior staff to train new staff. ITIL training was not part of the onboarding program. One school did require ITIL foundation certification to be considered for senior positions.

Did you engage consultants?

  1. Did not hire outside consultants except for training
  2. One school hired a consultant to perform an assessment

This was the biggest surprise. The expectation was that schools would engage more consultants for implementation.

Advice from participants

  1. Policies and processes before tools
  2. Persistence (especially from top management) in the face of resistance


At the end of the conversations I walked away with the following impressions:

  1. ITIL is a culture change and implementation will take several years
  2. Upper management support is critical for success
  3. Middle management will play a crucial role in successful implementation once they are on board

It was a valuable exercise to see how other Universities are using ITIL to improve efficiency and the similarity in the approach of each school.

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