The ABCs of ITIL: Accountability

ITILABCs_A_532610055Service management, as defined by ITIL® (formerly the Information Technology Infrastructure Library), is a complex topic that takes individuals years to master. While individuals may have difficulty mastering all aspects of the ITIL framework, organizations often have significant difficulty understanding how the ITIL best practices fit into their environment. ITIL consists of five core books, with each book focusing on a specific stage of the lifecycle approach to service management.

The five core books are very detailed and at times difficult to understand. It is easy to become overwhelmed.

As a result of these challenges, individuals often find it difficult to effectively understand and apply the various ITIL best practices, while organizations often fail to realize an acceptable return on investment from their service management initiatives.

One simple way to understand ITIL is by utilizing a common theme called the “ABCs of ITIL.” This blog series will cover what the ABCs stand for:

  • Accountability
  • Boundaries
  • Consistency

What is Accountability?

Accountability refers to the assumption of liability, answerability and responsibility for personal and organizational actions, policies, decisions and behaviors. With respect to service management, accountability includes the explicit agreement to understand, describe and be liable for personal and/or organizational outcomes, regardless of whether the outcomes are desired or unacceptable.

For example, an organization’s service desk receives a call from a user notifying them of an interruption to service. A user is unable to perform critical reporting functionality in a key business application. The service desk agent receiving the call, following the organization’s policy, opens an incident on behalf of the user in the company’s service management ticketing system. The service desk agent attempts some basic troubleshooting with the user on the phone, to no avail. The service desk agent informs the user that the incident will be escalated to the next level of support for investigation and resolution. The service desk agent then concludes the call with the user and moves on to other work.

In this simple example, who is accountable for restoration of service to this user? Is it the user, the service desk agent or the person at the next level of support who takes the escalation?

Ideally, accountability should be clearly defined and handled according to a specific set of rules in all situations. In this case, the single point of contact for reporting incidents should be accountable for the incident from open to close. In other words, users should feel assured that once they’ve reported an incident to the service desk, the interruption in service has been documented and will be handled according to the organization’s prioritization policies. Organizations that fail to leave their customers and users with that level of assurance are making the enterprise less efficient.

Furthermore, the simple example above illustrates an important concept in the world of service management: Accountability and responsibility, where it makes sense, are often handled by different people. In the case of incidents, particularly those that the service desk cannot directly resolve, it is the job of the service desk to marshal the necessary resources to resolve the incident and restore service and to be accountable for the overall handling of an incident that may, in fact, involve many different people and groups. This is different from some aspects of responsibility.

It is very important that the user in this case has a single point of accountability that can provide information about the status of the incident, as it affects working behavior of that user and consequently impacts business objectives. The most common-sense single point of accountability in this case is the service desk, which is what ITIL recommends. However, that single point of accountability might not be responsible for any of the work resulting in restoration of service. The typical service desk is busy handling many calls and requests and has to be adept at engaging the correct resources when needed to restore service, rather than necessarily being good at resolving all incidents themselves.

Accountability is something that shows up in everyday life, as does the separation of accountability and responsibility. For example, I am accountable for my child’s education, however, he is responsible for completing his schoolwork.

Related Courses
ITIL Foundation
ITIL Awareness

This is part one in a three-part series taken from the Global Knowledge white paper, The ABCs of ITIL.

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