We need to talk about ITIL

ITIL bashing doesn't work - but we continue to do it, writes Stephen Mann, who also wonders how the detractors, buyers, and sellers of ITIL can meet in the middle.

I need to say something about ITIL in light of all the “poking” I have done via various mediums (such as the What Next For ITIL? and Giving Back To The IT Service Management Community blogs). I have great admiration for the creators of ITIL (or the IT Infrastructure Library as was) even though I do think that ITIL v3 became bloated, and potentially confusing, misdirecting, and demotivating. And, having only dipped in to my digital copy of ITIL 2011 I can’t yet comment on the latest incarnation of the IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework.

ITIL-bashing doesn’t work but we continue to do it

This might be an overly-dramatic statement but a lot of us do it.

I’d like to think that most, if not all, of us do it for the right reasons: we want organizations to be better at managing IT service delivery and at enabling their parent businesses via technology. However, I can’t help think that we need to change as much as ITIL needs to change.

Let’s look at some “facts” (OK, “facts” might not be the right word):

  • ITIL is THE de facto ITSM best practice framework. There are also many other options such as ISO 20000, USMBOK, COBIT, and now Tipu from Rob England for continual service improvement amongst others.
  • Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people now have an ITIL qualification (yes, it’s a shocking stat).
  • Some people talk about ITIL as though it is the “master” and ITSM the “servant.”
  • ITSM tools have for many years been sold on their “ITIL-compliance” (hate that phrase). ITIL has driven ITSM tool adoption and vice versa.
  • ITIL is here to stay.

BUT

  • How many organizations actually achieved their desired future state for ITSM maturity? ITIL has definitely helped to improve ITSM maturity but there is still so much to do despite all of ITIL’s content and all the exam passes.
  • The ITIL books are like “War and Peace” to a comic-book reader when it comes to having the time to read them.
  • The ITIL books only ever take you part of the way.
  • ITIL training can potentially be seen as teaching people how to pass the exams (and understanding the processes) but it often changes little in terms service and customer-centric IT delivery “back at the ranch.”

I could keep going with both of the above bullet lists but see little value in doing so.

We all seem to be banging our heads against the proverbially brick wall; whether it is the purchasers of ITIL-related goods and services, or professional or part-time commentators on the “ITSM industry.” I think that we all need to stand back, take a breath, and say, mutter, or shout out that it’s not working. Is this not an “ITSM civil war” where no one wins? One side wastes time in a futile attempt to topple ITIL, the other continues to buy or sell ITIL-related products and services that never seem to fully deliver the anticipated benefits. The real casualties are the organizations and people that invest in ITIL but probably never fully get what they wanted or needed.

Looking forward

I truly wish I had the answer for everyone. A way in which ITIL could be better delivered (across publications, consultancy and advisory, software, training, and the sharing of experiences) such that we all get more out of it (other than qualifications).

The best I can do at the moment is think that there needs to be a “meeting in the middle,” where:

  • The detractors of ITIL recognize the good in it (thankfully most actually do). ITIL as a beast cannot be killed, it just needs to be “house trained.”
  • The sellers of ITIL-related products and services admit that there are ways in which ITIL can be better delivered and consumed; then start to address them.
  • The buyers of ITIL better understand its intended purpose, strengths, and weaknesses; AND proactively demand better offerings from the sellers of ITIL-related products and services.
  • Everyone works together for the collective good (yeh, somewhat idealistic and naïve I know but a boy has to ask).

ITIL is (or at least was) “documented common sense,” the real issue is that common sense isn’t as common as it ought to be. Is it possible for us all to work together for the collective good? I hope that Back2ITSM will help many but, longer term, we need to address the root cause: the disconnect between theory and reality when it comes to ITIL.

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