Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is ITIL the Enemy?

Is ITIL the enemy? At the end of ServiceNow's Knowledge12 conference in May, a presenter noted that the term "ITIL" had barely been heard the whole week. A decent amount of cheering followed. My take was that ITIL concepts had become such an ingrained part of IT, that talking about those concepts as "ITIL" was unnecessary. Now I'm not so sure.

I was messaging with a former colleague the other day, when she commented on how poorly ITIL is perceived at her current company. "ITIL ... (was) executed in such a half-witted fashion that the amount of overhead and time wasted significantly increased." Like most ITIL failures, it was done as an "ITIL implementation" project. It got me thinking about my own perspective, and this was my response:
Believe it or not, I take a pretty cynical approach to ITIL; not so much in the framework itself, but in the way most companies try to implement it. First and foremost, any attempt to "implement ITIL" is doomed to failure. Most companies try to implement it like it's an ISO standard, like the closer you match the guidelines, the better. I laugh at CMMI assessments of ITIL maturity. The base assumption is that more adherence to the framework = more "mature". That is not the point of IT service management at all. You could have the most clear processes in the world, and still not be meeting or exceeding corporate expectations. I use ITIL as a means to help bridge gaps between business/customer expectations of IT service, and their perception of the actual service provided. If they expect Apple Store service and get what they see as Sam's Club outcomes, there's a huge gap that ITIL (and CoBIT, ISO 20000, etc.) can assist in bridging.
My experience is that ITIL cannot be a goal, and should not be used as a measure of service management success. However, elements of ITIL, such as Service Strategy, can be an incredibly useful tool after you figure out where the customer-provider disconnects exist. What do you think? Is ITIL getting in the way, or does it remain a useful tool for helping address service problems?


  1. ITIL is not an objective (ITIL for its own sake) and processes are not a unit of work (we'll do incident first then change)

    Business requirement
    -> objective(s)
    -> desired IT outcomes (COBIT maps all this)
    -> identified improvements
    -> designed solution
    -> appropriate bits of processes create a composite solution

    Guess what my next newsletter will be about :)

    1. Looking forward to the newsletter. I like the approach. I would start by looking at SERVQUAL gaps to help determine the opportunities, objectives, and desired outcomes.

  2. ITIL was surely never meant to be anything more than guidance - simplistically it contains guidance, categorised into process areas, built on repeating and documenting some ideas that seem to have worked for other people. IT is NEVER a good place to start - and it is an even worse place to stop.

    In fact it's just a tool - and good worker looks at the the aim, constraints, resources etc before they pick up a tool. I wouldn't want a plumber who comes in with a wrench at the ready before they have looked at the issues at hand and what the customer wants. Nor would i be happy with a service management consultant who comes in with their ITIL book ready and open.

    I deeply resent the aggro I and other get because many people see ITIL a lazy option and alternative to thinking instead of a tool to help them think.

  3. ITIL may not be the enemy but I think we need to seriously consider why there is such a backlash. As has been rightly pointed out, ITIL is just a tool or a common language - you can’t really implement ITIL. So what are we doing wrong? Why isn't ITIL seen as “common sense”?