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Debunking the Six Most Common ITIL Myths

As you embrace ITIL and IT service management, you need to understand its promise and pitfalls, write ITSM Watch guest columnists Brian Johnson and Peter Waterhouse of CA.
May 2, 2006

Brian Johnson,Peter Waterhouse

Adoption of IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Service Management best practices is rising phenomenally, with implementation levels in $1 billion-plus companies expected to reach 40% of by the end 2006, according Forrester Research.

ITIL focuses on unifying people, process and technology through a comprehensive, consistent and coherent set of best-practice approaches for IT service management processes. The ultimate goal is to optimize the bottom-line performance of the business, not just to implement a best-practice framework. But several common myths and misconceptions can seriously limit the value ITIL delivers:

Myth: ITIL is just for "techies."

Fact: ITIL is for the entire business.

The time and resources required to successfully implement ITIL, combined with the critical need to support organizational and behavioral change, requires buy-in from IT management and business leaders.

If an ITIL initiative is regarded as “IT-only” or is classed as an IT project, there may be little shared accountability and commitment.

Remember that ITIL is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and the objective is to improve the value IT delivers to the business, such as reducing cost and enabling business growth.

The goals should be agreed upon through an active and ongoing dialogue between IT and business.

Myth: ITIL is only about people and process.

Fact: Technology plays a key role.

ITIL describes what needs to be done to improve service to the business, not how to do it.

Many ITIL and service management consultants and service providers who help companies build their ITIL plans often focus entirely on process improvement and organizational issues. Achieving tangible efficiency gains and ROI, however, requires the automation of appropriate components of the ITIL processes (usually repetitive procedures and workflows) through technology.

To increase the chances for success, look for consultants who are skilled across the essential elements of ITIL—people, process and technology—and who have a pragmatic, outcome-based approach to an ITIL project.

Myth: ITIL is the only answer.

Fact: ITIL complements other best-practice frameworks.

While ITIL defines service management best practices, it is still essentially an IT-operational framework that isn’t intended to address detailed financial asset management, IT governance and related areas. Also, ITIL does not sufficiently address IT security.

As companies evaluate and improve their processes as part of an ITIL implementation, they should consider supplementing ITIL with other best practices, such as ISO 17799/BS7799 for security, and COBIT for IT governance.

Myth: The major investment is education.

Fact: Education is only one requirement for success.

Many organizations often invest significant time and money to train a high percentage of their IT workforce in basic and advanced ITIL principles. What’s often overlooked is the opportunity to unify both business and IT with practical team-focused workshop programs that concentrate less on the description of ITIL, and more on the value that ITIL will deliver to the organization.

Also remember that early adoption of such programs will not only build awareness and support of a shared IT and business project, but also help obtain the senior level commitment needed to drive what is effectively an exercise in organizational change.

Myth: Take it one step at a time.

Fact: Try to improve several processes simultaneously.

Many companies choose to concentrate on a single ITIL process, such as incident management. But ITIL processes are by nature inter-related and inter-dependent. So if you want to drive down the number of incidents, you need to quickly find the root-cause of persistent problems. To reduce the number of problems, you’ll need to consider change management.

Organizations that get too far down the path with one process before considering related processes may spend significant time and money in constantly revisiting and refining the initial process as they implement others.

The best way to improve service is to simultaneously work on enhancing two or three process areas.

Myth: Only choose ITIL “compliant” solutions.

Fact: No technology solution is inherently compliant.

Many companies believe they should only select tools that are certified and compliant with ITIL. However, since ITIL doesn’t provide functional requirements for technology solutions, ITIL compliance in the context of technology solutions is impossible. In fact, the U.K.’s Office of Government Commerce, the owners of ITIL, explicitly warn against vendors making claims about compliance or proof of compliance.

In addition, since ITIL is a high-level set of guidelines that doesn’t lay out processes and procedures in any detail, tool assessments will always be so high-level that their usefulness is limited.

The certification of many ITIL processes, such as problem management, is performed solely on service desk solutions and doesn’t account for how other integrated technologies, such as network and systems monitoring to automatically detect incidents, can improve and complete an end-to-end process. ITIL is clearly becoming the de-facto standard in service management, and the lens through which the delivery of IT services will be measured. Always remember though, that the goal is to improve service and not just implement a best practice framework. Identify solutions, methods and partners that can deliver real business value through IT service management.

Brian Johnson was part of the British government team that developed the standards for ITIL. He is now the worldwide ITIL practice manager for CA.

Peter Waterhouse is director of Product Marketing in CA’s Business Service Optimization business unit. Peter has 15 years experience in enterprise systems management, with specialization in IT service management, IT governance and best practices.