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A Completely Unauthorized Biography - Part I: A History of ITIL

ITSM Watch’s Rob England takes a shot at the powers behind the ITIL throne.
Dec 31, 2007
By

Rob England





Author’s Note: This is the first (and maybe last) in an occasional series of articles from me, Rob England, the IT Skeptic, to provide an introduction for newcomers to the mysterious and often confusing world of ITIL. I hope those already immersed in ITIL will find these articles an entertainingly irreverent read and a fresh perspective on an often dry subject.

ITIL was first developed in the 1980s as a library of “best practice” in IT management. It was compiled by a UK government department now called OGC, the Office of Government Commerce. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) content originally came from either a) IBM or b) lots of sources depending on whether you are talking to a) IBM or b) anyone else.

Something must have gone wrong during the government compilation process because the result was useful. The pattern of adoption was closer to the normal government model, as hardly anyone heard of ITIL for a decade or more, except the Dutch, who have a natural affinity for things done right (or else).

Then it was decided that 26 books might not be the most accessible format, and ITIL was revised into seven books, or nine, or 10, or 11, depending on who you ask. The number is irrelevant, as there were really only two: Service Delivery and Service Support, the other nine being ignored as they dealt with trivial matters like planning, business, applications or security.

This version is now known as ITIL version 2. ITIL v2 was never called ITIL v2. You can tell the v2 books from the v1 books by … um … well, by knowing which are the v2 books.

Around this time, the IT industry blew several gazillion dollars in the Y2K consultant and vendor feeding frenzy. Most of Asia did five-eights of nothing to prepare for Y2K, yet the region remained embarrassingly glitch-free on New Years Day 2000. There was zero correlation between money spent and impact, but IT budgets had been gutted for several years to come (except in Asia).

By a remarkable coincidence it was around this time that CEOs and their boards began calling for more transparency in IT spending, better alignment with business strategy, and most of all some serious cost cutting.

In response to increasing market demand, service management in general was picked up by the consulting industry as a useful framework for business alignment, and ITIL in particular to show (or at least create the impression of) some professionalism in IT management.

Instead of being “promoted” by taciturn civil servants bound by the downright secretive British system, ITIL was now in the hands of shiny-suited vendors, consultants and other smooth-talking computer-oil salesmen who had a clear motivation—money—for spreading its adoption.

This ITIL money-engine needed a coordination organization. Using the OGC as controlling body would be indiscrete, not to say inflexible and glacial. So, the IT service Management Forum (itSMF) came into its own. From its inception, the itSMF has been overt about the fact that it exists to “advance service management”, i.e. as a marketing arm of ITIL not as a professional body for ITIL practitioners, but the misconception is widely held to this day.

The uptake of ITIL in one third of the world’s economy—the USA—was held back for a long time by the unsavory fact that ITIL was British, but IBM invented it, HP promoted it, and Microsoft bastardized it to their own almost-compatible variant, Microsoft Operating Framework (imagine Microsoft doing a thing like that). With enough American accents behind it, ITIL gradually gained traction even between the shining seas and the momentum became unstoppable.

Somewhere between the early and later print runs of Service Delivery and Service Support, section 1.1.1 of both books quietly disappeared, to be replaced with the terse “Deleted”. The original text read, in part:

1.1.1 Public domain framework

From the beginning, ITIL has been publicly available. This means that any organisation can use the framework described by OGC in its numerous books … “

We weren’t in Kansas any more, Toto. Powerful commercial interests were getting involved, not least of whom was the Queen, owner of copyright to the books. OGC began enforcing that right more carefully and more forcefully to keep the golden-egg laying goose safely in the barn.


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