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Is Getting Your ITIL Certification Worth It?

The value of ITIL certification is knowledge and a common tongue, writes ITSMWatch columnist David Moskowitz.
Feb 1, 2010
By

David Moskowitz





I admit I've never really been a fan of most technical certifications. I've hired people with various vendor or organization certifications only to discover the reality of their performance and real-world knowledge didn't match the expectations created by their pedigree. The only exception has been the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification.

Given the preceding paragraph, then why am I writing about the value in ITIL certification? To answer that question it's necessary to first understand what certification really is.

Any certification process involves some study followed by demonstration that you know something about the material. I am not suggesting the individual is an expert in the subject matter, just that they spent study time and passed the test. In fact, this is the source of my concern about most certifications―it's possible to pass the test and still not know anything of practical or real-world value about the subject matter.

ITIL is different because certification is not about specific job related skills. It doesn't mean you know how to program or that you know anything about infrastructure. Instead, at the Foundation level, it says that you've learned a common vocabulary and varying levels of application to a service lifecycle. At the intermediate, or Lifecycle level, the certifications indicate the candidate knows what and why, and Capability certifications indicate the candidate knows when and how.

Because ITIL is not prescriptive, the certification process isn't about doing, it's about knowing. Adopting ITIL requires that people have a base-level understanding about what ITIL represents for the IT Service Lifecycle. It takes buy-in from every level in the organization; buy-in aided by a reasonable understanding about what ITIL is and what it represents. Make no mistake, ITIL is as much about a cultural shift as it is about IT good practice and IT service management. That's another reason certification makes sense. The certification suggests the individual knows something about the vocabulary, about the process, and about the goals for ITIL.

For ITIL adoption to succeed, the people involved in the change need both a common language and a common basis for success in the small, iterative and incremental projects that are part of the effort. Adopting ITIL involves a learning process as continual improvement is applied. The certification indicates someone is learning about ITIL. That knowledge is a component of successful ITIL adoption.

Real World Example

I've seen the practical value of ITIL certification. Early in 2005, I was a consultant on a client's architectural team for a huge project. Without going into specifics, the client decided to outsource a significant portion of the development because the skills and capabilities required were totally outside their core competency. I helped them narrow the list of suspects and select what appeared to be an appropriate outsourcing company.

Fade out 2005, fade in late summer 2007. The client called because they were at odds with the outsourcing company. As a result, the client was thinking about canceling the entire project. It took several months to sort out the finger pointing and really separate symptom from problem to understand what was really happening.

One of the things that surfaced during the investigation was that ambiguous language was a contributor. Consider the following: What is a service? Do we mean the service in service oriented architecture, or the service in software as a service, or the service in Web service or ... ? There is a degree of ambiguity in technical language. So, the fact that there were communication issues between the two companies should not be a surprise.

I had just passed my own ITIL v3 Foundation certification. On a hunch, I suggested that they spend an incremental amount of money to get all of the people involved in the communication between the two companies trained and certified in ITIL. The second aspect would be to enforce a requirement that an ITIL-based vocabulary be used in the communication so that there would be agreed common meaning. The ticket of admission to talking to the other party would be an ITIL v3 Foundation certificate.

The client was talking about canceling the project with a total spend (internal direct and indirect costs, vendors, partners, etc.) for the 2+ years close to $100 million. So, the prospect of spending less then $100,000 (i.e., less than 0.1 percent of the project costs to date) to see if it made a difference was acceptable to all parties.

The result: by the end of first quarter 2008 everyone involved in communications was properly certified. By the end of the second quarter it was clear the project squabbling and finger pointing was over. The project was still behind, but at least the finger pointing was seriously mitigated, and both parties agreed that they were on a successful path to completion. By the end of the 2008 the disagreement and finger pointing were history and the project was back on track.

Is there value in ITIL certification? Both of these companies believe there is. Without the use of the common language that is part of ITIL, both sides agree, the project would have been canceled. The bottom line is ITIL certification doesn't say you can do anything. It says you have a rudimentary knowledge of ITIL vocabulary, service lifecycle, and ITIL recommendations for good practice processes. Don't make it more (or less) than it is.

David Moskowitz is a Principal Consultant at Productivity Solutions, a Philadelphia, PA-based consulting firm that helps its clients thrive in an ebusiness Web-based economy. He is a certified ITIL instructor and ITMS consultant. In these capacities, he has guided many successful projects. The goal for his efforts is to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of IT organization at the same time that the business recognizes IT as a strategic asset. His focus working with clients, for more than 25 years predating the formal naming, has been IT service management. David can be reached at davidm2@usa.net.

 

Tags:
Project management, Moskowitz, ITIL v3, ITIL certification



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