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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

Rob England


A new industry sprang up to feed on ITIL: training and certification. The Dutch created one certification mechanism, EXIN, and the British hastily responded with another, ASEB (The British abhorrence of the Dutch running things would have exceeded even the American loathing of swallowing a British prescription.). The two used different course names, syllabi, exam questions and, reputedly, pass rates, but nobody really cared and certainly nobody, least of all the British government, stepped up to take control. The OGC cheerfully anointed both systems as “accredited”.

ITIL refers in places to a most powerful model: “people, process, technology”. The implication is “in that order” but most IT organizations are in the thrall of the geeks, so the first step is to buy a service desk tool; the second is to slap some ITIL processes on it; and the third is to address cultural change by the usual approach of mass training of staff after the fact.

The more resistance there was from non-participant staff having consultant-devised processes foisted on them, the more the consultants prescribed training as the cure. The training industry thrived. The ITIL Foundations course is now known in the more relaxed antipodean countries as “sheep-dipping”.

ITIL was fast on the way to dominating the IT world. The ITIL industry saw the inherent revenue implications as the market would one day saturate, and looked around for a model to ensure a longer and more prosperous future. They found it in the Microsoft Windows software model: as everyone adopts your product, create a new version, bigger and more bloated than the last but shinier and more desirable too.

So, the ITIL refresh was born. The ITIL books were completely rewritten, this time as five books, or six … depending who you ask. This version is now known as ITIL version 3. ITIL v3 is never called ITIL v3. You can tell the v3 books from the v2 books by … um … well, by knowing which are the v3 books (hmm, that sounds familiar).

Right in the middle of the ITIL v3 revision, the OGC decided it needed to comply with EC directives to be competitive, so it outsourced publishing and certification by tender. The itSMF missed the opportunity to totally dominate the ITIL world by losing the publishing tender to TSO, the existing publisher, and certification to APMG, the existing provider of certification to HM Government for other frameworks (Prince2, etc).

TSO stands for The Stationery Office, the arm of the British government responsible for publishing all government output. The British government chose this moment to sell off TSO to private commercial interests. APMG is a private organization too, so now ITIL was almost entirely controlled by private commercial interests, except for the copyright still held by the Queen (I don’t think she has read the books though).

APMG moved immediately to insert itself as the controlling body across EXIN and ASEB, to take an additional tithe, to threaten the world’s trainers with de-registration unless they also paid up, and to introduce new competitors to EXIN and ASEB, not least of all itself. APMG were surprised when this met with a negative reaction from the industry (and total apathy from the marketplace).

So, APMG sought to appease the industry by designing the new ITIL v3 certification scheme using a committee of all the vested commercial interests. APMG were surprised when the result was chaos: a course structure designed to maximize revenue not learning; misapplication of a theoretical framework (Bloom’s Taxonomy); a credit points system riddled with inconsistencies and injustices that changed seemingly monthly; exams nobody could understand let alone answer; and delays and premature announcements and public disagreements.

The committee were surprised when this met with consternation and protest from the grass-roots training industry (and total apathy from the marketplace).

ITIL v3 has been launched across the world in 2007 as the new greatest thing. Analysts and writers (such as this one) have chattered excitedly, but adoption so far seems to be limited to the mega-organizations always on the lookout for bigger and better ways to spend money; the elite few organizations who actually feel they have exhausted the possibilities of ITIL v2; and the usual mugs who listen uncritically to their vendors.

Market penetration of ITIL (any version) is between 10-and-30 percent. Another 30% are keen to start. Annual revenues from ITIL are about two-to-five billion U.S. a year. The future for ITIL at this time looks bright and almost unlimited (which pretty well guarantees its days are numbered). IT craves novelty. It seeks always the new kid in town. ISO 20000 held promise to be that kid, but market response has been lethargic. Perhaps ISO 20000 looks too much like “the ITIL standard” and lacks the novelty it needs to succeed.

Look for a “new paradigm”, something “transformational”, a “step change” in the way we conduct IT. It is probably out there sleeping peacefully now, waiting for the money-machine to find it, hold it aloft, and proclaim it the latest holy grail. Even now the suits are flogging “green IT”, “lean”, and other concepts to see if they are dead or just snoozing. In the meantime, the ITIL industry makes hay.

Rob England is an IT consultant, writer and commentator, resident in a small house in a small village far away in a small country, New Zealand. Check out his blog at The IT Skeptic.org.