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The Four Big Questions ITIL Doesn't Answer

Jan 30, 2009

Rob England


The analogy of a house blueprint is often used to describe ITIL. But don’t make the assumption that it is for your house. It is the blueprint for a generic McMansion; with gothic columns and three floors and a quadruple garage and stables. It has an automated building management system and marble stairs. Even if you want a house that fancy, you are bound to want the rooms arranged differently. Most of us will want something a little simpler.

To use the blueprint you will need to modify it considerably to your preferences and site and budget. There are no instructions for this, so you had better get the site professionally surveyed and the plans re-drafted. Then you will need to estimate it and a builder to build it—because there are no instructions for those activities either. Even if a house came as a kit pile of timber and stone and a fat book of directions, most people would not be so foolhardy as to attempt assembling themselves. Asking your staff to assemble the house in their “spare time” is especially not a good idea.

Once you spend all the money to build the house, you will need to demonstrate to local authorities that it was done properly. And so we arrive at Big Question Four: does it meet the standard? How do we asses the completeness (not to mention quality) of an ITIL implementation? What does ITIL tell us? Guess! No checklists. No minimum criteria. No standards.

There is something closer to what we want: ISO/IEC 20000. But it is only close. The authorities will say you have assessed your house against the standard for a ski lodge or small shop or something not quite exactly the same. It might do, it might not. Likewise with using COBIT to assess ITIL: it covers all of ITIL (pretty much), and lots more. But ISO/IEC 20000 and COBIT only look at ITIL from the outside, as a black box. They only assess the exterior of the house. Explaining all these moot points to the Board will not go down well. They want to know if ITIL was done properly, and they want to know how well. And you can’t tell them other than offering some expensive consultant’s subjective opinion.

If you want to know the best way to run a Change Advisory Board, ITIL will tell you. If you want to know best practice in analyzing problems, ITIL will tell you. But there are still four Big Questions where you are on your own:

  • Should you do ITIL?
  • To what level should you do it?
  • How do you do it?
  • How do you show you did it?

Rob England is an IT industry commentator and consultant, and nascent internet entrepreneur, best known for his blog The IT Skeptic.