Home �   ITIL�  Index

ITIL is Cultural Not Technical

At its heart, ITIL is about changing people not process, writes ITSM Watch columnist Rob England.
Dec 12, 2008

Rob England


ITIL is a transformation rather than an implementation, i.e. the cultural change of the people is the ultimate objective and the most important part. Don't get fixated on processes or, worse still, technology. Make sure the major spend is on people-change else failure or atrophy is the result.


To hear the vendors tell it you might be excused for thinking ITIL is a “skin” of their technology. And to hear many experts and books tell it you might get the impression ITIL is about processes. But it isn’t. ITIL is about changing the way people think and behave; changing “the way things are done around here”; changing what GamingWorks calls ABC: Attitude, Behavior and Culture.


In order to drive the change, we improve the processes, or occasionally introduce processes that don’t exist at all. And in order to make the processes more efficient and more effective we sometimes decide to introduce technology. But the underlying objective of the whole exercise is cultural change, transforming the people.


Well, that is how it should ideally work. The reality is that sometimes organizations “buy an ITIL”; that is they fall for the vendors’ blandishments and buy a technology “solution” that is expected to give them an “out of the box” ITIL experience. Sometimes they are realistic enough to know the processes will need to change with it, but they expect the new technology to drive that change. Other organizations know it isn’t about the technology. They design and “implement” a whole set of new shiny processes, and then wonder why nobody adopts them and they fall quietly into disuse and disrepair.


I was once commissioned to prepare Service Desk, Incident, Problem and Change processes to support a client’s new core IT system. Interviewing a wide range of staff, I found many ad-hoc processes were stumbling along. It was the typical anarchic site: people knew their own piece of the process, but nobody had the whole picture, nothing was documented, nothing much had been planned. It just grew. One day I’m interviewing one of the applications support team at his desk. I spied a chart pasted to the wall behind him and become distracted. It looked like a flowchart of a very detailed incident management process. I looked more closely—it is! I ask if I can have it. “Oh yeah, help yourself. No-one follows that.”


It was a bit like an engineer hacking his way through the jungle to make a path, and coming across ruins of asphalt and concrete with a median barrier down the middle!


To know what technology you need and how to configure and customize it, you must first know what process improvements are required. To know that, you need the people who operate the processes to engage, to help you with the design. You must start with the people, and the people must be the endgame. The processes and tools are just mechanisms that assist in achieving the end: cultural change—a new ABC.


It’s Not New


Let’s be clear: ITIL is not about introducing something new. You don’t “do” ITIL, although we are all guilty of using such language. ITIL is not an implementation, it is a transformation. ITIL is about transforming what is already there: transforming the mindset to a customer-centric one by focusing on the services delivered. Usually, we are transforming from a technology-centric mindset where IT exists for the technology’s sake.


Another way of looking at this is the maturity of the processes. We are transforming the organization’s “maturity”, from some level to a higher level. The process is already functioning we just make it happen better. Note that maturity is a word used about people. Maturity indicates at what level the people are doing the process, not what level the processes are designed for. Maturity is a measure of culture.

    1 2 >> Last Page

IT Management Daily Newsletter

Related Articles

Most Popular