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ITIL Still Needs to Embrace the Collective

In in the wide open world of Web 2.0 OGC still keeps ITIL cloistered, writes ITSMWatch columnist Rob England.
Oct 2, 2009

Rob England


Three years ago, I said here on ITSMWatch “The OGC’s approach to ITIL development may mean it loses control of ITIL. If they fail to adopt new modes, the open content movement will take ITIL away [background soundtrack from Bob Dylan’s Times They are a Changin’] I still maintain this is still true, even though, so far, open content ITIL is failing.

The change that threatens the OGC (the U.K.’s Office of Government Commerce, owners of ITIL) is the latest Internet revolution, Web 2.0―the wisdom of crowds, collective intelligence, call it what you will. It is an emergent characteristic of the Internet, a rising phenomenon that is radically changing concepts of intellectual property, expertise and authority.

One aspect of it is the exciting application of the open source concept to content, exemplified by Wikipedia but also seen in more esoteric sites such as OpenCola or the Science Commons.

Or OpenITIL. If you struggle through the Google translation you will find this group was creating an open version of ITIL, including documenting the processes in UML (ugly but potentially useful). There have been less formal attempts at this in the past, such as The ITIL Open Guide, which just dribbled to a halt, out-of-date and little-known, and the ITIL Wiki, now gone. OpenITIL was no more successful (three years on and no one has heard of it and it is unclear how much was ever created). The Wikipedia entry for ITIL has failed too: it has degenerated into feeble twaddle with squabbling contributors defending rubbish entries. But the trend to open content is real and growing―it is just a matter of time.

I am horrified to sound post-modernist, as I regard post-modernism as one of the great evils of the 20th Century and fervently hope the 21st Century will mark its final demise. But today let us focus on a [shudder] post-modernist analysis of ITIL. For those of you who were busy elsewhere while the Western intellectual world turned to mush over the last fifty years, Wikipedia defines post-modernism as “The belief that all communication is shaped by cultural bias, myth, metaphor, and political content.”

If we come down to earth and apply this to ITIL, the premise is that ITIL reflects the culture of its creators. The negative connotation is that it is limited and biased by that. Thus ITIL is not necessarily representative of the best-in-world thinking or, necessarily the best approach in other cultures than the one it sprang from. It is best only within the culture and politics of the group that created it. Now, let me say right away that the people who wrote (and write) ITIL are dedicated and professional and expert. No criticism of the people is implied or actual. The process, however, is clearly subject to question; in particular the scope and the inclusiveness.

There are clearly efforts made to bring in content from a wider range than just the authors of the books. The initial books came from a number of sources, and that number was expanded later. These people are diligent and professional in their execution of their task and will canvas a wide number of contributors from their professional networks. In addition, according to my fellow columnist at ITSM-Watch, Hank Marquis: "The ITIL v3 refresh committee solicited and reviewed 530 written responses and over 6,000 comments, representing 80% of the countries with an itSMF chapter."

But anyone looking at that list from a post-modernist viewpoint can see clearly that ITIL is heavily derived from the culture of corporate North America and Britain, and from existing vendors of ITSM training and services. It seems odd to accuse a U.K. government body of representing western corporate business (or more precisely providers to corporate business), but it is so. As the OGC says, the authors are “service suppliers, training companies and academia in Britain, Canada and the USA"―no government, no local government, no non-profits, no health or engineering, no small or medium enterprise.

The only educational institution is Carnegie Mellon, which some would argue is as much representative of corporate culture as academic. There is no European, African, Asian or Australasian representation amongst the contractors (although the new Metrics for IT Service Management book did originate in South Africa). Although the authors will approach those in their networks across the community and around the world to contribute, one cannot help but feel that sample will be somewhat skewed.

Contributing to this cultural bias is the OGC adoption of the cathedral model rather than the bazaar for ITIL contribution. Like the building of a cathedral, content is assembled by an elite masonry who then hand it over to the masses. The content is not subject to the cut and thrust of the “great babbling bazaar”. Surely ITIL would be more representative of generally accepted practice, and more likely and timely to include best, if there existed any of the following:

A user feedback mechanism in the books (there is just a marketing survey on the back page and assorted advertising). Somewhere on the new itSMF International website asking or encouraging the public or members to contribute. An official forum for users to debate points (itSMF provides one but not OGC or their official representatives APMG and TSO) A voting mechanism for disputed points

One would think the list of feedback mechanisms above represents a minimum for any body of knowledge that purports to be representative or agreed or best in 2009. The ideal would be an ITIL that is continuously incrementally improved by contributions solicited from the general user base and adopted by consensus. This would represent the new best practice in defining content.

Web 2.0, OGC, IT Skeptic, COBIT, MOF

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