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Stop Implementing ITIL!

You can't implement something that isn't designed to be implemented, writes ITSMWatch columnist Jason Druebert of BT Professional Services.
Nov 16, 2009

Jason Druebert

There is one question I can always count on when conducting ITIL training or consulting: When implementing ITIL, what process do you start with? The simple answer is you start with whatever the business needs most. IT Service Management is, after all, about aligning IT to the business.

But, stepping back a bit, why would you implement something you already have? Every IT organization is doing at least some of the practices described in the ITIL framework; rudimentary Incident Management at a minimum. On the other hand, there is no IT environment that looks exactly like the ITIL framework, so no one ever “fully implements ITIL.” Since no one has all of ITIL and everyone has some does the phrase “implement ITIL” really make sense?

Furthermore, why would you implement something that isn’t designed to be implemented? ITIL is not an implementation framework rather, it is a reference framework. It is descriptive, not prescriptive. For example, ITIL offers up several different service desk structures. The framework doesn’t say one is the correct model, it leaves it up to you to determine which model, or combination of models, is best for your business. ISO 20000 on the other hand is designed to be implemented. It more or less provides checklists for what you should have in place for each process area. Remember, the “L” in ITIL stands for “library.” Is that something you implement?

A final consideration is that you probably wouldn’t want to implement all of ITIL, even if you could. The second “I” in ITIL stands for “Infrastructure,” and that is the strong suit of ITIL: Service Desk, Incident, Problem, and Service Level Management, to name a few specific areas. There are far better places to go than ITIL when looking to improve areas not specific to infrastructure, such as security or financial practices. The book authors may take issue with my assertion, but the process areas outside of ITIL’s core competency need to be in the framework only to show the relationships between processes. They should not be considered the definitive source of good practice information for those processes.

Now that I’ve talked about what not to call your ITIL efforts, what do you call them? Since we have established that most everyone already has ITIL, why not use the ITIL terminology and initiate a service improvement plan (SIP)? Feel free to substitute “project” or “program” for “plan,” depending on the size. If you do an ITIL “implementation” and then do another one a couple of years later, it may appear to outsiders that your initial implementation failed. However, it is fitting and proper to take an arm’s length view of your processes via regular SIP, such as continuous service improvement.

ITSM is first and foremost a cultural endeavor so what you call things matters even more than usual. Saying you are implementing ITIL, besides being inaccurate, often gives the impression to staff that you believe it is the answer to all of the organization’s problems―let the eye rolling begin!

One of the tenets of ITSM is to speak in plain terms that are not confusing and intimidating to the business. If the goal of your project is to be buzzword-compliant, by all means call it an ITIL implementation, but if your goal is to improve service quality, please just say so.

Jason Druebert is a consultant with BT Professional Services. Jason has extensive experience in ITSM, IT operations, and project management.

implementation, ITIL, ITSM, BT Consulting, ISO 20000

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