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ITIL - The Distancing Begins

A lot of vendors are pulling back from being "ITIL compliant" and this has ITSMWatch columnist Valeria Arraj wondering why.
Jul 30, 2010

Valerie Arraj

I had the opportunity to attend a prominent ITSM vendor’s annual trade show recently. As with many of the suppliers in this category, this vendor’s product suite contains a number of tools that have been sewn together through company acquisitions.

While enabling a one-stop-shopping scenario for customers with respect to automating the breath of operational or support-related processes, the underlying data model that ties these products together is either still in draft state or remains illusive. Though the goal to get there seems closer to becoming reality than it may have been a few years ago, questions regarding roadmaps and time frames continue to go unanswered. Some remarkable point products exist across the spectrum of these tool providers, but for companies looking for the well integrated suite from a single vendor, it is wise to be skeptical of the “marketecture” and do some homework regarding the level of effort to integrate.

I did walk away, however, heartened to see some progress made in the move toward a data model that is needed to support the “ERP for IT” system that many IT organizations need.

What really struck me as I went from session to session at this forum was what I’ve started to see as a trend in the across the vendor community: Tool vendors are beginning to distance themselves from ITIL. While the supplier community seems to still feel the need to brand their products through the Pink Verification or OGC’s ITIL Software Scheme as “ITIL compliant”, the rhetoric in the sessions I attended denoted a clear movement away from a strong association with ITIL, and certainly a propensity to discredit the notion that one should stay true to the framework.

As with many of the large ITSM vendors, there is a sizable ITSM consulting arm, many of whom are book authors or otherwise high profile contributors to the ITSM community. So this “distancing” from ITIL appears a bit schizophrenic. This is a new song from vendors who had previously pushed and shoved to get as close as they could to ITIL. I have two hypotheses to explain this new trend to move away from ITIL:

No. 1 - It is easier to “diss” the framework then to make the tools work accordingly. Let’s be honest, even with an official or quasi-official ITIL seal of approval, the tool requirements to facilitate ITIL-based processes are left to interpretation. As ITIL is a framework it is meant to be adapted to the needs of an organization. This has always been explicit and yet a source of contention for those who want prescriptive guidance.

What is inherent in the ITIL framework, however, is that there must be a clear flow of information from one process to another to facilitate the ITIL lifecycle approach. Even if you are a bigger fan of ITIL v2 than v3 that data flow must exist. This is where the lack of that comprehensive, underlying data model that joins the CMDB to the service desk, the asset tool to the CMDB and the Service Desk, the event management and deployment tools to the service desk and the CMDB, leaves a gaping hole in the ability to truly automate the hand offs between processes. So backing off of ITIL affords latitude for the true integration that most current vendor's suite solutions lack and allows vendors to spin their own best practice model.

No. 2 - The recognition that ITIL is not the end-all be-all single source of service management guidance is starting to take hold. The truth is it never was. This is an IT service management process framework to be used it in conjunction with others such as CobIT, ValIT, IS0 27000, ISO 38500, etc. I see this as a good thing. Not necessarily something that should cause ITIL to be kicked to the curb, but something that will allow you to put ITIL in perspective.

ITIIL is about process. And because process is carried out by people and partners and enabled by technology, it delves into these other areas. But for those people who critique ITIL on its lack of technology-specific treatment of such new trends such as cloud computing and virtualization, I would argue that processes for providing IT services are fairly generic -- and this is what ITIL frames.

Guidance for managing specific technology falls into the realm of work instructions -- better suited for the technology vendors to help steer -- and, if they use the umbrella of high level process guidance provided in ITIL, it provides a consistency that enables universal application. IT services at the end of the day, must be developed to meet service levels that envelop availability, security, performance and continuity, and must be supportable to assure that changes can be made and incidents can be addressed with minimal impact. ITIL guidance only helps to put a process structure to enable these goals.

Whether either of these notions has merit, the din is out there and the retreat begins. But the need for IT service management good practice remains just as prevalent as it ever has. Technology will still continue to be complex to manage. Service levels will still need to be delivered in an effective and efficient manner. The reliance on IT to provide a competitive advantage to business will be greater and greater.

Embracing good practice service management guidance, including ITIL, in a pragmatic way can only help. Giving distance to ITIL as a buzz word for all things ITSM or reducing its religious fervor is not a bad thing. Giving distance to the idea that repeatable, consistent IT processes are necessary for effective IT management is a step in the wrong direction.

Valerie Arraj is principal and managing partner for Compliance Process Partners, an IT compliance focused consulting and training company that uses service management and control objectives to help organizations lay the groundwork for compliance to regulatory and governance guidelines.

ITIL, ITSM, software vendors, COBIT, ValIT