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"I Don't Want to Hear about ITIL!", Part I

If your CIO tells you this they probably don't understand what ITIL is really all about, writes ITSMWatch columnist David Moskowitz of Productivity Solutions.
Mar 11, 2011

David Moskowitz

Shortly after Thanksgiving 2010 I had lunch with a friend who is also a CIO in the metro area -- something we do every couple of months if we're both in town. The topic of discussion revolved around what it might take to change his IT organization to be more service-oriented and responsive to users.

We talked about the concept of IT service management (ITSM) and best practice in this area. My friend said, in no uncertain terms, knowing that I was ITIL certified, "Don't mention that ITIL crap, it doesn't work." Then in late December 2010 there was a LinkedIn discussion that was started with a question that included a similar comment from another CIO, "I don't want to hear about ITIL."

What sparked these two CIOs in two totally different companies (and different countries) to be so negative about ITIL? I don't know? I didn't ask. During lunch I didn't try to address the statement; instead we talked about the things the CIO could do to move toward the goal of being more responsive to customers. Even though what I suggested was based on ITIL, I never mentioned the framework. We talked about the issues customers/users reported; we both understood this wasn't necessarily an accurate starting point because it was self-selected by people who opted to call versus the majority of people who didn't say anything. The conversation was an outside-in conversation with the focus on the customer/user needs, expectations and perceptions

What's behind the, "Don't mention ITIL," is probably a lack of understanding about what ITIL is and what it represents. In another article I did for CIOUpdate.com, What Does the iPod Have to Do With IT Service Management? I included the ITIL definitions of both service & service management, repeated here:

  • ITIL v3 defines service management as "a set of organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services."
  • Service is "a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific cost and risk."

At the core, this is as much about organizational maturity (in the capability maturity model integration (CMMI) sense) as it is anything else. That is part of what is implied by "set of organizational capabilities." But there's a perceptual problem that starts with the ITIL description of itself. The Service Strategy book includes this sentence from the preface: "This publication is the core of the ITIL framework."

While ITIL says Service Strategy is at the core of the lifecycle, from a purely practical perspective, that isn't really true. While the Service Strategy book may be at the core of ITIL, it is rarely the starting point for an ITIL adoption effort -- and in most cases it shouldn't be. Why? Because, ultimately, ITIL is nothing more than a framework that describes IT best practice in ITSM. ITIL is an excellent guide, but that's all it is. It's not about "doing ITIL." I suspect this is where part of the confusion begins.

People (including CIOs) need more specifics and some direction. Any descriptive framework provides a context, but doesn't provide instructions. Because ITIL isn't intended to be a cookbook that makes it easy to "do" ITIL -- and makes it easy to blame ITIL when things don't work.

Want to know a not so secret secret: Every organization probably does many of the things described in ITIL v3, regardless of the names/labels applied to what they're doing. Don't make ITIL any more or less than it is. Anyone who starts with, "ITIL doesn't work," probably has (or had) a misconception about what ITIL is.

ITIL misunderstood leads to a lot of things. If an organization is trying to use the five ITIL books as an implementation guide, the result is often dogma (or ITIL as Holy Writ). Another aspect of this view is represented in the organization that is trying to figure out how to fix something. In this case, the sheer size and the apparent connections described in the ITIL books can be intimidating (as in, "Do we have to do all of this?").

Therein lies a critical difference in thinking. ITIL is misunderstood when people think it's about ITIL; ITIL is understood when people realize that ITIL isn't the goal: ITSM is!

Strategy is daunting

I'm not aware of any computer- or engineering-science curriculum that includes formal study of strategy, particularly in the economic context presented in the ITIL Service Strategy book. If the "Holy Writ" approach is applied, then by its own words, Service Strategy is the core. As noted above, there is a single sentence that "proves" this is so. Yes, Service Strategy as a book is the core the framework. But the economic considerations of a service strategy are rarely the practical starting point for an ITIL adoption effort. I'm not suggesting the material in the Service Strategy book isn't important; it absolutely is, critically so. Rather there are other challenges that typically need to be addressed first. Remember, it's about organizational maturity; you have to crawl and then walk before you run.

If Service Strategy isn't the practical center, what is?

I'll answer that question in my next installment. Stay tuned.

David Moskowitz is certified as an ITIL Expert and also accredited instructor. He is a customer-driven IT professional with more than 30 years of strategic technology experience. He is an established manager, mentor, architect, designer, problem solver, and thought leader with the depth and wide-ranging knowledge and experience to ask the right questions of the right people, and get results. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn. He can be reached at davidm2@usa.net.

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