Rise and Fall of the ITILian Empire!
As distance education lecturer I have strong opinions on and a passion for the current status and role of [IT] service management, and believe that [IT] service management is finally getting on the right track. Although I may seem a bit cynical and pessimistic at times – this is all done as part of the play and message that I’m trying to convey in this specific article. It’s not all rosebuds and sunshine, and balance needs to be maintained at all costs.
Aiming for something
Interesting title to start with huh! Hopefully it got some of your attention. I’ve never been much of a formal author, and my Dutch roots make me quite blunt, direct and to the point. This article has one objective and one objective only. It addresses the current status of the ITIL framework within the larger space I personally refer to as the [IT] service management domain, where even IT has – over the last couple of years – become an increasingly more optional parameter.
For those who happen to know me as an [IT]SM trainer, instructor or lecturer, courseware developer, innovator, or even animator – whatever title you may want to throw at me – you may also know me as a bit of an [IT] service management evangelist. Yes, I do preach [IT] service management (please note the consistent placement of IT between square brackets), but lately have stopped preaching ITIL as the answer and/or solution to all your problems (yeah – I know – I should say challenges nowadays), as I have come to realise, ITIL was never intended to be a solution for any problem be it large or small. I admit – even I (it hurts saying this) was to some degree a bit brainwashed by a number of my previous employers – who in the end were making a lot of hard cash out of this ITIL thing that in reality no-one really ever got a full grip on.
I guess we’ve all moved on – times change – practices change, but has ITIL itself really changed that much? Well, my honest answer is yes and no. I’ve never been a star in making up my own mind – I enjoy the surreal, mystery, suspense, and open-endings way too much. I can almost see your face, hear your thoughts and feel your frustration: “That’s another crappy consultancy answer!” Okay, so now I feel obliged to give you a creative and of course mostly dualistic answer.
Sure, ITIL has evolved. We’ve seen the birth of ITIL v1 – where we were literally suffocating under an ever increasing mountain of loosely connected ‘booklets’ describing some loosely connected [IT] service management related processes in a for the time being (late 80s) somewhat “structured chaotic” way. It’s a painful process trying to memorise even the outlines of what that ITIL thing actually looked, smelled and felt like. I just want to erase it from those grey and scarce memory cells, but at the same time still miss its many very useful – though not so colourful – templates. Surely you must have to admit that those SLA and DR-plan templates took the world by surprise, and I didn’t even mention the variety of, for example, availability management related formulas. Whatever happened to those?
ITIL v1’s long overdue ‘somewhat mentally instable’ sibling was given a rather painful and long birth some 10 years down the track (late 90s) and somehow received the not so creative title of ITIL v2. This version basically “seemingly randomly” clustered some processes together at an operational, tactical, strategic, implementation and infrastructural level. Terminology and definitions – as used within v2 - were mostly clear, transparent and comprehensible for even those with an IQ of below super-extravagant-more-than-intelligent-genius. The ITIL Creators known as OGC (please observe the subtle use of the capital C) somehow managed to reduce the ITI Library (sorry, you really can’t say ITIL Library) from a whopping 42 books (surely 42 must be the only true-and-right answer as it also happens to be the answer to life, the Universe and everything else) to a meagre 9 (bye-bye good old templates). Unfortunately 99.9% of the training organisations out there really only focused on 2 of the 9 volumes, which quickly became known as the blue and red books.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
By the time the spirit (mindset) of ITIL v2 had become ‘finally really’ popular, adopted, embedded, and seriously being considered and implemented – although I most definitely don’t believe there’s such a thing as “implementing ITIL” – by many small, medium and large enterprises – who had astronomical buckets with money being thrown at these so called ITIL implementations – some [not so] bright spirit went like: “let’s ‘improve’ ITIL v2!” I sincerely still believe that person was enjoying his/her life in a coffee-shop in Amsterdam watching pink elephants dance on the Beatle’s tune of “Lucy in the sky with Diamonds.”
Anyway – ITIL v3 came out screaming and kicking at a weight of approximately 10 pounds bare somewhere in July 2007 (late 00s). In a nutshell OGC had managed to shred another 4 books, but somehow managed to create 5 ‘new’ tightly glued and integrated “service lifecycle” volumes. These volumes are so deeply interwoven and intertwined that probably only the big person in the sky knows the answer to the question: “Why weren’t these five volumes published as a single fully consistent, error-free and properly edited volume?” Surely OGC could and should have learned some lessons from publications like PMBOK (4th edition has 42 processes), CobiT and other academic – more consistently and better structured – publications. The amount of redundancy in ITIL v3 is still shocking, unnecessary, confusing, and a waste of CO2 absorbing and O2 producing (most likely Amazon growing) trees.
Curiouser and curiouser!
Please don’t get me wrong here - the ITIL v3 service lifecycle model is a fantastic – I repeat absolutely fantastic concept. However, we as an eagerly anticipating audience – with extremely high expectations set – are following a silent “dubbed” movie that describes an IT service from cradle to grave in a whopping 5 cinematographic colours. No seriously – I do like ITIL v3 – but I don’t understand why these volumes had to steer away from explaining good (or best) practices in a language we all speak and understand. Surely a process “is the related stuff we do to achieve things”, and not “a closed-loop system that provides change and transformation towards a goal and utilises feedback for self-reinforcing and self-corrective action.” Get a life, and start to speak a normal language! The authors didn’t even bother to keep the definitions as used in the text the same as the definitions as provided in the glossary. As Alice would say: “Curiouser and curiouser!”
So, has ITIL changed? Yes, but not everything has improved as much as it could have, and some things have even moved slightly backwards. It’s the latter that I personally dislike about ITIL v3, as they should not have happened and could have been avoided. In my opinion the optimal useful ITIL framework is version e (approximately 2.71828) – that floats in the twilight zone (teedee-deedee-teedeedeedee) between versions 2 and 3, complemented with all those templates and skeletons as provided in version 1.
The missing jig-saw pieces
All that said, even ITIL e (or call it eITIL) won’t be able to give you a full solution to your IT service management problem(s). ITIL roughly explains IT processes and their activities and how they can be implemented. It’s in my humble opinion still not very strong in covering the why, the what, and the who, or how to measure and be compliant with today’s standards like ISO/IEC 20000 and ISO/IEC 38500. Furthermore it only touches upon programme management, project management and most importantly the people aspect of it all – including potential cultural and structural changes that are typically unavoidable when moving into full process-based space, which may end up having even more dimensions than string theory itself – I guess 11¾ dimensions will do just fine. Furthermore the chapters on how to actually implement [IT] service management good practices have typically been reduced to a couple of pages, and aren’t most organisations really deeply interested in this specific topic?
Filling the gaps
It seems that more and more predominantly academic institutions are jumping on the much wider [IT] service management wagon, and are finally starting to fill the educational gaps that the public training organisations have not, either due to a lack of resources or capabilities, or due to pure financial reasons. Observing the job market there’s a clear trend identifiable of an increasing number of organisations searching for [IT] service management (ITSM) related capabilities, and a steadily declining number of them looking for specifically ITIL related resources and capabilities. To me this makes perfect sense, as we’re talking providing optimal services with minimal resources here. It’s not about ITIL, it’s never been about ITIL – it’s about managing services and providing optimal value to our dearly beloved customers! ITIL is “set of practical and proven practices” that are meant to support achieving an organisation’s objectives. It’s a means to an end, but somehow was elevated to something of deity-like scale and proportions.
We can use ITIL (v1/)/v2/v3 to put some process structure in place (so at least we know what we’re doing and can repeat it as well), and we can use ISO/IEC 20000 to make sure we’ve got the right processes in place and we’re sticking to them. We can also use IT Governance (CobiT) to get some proper control objectives in place, so we can actually measure some (the most critical elements) of our process performance, and we use ISO/IEC 38500 as the standard to do it right! We can use a bit of Prince2 and PMBOK to get some highly needed project management structure in place, and surround them with a bit of a programme management envelope. We can use 6-Sigma to make sense of our measurements to determine whether or not deviations are really deviations, or “naturally occurring exceptions” within defined boundaries. We can also use the balanced scorecard to map our performance against logically divided business domains, and ensure we actually get proper supporting functions like QA, HR, marketing, and finance in place. We can do lots of things, but in the end we can’t really ignore any of the domains described above, and that includes the service management domain. We need to use our creative minds and decide which pieces we’re going to use and how they will optimally connect with each other.
One ring to rule them all
Having said all of the above – there’s no such thing as one solution, one framework, or for that matters, one ring to rule them all. A highly dynamic balance needs to be carefully, intelligently and creatively planned, then constructed, maintained, continuously monitored and adapted. It needs to consists of many of the elements of the above mentioned standards, frameworks, methods, principles, mindsets, and approaches, and it all needs to be supported by a highly energetic cultural change programme where people are always first priority.
A never-ending story
So, ITIL is not the bible, it’s a single chapter of a dynamic volume that’s still being written as we speak, and unfortunately will never ever be finished. Only continuous well targeted and focused education – I’m not talking computer based training here – may give you and your organisation a head start and some knowledge of the chapters yet to be written, or rewritten.
I believe the answer is continuous and never ending service management education and commitment – that roughly translates into something like CANESMEAC. I like CANESMEAC as it sounds like a not too distant alien inhabited planet from a Star Trek original-series episode, hence live long and prosper (Star Trek).... nanoo nanoo.... (Mork and Mindy) and IsleBeeBach (Terminator).
If you’re like me, and you’ve been reading mostly between the lines trying to pick up the subliminal message, then hopefully you’ve come to the following conclusion. ITIL is still incredibly important and its empire is as solid as ever. However many new civilisations from far and distant countries and cultures are expanding the empire at an exponential rate. The empire has grown too big to explore without a map, and many unexplored bridges and tunnels still are demanding to be charted. It’s continuous education that allows you to peek over the shoulders of those creating the maps, and who knows – maybe one day – you may decide to become a map creator yourself and go where no one has gone before.
Finally, empires are known throughout history to be overthrown by friendly guests and neighbors without any signs of warning. Frameworks like CobiT, MOF, USMBOK and many others are lurking in dark corners waiting for their chance to take a seat on the [IT]SM throne, because in the end there can only be one dominating best practices framework, otherwise it wouldn't be the best anymore.
Live long and prosper