Is ITIL Worth It?

Next Story

Is the GSA Schedule for you?

For the past 30 years, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has been promoted as “the standard” for how IT organizations should operate. Companies have adopted ITIL processes. IT employees have sought ITIL certification, and IT systems and taxonomies have been framed in an ITIL context.  That was great in the era of legacy IT systems, but how does ITIL translate to the era of digital transformation, cloud services and agile?  Is ITIL still relevant? Are companies still seeing the value from ITIL that they once envisioned?  Is ITIL worth it?

The ITIL Premise: Consistent practices lead to consistent results.

The answers to these questions require us to take a step back for a moment and understand a little bit more about what ITIL was intended to accomplish and then separate out the “concept of ITIL” from the implementation.  ITIL was developed in the 1980s to help government organizations (and then companies) with growing IT functions to understand the core capabilities and processes that were necessary to provide high-quality services and solutions to users.  Most of the IT systems at the time were either developed and maintained by in-house IT staff or in partnership with a few strategic partners.  These systems were technically complex (at the time) and the organizations needed a high level of control to ensure systems were designed/implemented properly and could be repaired quickly when they broke.  ITIL outlined a framework for designing, building, operating and improving systems in a standardized way that everyone could understand.  The idea was that consistent practices lead to consistent results.

The reality of ITIL implementation in organizations has been a bit different than the original intentions.  ITIL isn’t a prescriptive standard; it is intended to be a reference model that companies adapt and selectively apply to their unique needs and circumstances.  What this means is that companies rarely implement all ITIL or adhere directly to the way ITIL suggests things be done.  There is a lot of interpretation involved.  Packaged ITSM systems that support ITIL also support customization of base ITIL processes.  When you interpret a reference framework, selectively adopt pieces of it, and customize it to meet your company’s unique needs, at what point do you cross the line from having “ITIL processes” to having “custom processes inspired by ITIL”?  Is crossing that line a good thing or a bad thing?

Changing role of IT in the modern era

In the modern era of technology-enabled business processes, the technical landscape, as well as the culture of the IT organization, has changed.  There has been a fundamental shift from legacy mindsets around command and control, waterfall project management, and rigorous technology standards driven by policy towards a more collaborative, agile and business-driven approach to introducing and managing technology within organizations.  Business users have a greater voice (and in many cases full decision authority) over the selection and implementation of IT systems.  Cloud service providers and 3rd party technology providers (such as network providers, app developers, and device manufacturers) are responsible for many of the “traditional IT activities” of building, operating and improving systems.  The role of a company’s IT organization then shifts to become one of facilitation to provide an integrated experience, stewardship of company data, security assurance, risk management, and compliance.   The modern era of IT is very different than the environment that existed when ITIL was initially conceived.

Is ITIL still relevant?

The original ITIL premise that consistent practices lead to consistent results was easy to understand in the 80s and 90s when IT systems were being built with the intention of providing long-term value to the organizations that use them.  Over the past five or so years, there has been a significant shift towards the notion of business agility – solve the problems of today and remain flexible to adapt to the emerging challenges of tomorrow.  If the goal is agility, are the “consistent results” that ITIL was striving for still relevant?  The answer to that question is, “Yes, absolutely,” but not in the way you might think.  IT organizations still need to strive towards consistent results, just not “a consistent set of systems that will be used for a long time.”

To meet the new IT challenges of integrated experiences, data stewardship, security assurance, risk management, and compliance over an IT landscape that involves many external parties, consistent processes, practices, and interfaces are critical.  The power of ITIL is its flexibility to be adapted to changing needs in the industry and individual organizations that adopt it.  The core ITIL processes are needed more than ever today, but what they are used for is different than they were in the past.  ITIL should no longer be looked at as the standard for how you do IT internally, but rather as an integration framework to guide how a company’s IT organization co-delivers technology services to the business with the help of an ecosystem of technology partners.

Is ITIL worth it?

ITIL is a tool (a reference framework) that is interesting on its own but has the potential to create tremendous value when it is used by an organization to address specific operational challenges.  Companies should stop asking the question, “should we adopt ITIL?” Instead, you should be asking the question, “is our organization facing challenges that ITIL can help us solve?”  If you’re reading this article, you probably already know the answer to that question.  Now is the time to start thinking creatively about how to move forward and solve those challenges.

Summary:

Is ITIL worth it?

For the past 30 years, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has been promoted as “the standard” for how IT organizations should operate. Companies have adopted ITIL processes. IT employees have sought ITIL certification, and IT systems and taxonomies have been framed in an ITIL context. The reality of ITIL implementation in organizations has been a bit different than the original intentions. ITIL isn’t a prescriptive standard; it is intended to be a reference model that companies adapt and selectively apply to their unique needs and circumstances. In the modern era of technology-enabled business processes, the technical landscape, as well as the culture of the IT organization, has changed. There has been a fundamental shift from legacy mindsets around command and control, waterfall project management, and rigorous technology standards driven by policy towards a more collaborative, agile and business-driven approach to introducing and managing technology within organizations. Business users have a greater voice (and in many cases full decision authority) over the selection and implementation of IT systems. Over the past five or so years, there has been a significant shift towards the notion of business agility – solve the problems of today and remain flexible to adapt to the emerging challenges of tomorrow. If the goal is agility, are the “consistent results” that ITIL was striving for still relevant? The answer to that question is, “Yes, absolutely,” but not in the way you might think. IT organizations still need to strive towards consistent results, just not “a consistent set of systems that will be used for a long time.”

The following two tabs change content below.
mm

Ryan Schmierer

Ryan Schmierer is a recognized industry thought leader in the areas of Digital Transformation, IT Strategy, Service Management and Operations. An accomplished Business and Enterprise Architect, he is presently the Principal Consultant for RS Consulting NW, based in Seattle, WA Ryan is formerly the Business Architect and Director of Business Programs for corporate IT at Microsoft and before that spent 14 years with Cisco Systems as a Business Architect and Project Manager. Ryan is a contributing author of The Open Group IT4IT Reference Architecture industry standard and is a recognized speaker and writer on topics of IT Transformation and Emerging Trends in Service Management.