So, are we there yet? Is ITIL as successful as we hoped?


Similar to mission and vision determining direction, the goals of an ITIL (or any best practice) implementation are a good indicator of how successful it will be for the business.

There are still many organizations chasing the elusive concept of business alignment or business integration and there’s still much talk about “the business” and IT. If you’re one of those still struggling, you can start by considering that there is no “business and IT”, there’s just the business! The minute we start putting in the division between the two, we have actually created it.

Much has been written about where and why ITIL fails. Looking at what’s written and said about this topic, it’s clear we’re missing something, so I’ll throw in my two cents. In many cases where ITIL has failed, it has failed manly because the goal of the implementation is often “to improve IT operations” or sometimes “to improve IT delivery.” Years and millions of dollars later, all that’s been accomplished is incremental improvements to stability and reliability of the IT infrastructure and perhaps some streamlined governance processes. If there’s no tangible result that points to additional revenue generated by the services provided or overall cost savings, the implementation stalls and is considered a failure.

The issue here is not with the framework. It’s with the goals and objectives behind the implementation of the framework. The concept is similar to the impact of wording on the effectiveness of a mission/vision statement. When you go into an ITIL implementation to improve IT operations, all you will get is improved operations, but ITIL and service management is far more than that.

At it’s most basic for ITIL to succeed, it needs to be implemented as a means of enabling business outcomes. Try this exercise:

Step 1: Write down at least ten outcomes of your current implementation.
Step 2: Write down all of the business outcomes intentionally initiated or supported by IT (not those that came from the business where IT helped).
Step 3: Calculate the percentage of your outcomes that were focused on the business.
Step 4: Get social: Post your results here or Tweet them resulting percentage using #ITILoutcomes.

My guess is that many people will find this to be a very low percentage. As I travel the US implementing processes and tools, I still see most organizations working on the basic, operational aspects of service management.  While a few are beginning to mature beyond this, most are still working on improving IT.

Like mission and vision, let’s look a little more deeply at how your focus impacts your results.

Implementing ITIL as a means of improving operational performance

Chances are, if your CIO has proposed an ITIL implementation because the business is not happy with IT, your implementation roadmap looks something like this:

  1. Implement an ITIL-based Incident, Problem and Change Management process.
  2. Implement request fulfillment via a service request catalog.
  3. Implement monitoring and alerts.
  4. Begin to grow into release management, capacity management, IT continuity and the CMDB.

What are the business outcomes of these areas? Improved service stability or said another way, improved IT performance. If you’re not focused on the services that are important to the business, however, it may be completely meaningless to them.

Implementing ITIL to enable business outcomes

If your focus is on enabling the business, IT will be learning as much about their company as possible: how revenue is generated and the services IT provides to generate this revenue. If service delivery improvements are needed, process owners will handle them, but this isn’t the only focus of the effort. With a focus on enabling the business, IT is focused on services, not infrastructure and this drives a completely different result. Here, IT will be focused on service delivery and improvement, but also in developing new services that enable the business to grow revenue or lower costs. IT will have engaged business leaders in identifying what’s needed, rather than reacting to business needs.

This focus on business outcomes will require IT to work with the business on some of the areas identified in Service Strategy: managing the portfolio of IT investments and demand for project delivery to ensure IT is able to deliver on its goal of enabling business outcomes. It also places the operational focus on improving service delivery, not implementing process improvements for the sake of improved processes.

The processes of Service Strategy and Continual Service Improvement are two areas where the magic happens.  As both of these areas require engagement with business leaders, this is where the opportunity for true integration, the step beyond alignment, can happen.

Critical Success Factor: Balance

The ITIL authors talk a bit about finding the balance in operations between internal and external focus, drawing the conclusion that you need to find the balance between these two factors. The same is true of your ITIL implementation. You need to continually improve IT operations but not turn that into your entire focus. Once you achieve an acceptable level of operational stability it’s time to shift the focus to external objectives, or to transforming to a service delivery culture and finding your voice within your business.

Why is this shift necessary to achieve success in your implementation? Because business executives don’t really care about an ITIL implementation that produces incremental improvements in operations. They expect IT to run effectively. Period. If you want to demonstrate the benefits of ITIL and ensure its continued funding, you need to be able to show positive impacts on business results, either through services that increase revenue or projects that lower costs (whether they are IT or business costs). Once the business sees results that make a difference to them, you can then say, “Yes, we’re there.”

Phyllis Drucker

Phyllis Drucker

Phyllis is an innovative and focused professional with more than 20 years of experience in Business/IT Strategy, Enterprise service management, governance, customer service and support, ITSM tool implementation, HR automation and team building. After more than 20 years in the support industry, she is taking her thought leadership out to the community by focusing on writing and speaking. In addition to her activities as a blogger, she's a published author and her book “Service Management Online: Creating a Successful Service Request Catalog” is available through TSO. She's also an experienced international speaker, having delivered keynotes and conference breakout sessions since her first speaking engagement in 1997. You can follow Phyllis on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter or visit her website