Is ITIL dead?

Why ITIL must adapt if it is to remain relevant in the Digital era

ITIL is dead! A contentious view? Almost certainly, and I don’t think I’d need to throw a stone too far in any direction before I hit somebody that fervently disagrees with me.  So why do I say this?  One word – Digital.

Don’t get me wrong, ITIL still has its place, and many, many organisations are still using it just fine, thank you very much. But the writing is on the wall.  Digital is here to stay, and slowly but surely (and in some cases very quickly!) we are beginning to witness a wholesale shift in enterprise technology strategy from traditional, legacy IT service delivery to a model that is embracing the Cloud (in all its guises), platform and device mobility, automation (everywhere!), and focus that places customer experience front and foremost on the list of priorities.

Whilst ITIL can and does still enable the delivery and support of these technology objectives, it is rapidly being considered ‘clunky’, and organisations are increasingly seeking to adopt more flexible operational governance that aligns more sensitively with the change cadence required, nay dictated, by such advances.

Digital technologies, by their very nature, tend to be fast moving and highly volatile. Development of these technologies predicates an equally fast moving service lifecycle to ensure that customer expectations are both met and maintained in a customer environment that now demands swift and constant improvement and innovation.

Agile is one part of the industry’s response to this challenge.

The recent proliferation of tools and techniques to support Agile delivery frameworks is an indicator of the steady rise in adoption of iterative work cadences, and the reality is that many traditional ITSM framework implementations simply aren’t geared up to support this approach.  In many cases, ITSM actively works to impede the delivery of change in an agile manner, and this creates a very real dilemma for IT service management leaders.

The crux of this dilemma is as follows:

  1. Many of the core ITIL processes have been designed to protect production operations from the impact of change, and manage any impact of that change accordingly
  2. Agile (and supporting frameworks) have, however, been designed to increase the velocity of change, and the flexibility by which it is prioritised

As every Change Manager will no doubt surely confirm, increasing the rate of change (potentially to daily or even hourly increments) can put major stresses on a process not necessarily designed to work at this pace. Equally, the concept of ‘trust’, so fundamental to the Agile methodology, may sound great in theory, but is not so alluring in practice when you’re the Head of IT Operations with SLAs to meet and audit controls to adhere to.

In the Waterfall world change, to a degree, works coherently with ITIL and the phased approach to delivery (design, build, test), gives service management functions the time and space to perform the necessary activity required to protect service.  In an Agile world, however, this paradigm is challenged, and what were very well structured, methodical, and well understood governance controls, suddenly become a blocker to the realisation of business value (at the pace with which the business wants to realise it). In some cases this can happen almost overnight, as businesses take the decision to cut to iterative software development methodologies in a big bang approach, often with scant regard for the impact on service management and operations functions.  Almost instantly we witness the clash of worlds (Old versus New).  And word to the wise my friends, the business is normally championing those in the New camp.

It is at this point that we hit the dilemma.  What takes priority – the rapid realisation of business value through the swift release of change, or the protection of production systems (and thus the customer experience) from potential availability or performance degradation as a result of change?

The answer depends heavily on the type of organisation and system/service being changed, but of course the real answer is that both are equally important.  The issue, however, is that Agile is considered new, revolutionary, and progressive (it isn’t really but that’s beside the point). ITIL, on the other hand, is considered by many to be overly bureaucratic and a constraint to the realisation of business value. And remember, perception is reality, especially when those doing the perceiving also happen to be holding the purse strings.

The result is that IT service leaders, in the face of a business strategy that promotes a fast pace of change that it is perceived to be constrained by service management control, quickly become guilty by association. An inability to respond quickly to this challenge will only compound the issue.  The next logical step from there is the disintermediation of IT altogether, as business change leaders look to more flexible ways to deliver value to their customers, unhindered by legacy constraint.

To avoid this scenario IT service leaders, and the processes that they adopt, must adapt. Long term proponents of existing models must wake up to this notion. This change train is most definitely coming and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.  We have a lot of baggage to carry, so getting on the train will be hard, but it’s also absolutely necessary (I think I may have stretched that analogy a little thin).

Thus ITIL, whilst perhaps not dead per se, is certainly badly wounded and in desperate need of triage.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson is famously quoted as saying, nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Well now is the time to get enthusiastic, because if enough of the community are, perhaps ITIL might just survive after all.

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Published by

Ben Park

Ben is the IT Service Management Consultancy Practice Manager at Sopra Steria UK, and is a passionate proponent of IT Service Management principles and practices. Ben and his team enable businesses to understand how the pragmatic application of proven good practice can help organisations meet their ultimate business objectives. Ben feels strongly that ITSM dogma needs to adapt to the digital world if existing frameworks are to remain credible in the light of advances in technology and the consumption of technology-derived services.

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