ITIL has been declared dead, again


Lately I have seen several blogs and articles declaring ITIL to be dead. ITIL is from different era and is deemed to be no longer relevant. Cloud services and more outsourcing are pushing the internal IT department out of the picture. And there are new frameworks ready to take over ITIL’s position. Have I not heard this before?

My first introduction to ITIL was the ITIL Essentials training I took in 1997. At that time it was ITIL v1, although that version number didn’t really matter until version 3 was introduced. In 2000 I joined PinkElephant in The Netherlands and took my ITIL service manager exam (ITIL v2). With my previous experience in several ITIL projects I was asked to join as a part-time trainer for the service manager course almost straight away. The economic crisis of 2001 meant that the board of PinkRoccade (as the next version of PinkElephant was then called) had to make some decisions on strategy and focus. ITIL was no longer a priority, considering the ITIL market in The Netherlands to be pretty much past its prime. ITIL was kind of declared dead.

Around that time I got involved with an implementation of the Microsoft Operations Framework at a financial services company in the Netherlands. When I had to explain MOF to the IT managers I told them it was based on ITIL. They then opened a cupboard with rows and rows of binders. Each row a different ITIL implementation by another ITIL consultancy group. It was pretty horrendous.

That is clear example of some of the problems that keeps showing up with ITIL. Often it is badly implemented by consultants that have little hands-on experience in managing and running an IT department. They take ITIL at face-value and cannot translate the underlying principles into realistic and practical advice. This has given ITIL a bad reputation. Add to this already dangerous situation tool providers who have created complex and ineffective systems to support ITIL. This has led to ITIL implementations effectively turning IT departments into bureaucratic and sluggish technocrats who say No. No wonder that business users turn to the cloud and bypass their internal IT department.

And no wonder that every couple of years a new method or framework shows up that might promise to undo what ITIL has created. Sometimes these frameworks are trying to distill the essence of ITIL into a new cocktail of processes and practices. Often this is done by providers to give ITIL their own unique touch. Sometimes these frameworks come from a slightly different angle and look at the IT organization from a different perspective. Like COBIT is the view from the auditor or the accountant. Sometimes it tries to solve a specific issue that has grown in IT departments over the years, like the great gap between IT development and IT operations. There is a real need to set themselves apart from ITIL and to declare ITIL to be history.

ITIL is a bit like Rasputin, you have to try real hard to kill it. Like Rasputin there is a ugly side and an attractive side to ITIL. At its core ITIL still has something to offer to IT organizations today. It is true that ITIL has its roots based in the Mainframe world and that the main perspective is that of an internal IT service provider. And it is true that books and frameworks written by committee often contain unsolved (often heated) discussions. Which means that ITIL is not useful as a manual that tells you step-by-step how to approach a problem in your IT department. The underlying principles still apply and it gives you still a basic understanding of what an IT service organization needs to do. And, the reason it so hard to kill, it has been used now by several generations of IT people as a common phrasebook of IT service management.

If you want to kill of a common practice because it is based on ideas from a different era, than you might want to start with killing of half the business school curriculum. We are still using ideas and principles from times long gone:  “the Art of War” or “The Prince” to name some examples. And, yes, the ITIL books are no highlight of literature. Maybe we could take ITIL for what it is to me in the first place: a selection of practices in managing IT services than can be useful as inspiration and guidance to any situation where IT services are to be delivered. That is how I approached ITIL back in 1997 and how I approach DevOps, SIAM, COBIT and many other frameworks now.

This blog first appeared on the ITStrategizer website on February 3rd 2016.

Author: Paul Leenards

About Paul Leenards 11 Articles

Paul Leenards is a principal consultant in Digital Strategies and Organizational Change. Author, trainer and opinion leader in Service Management (ITIL, MOF, etc) and Digital Transformation. Paul Leenards is Master in IT Management at the Delft University of Technology.

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