IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has the capacity to drive the strategic aspects of IT in every business. And with the introduction of version three, the goal is to raise ITIL awareness to board level and deliver quantifiable business value.

Yet how realistic is this objective? Today, despite widespread adoption of ITIL processes, few organisations have attained a true business-led IT focus.

According to research undertaken on behalf of Parity, today less than 40% of IT Service Managers measure IT Service Management value to the whole business and only 27% have measured the return on investment of ITIL implementations within their organisations.

Instead, most are focused exclusively on internal customer satisfaction ratings. Yet with the majority of organisation functional departments demonstrating little or no interest in the process of IT service delivery, perhaps these figures are no surprise.

Even with the arrival of ITIL version 3 (ITIL v3), IT departments face a massive challenge if they are to break out of the IT enclave and delivery true, quantifiable value that is acknowledged across the business.

Customer service

Over the past decade ITIL has become the management language of the IT profession. It promises to align IT with current and future needs of the business and its customers, to improve quality of service delivered and reduce cost.

The reality is that while ITIL has gained huge acceptance across both public and private sectors, the vast majority of organisations only implement Service Desk and Incident Management functions. The result is a strong transaction-level focus across Service Management that bears little or no relation to business value.

The good news is that successful ITIL implementations have undoubtedly transformed the quality of IT customer service over the past decade. On behalf of Parity the Market Research Group based at Bournemouth University asked IT Service Managers their views and opinion on the level of integration of ITIL within the business and how it is currently measured.

Topping this list is a clear commitment to customer service, measured by 87.2% of IT Service Managers, whilst transactions and incidents are measured by 83.3%. Only 39.7% measure IT Service Management as a value to the whole business, whilst a paltry 27% of respondents measured the return on investment of ITIL implementations within their organisations.

Given the lack of understanding of ITIL-focused return on investment it is perhaps little surprise that less than one quarter (23%) believe measuring budgets and costs is very important.

So, despite growing maturity and widespread acceptance, why is ITIL focusing too much on process and not enough on quantifiable business benefits?

Narrow focus

Without a doubt, rather than support a broad, business-based dissemination of IT service and value, ITIL’s extensive reliance on jargon has proved a strong barrier against IT process issues stepping into the business arena.

Organisations have also suffered expensive implementations, many of which have lacked any understanding of either the cost of IT services or how best to attribute value to the introduction of ITIL based initiatives.

Indeed, in many cases, the principle drivers of ITSM best practice was a system failure or failed change to commercial systems – often with an attendant major cost in lost revenue to the organisation. A fact admitted publicly by very few IT managers. In these situations the cost associated with introducing the ITIL framework is tiny in comparison, overshadowing any need for structured ROI assessment.

Yet such attitudes create the wrong culture from day one. Where ITIL is approached purely as a way of managing processes rather than focusing on changing the way the IT department manages and thinks about itself, it is far less likely to succeed.

When successfully implemented, ITIL creates a cultural change, evolving the IT department from the delivery of functional services to one that offers a measurable contribution to the wider organisation. It also gives the department a chance to design and implement further assistance to the whole organisation in a way which previously would have been difficult to instigate and to quantify.

Yet, today, far too few IT departments appear to be able to leverage ITIL to achieve that cultural change.

Business relevance

It is in recognition of the lack of quantifiable business value that the objective of ITIL v3 is to move it into the boardroom, away from its IT origins to other functional areas of the business. Yet, when asked whether other functional departments in the organisation are interested in and supportive of IT service management processes, nearly 60% of respondents said they were not.

The good news is that IT service manager respondents are keen to demonstrate IT’s business value, with over four fifths of respondents (82%) agreeing that access to measuring tools and case studies showing how to measure the value of IT service management would affect their importance ratings of this.

However, there is still a massive hurdle to overcome – not only in delivering IT Service Management the tools, techniques and expertise to demonstrate IT value but raise adequate awareness outside the IT community.

These findings underline some of the clear limitations of existing ITIL practice and practitioners.

If ITIL is to truly deliver on its promise, there is a pressing requirement not just to teach the ITIL framework but also to teach the skills required to make ITIL work across the business.

IT service managers are willing to step up to the challenge of matching IT deliverables to business value but they lack the skills and information required to make a strong, board level case.

ITIL has met many of its original goals. Today, successful ITIL implementation is associated with a significant change in perception across the business; IT is no longer perceived purely as a cost and gains the status of a department which offers a measurable contribution to the wider organisation.

Yet today over 73% of IT service managers are not measuring return on investment for the business, according to the Parity research. ITIL v3 offers a better insight to the challenge of extending ITIL outside the IT department.

However, this is not just a framework issue but one that requires a mindset shift from measuring transactions and processes to that of measuring contribution and value to the business. It extends outside of the IT domain into every area of the business. It is also a developmental issue as teaching the business skills to make ITIL more fully integrated into the organisation is paramount to measuring success.