2011: An ITIL versioning odyssey

OK, so we all probably now know that the long-awaited ITIL “refresh,” ITIL v3.1 (or the ITIL 2011 Edition as it now seems to be called), is to be released on the 29th July 2011. But four years on from the release of ITIL v3 where are...

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OK, so we all probably now know that the long-awaited ITIL “refresh,” ITIL v3.1 (or the ITIL 2011 Edition as it now seems to be called), is to be released on the 29th July 2011. But four years on from the release of ITIL v3 where are we exactly?

Let’s start with the provided facts about the updated version of ITIL. The ITIL Best Practice Management update points out that this is an “update” not a new version. Paraphrasing the update on the update, ITIL 2011 Edition is designed to:

  • Resolve any errors or inconsistencies.
  • Improve the ITIL publications by addressing issues raised to do with "clarity, consistency, correctness and completeness."
  • Address suggestions for change made by the training community.
  • Review the "Service Strategy" publication to improve accessibility and understanding
.

Then there is my opinion, humble I hope …

To me, the above is all-well-and-good if ITIL v3, as an IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework, had left a long line of adoption success stories in its wake. However, my observation as an analyst and someone who genuinely cares about ITSM and its community is that ITIL v3, while created with the best of intentions, lost the plot.

With a certain cheekiness, I often describe ITIL v3 as the “Return of the Jedi” to v2’s “The Empire Strikes Back” (too geeky?), and my continued conversations with ITSM/I&O practitioners and ITSM tool vendors have left me still hunting for the unicorn that is ITIL v3 in the wild (… I really do hope someone will correct me here).

Unfortunately, I am still of the opinion that too many organizations state that they are “doing” ITIL or ITIL v2 when they are doing just a small subset of it (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for adopt and adapt but have you seriously looked at the more-proactive processes beyond incident, problem, change, configuration, and service-level management and discounted them? Really?). And those that say they are “doing” ITIL v3 are often just doing what they did with v2 with the addition of a service-request-oriented service catalog and some ITIL v3 training for its people (more money spent on ITIL products and services but where is the extra value for the business?).

So what’s going wrong and why are those with a vested interest in ITIL (I shied away from using the term “owners” here) not doing something about it? To me, changing something that isn’t working correctly on a real-world-adoption level (despite the continuing high numbers of people passing the exams) by just updating the content seems wrong.

Yes, it might create wealth for its peddlers but ultimately ITIL was designed to assist ITSM practitioners with the efficient and effective delivery of IT. But is this actually happening with the continued development of ITIL?

Of course, I can see the benefits of ITIL, and value the contribution it has made to the IT industry, but if we are going to continue to be content with watching ITSM practitioners struggle with the more-proactive ITIL v2-espoused disciplines then surely we should be focusing our efforts on the bits people do already, not adding more things to do.

Conversely, if we want and expect organizations to increase ITSM maturity, what are ITIL’s stakeholders doing to help (other than selling more publications, software, and training)? I wrote about this “ITIL inertia” in a previous work life, and to me it still rings true … "The Elephant in the ITIL Adoption Living Room?" Getting organizations to move from the reactive to proactive elements of ITIL is difficult. Surely, adding in more proactive elements to aim/aspire for doesn’t help? If anything it just encourages staying with the status quo.

Then there are the questions that abound re: ITIL keeping pace with the changing IT and business landscapes … such as the support ITIL can give in managing IT services in the cloud (that old chestnut), in meeting end user’s increasing expectations with respect to customer service, in supporting mobility and non-corporate device use, and with the bigger picture of managing third-party suppliers and service integration. Hopefully, the ITIL update will start to cover these but with the information released so far I just don’t know … ITIL has its origins in the UK Civil Service; sometimes, however, I wonder if its origins were actually in the UK Secret Service.

I also often think that ITIL doesn’t do itself any favors. Current upfront messaging seems to be about selling more ITIL-related books and services. Two out of three pages of the ITIL Best Practice Management update are dedicated to publications and examinations. The itSMF UK announcement virtually leads with … “Pre-order your copy of the Suite (print edition) before 15th July at the very special price of £283.00.” Not great when many are quick to offer their opinion that ITIL has become a cash cow for consultants, trainers, and their ilk (it keeps us analysts busy, too).

However, I am pleased to see that financial management has been expanded upon in ITIL 2011 (how, I am unsure). But in the context of my comments above, will I&O organizations continue to keep it in the “not interested” or “too difficult” piles?

IMHO, ITIL 2011 was a long time coming (post initial announcement), and I’m not entirely sure whether the invested time and effort has been well spent. We will have to wait and see.

Posted by Stephen Mann

Related Forrester Research

* Unraveling ISO, CMM, And ITIL IT Management Frameworks
* ITIL Version 3 Adoption Not Yet Taking The World By Storm
* The Forrester IT Service Management Maturity Assessment Model

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