Are we witnessing the death of ITIL?

Principal Consultant Patrick Keogh is predicting the death of ITIL® unless it responds to new approaches, channels and customers.

©iStock.com/ODV 

©iStock.com/ODV 

May 2016 saw the announcement that itSMF Netherlands was closing its doors. No more itSMF­NL chapter or conference. This represents an Icarus-like fall from the days where the chapter rivalled itSMF UK for membership, inventiveness and energy. So what went wrong? What does it all mean? Is this the death of ITIL?

I’m no itSMF insider and I have no scoop on poor management of the chapter or any other reason for its demise. However we don't need to go there. It’s my contention that the collapse in demand for ITIL and itSMF is, by and large, worldwide – if proceeding faster in some places than others. Those who chose to look can see it coming and can see that new approaches, new channels and new customers have reduced the relevance of ITIL and hence itSMF.

What are these new approaches?

We all know the answer to this question, because we see the acronyms and buzzwords everywhere: DevOps, IT4IT, BSM, BPM among others. These new approaches have established a foothold because each in some way addresses deficiencies in ITIL – whether it be the long cycle time of improvements, a convincing Information Systems view, better integration with the business... The bottom line is that ITIL does not appear to have been agile enough to respond to changing demand quickly or convincingly enough.

Even the venerable ISACA COBIT® framework continues to evolve more quickly than ITIL. ISACA recently acquired CMMI, and will build on it to deliver a more meaningful capability maturity model that can deliver real guidance across the range of industries and business sizes that COBIT covers.

Recently, I saw a great metaphor in the context of government digital transformation. It went something like: ‘In business now, we tell our customers “there’s an app for that” whereas in government we tell them “there’s a form for that”.’ So, where does ITIL sit on the App <=> Form continuum? You be the judge.

What are these new channels?

What's wrong with itSMF? Now don't get me wrong, many chapters including Australia run great local events and annual conferences. They cater to the needs of some users quite well, but are they the end of the story?

I'd contend that the answer is no. Channels such as LinkedIn offer more ITSM content and debate than any of the ‘official’ ones, with much better promotion. The rise in popularity of Meetups dedicated to ITSM and some of the new approaches to it are another indication. All the talk of gamification has produced lots of PowerPoint presentations but little in the way of visible change at the industry coalface.

Enter DevOps

In terms of customer engagement, ITIL is not meeting the needs of the millennials. Look at the Wikipedia entry for DevOps which begins:

DevOps ... is a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals.

Compare that with:

ITIL ... is a set of practices ... that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business. In its current form (known as ITIL 2011 edition), ITIL is published as a series of five core volumes.

I don't think it’s difficult to see which will seem more attractive to the up-and-coming ICT service manager. ITIL looks formal and ‘government-like’; just go to the book and it’s full of sample documentation and no less than 11 appendices – it appears to lack immediacy and actionable insights. For example, it is not focussed in terms of job roles, and seems to demand blind adherence.

My mantra for the past two or three decades has been: ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’. A big advantage of DevOps is that it enables you to ‘fail quickly’ – which is infinitely preferable to failing after expending large amounts of time and effort. Even if a development turns out a little ugly, at least you’ve got it today, together with the learnings about how to do it better.

However, don’t imagine that DevOps is the magic bullet. For example, DevOps is practically silent on managing knowledge learnt. This is especially an issue for large enterprises and government agencies that depend on third parties. How can they ensure that the knowledge of why something was built in a particular way is retained? How can they harvest this corporate knowledge? As another example, to support multi-supplier environments more is needed such as whole-of-lifecycle and supplier management. ITIL and other approaches such as Service Integration and Management (SIAM) have a critical role to play here.

Is ITIL becoming moribund?

Talking about customers, I don't just mean the users of ITIL; I also mean those who might provide direction and purpose to guide ITIL's future.

I hope that the arrangements which have resulted in Axelos taking the lead have been commercially satisfactory. Monetising their investment through the promotion of training courses is OK but, commercial issues aside, we could have wanted and hoped for so much more.

For example, we could have hoped that development of ITIL would be ‘pulled’ by business and government entities looking for new ways to enhance service value or better ways to implement existing good practice.

It appears to me that a lot of the momentum for the future development of ITIL has disappeared. Newcomers that cover the same ground, such as IT4IT from an ‘open’ industry consortium, are making their mark.

The IT industry moves fast, but ITIL has not been adapting to the changing business environment. Unless it improves, I fear it is danger of getting left behind and becoming a white elephant. 

Further Reading

About the Author

Patrick Keogh is a Principal Consultant with CSC Consulting, based in Canberra.

A highly qualified and experienced consultant and educator, much of his long career has been spent dealing with the ‘people’ issues of improving IT organisations – cultural change, ITSM, IT Governance, IT Strategy and a host of related subjects, with the goal of making it more rewarding to be a client of (or worker for) an IT organisation. 

ITIL® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited. COBIT® is a registered trade mark of ISACA.




Patrick Keogh

Patrick Keogh is a Principal Consultant with CSC Consulting, based in Canberra.

A highly qualified and experienced consultant and educator, much of his long career has been spent dealing with the ‘people’ issues of improving IT organisations – cultural change, ITSM, IT Governance, IT Strategy and a host of related subjects, with the goal of making it more rewarding to be a client of (or worker for) an IT organisation.