Service Management

We Need to Talk About ITIL
Written by Stephen Mann Feb 15, 2012

Goodness knows there’s a lot of chatter about ITIL—blogs, tweets, articles, books. Love it or hate it, ITIL is here to stay, at least for now. In this post, Stephen Mann examines some of the salient points in the discussion. Note: “I&O” stands for “infrastructure and operations.” This post originally appeared here and is reproduced by permission. —Roy Atkinson

I need to say something. I need to say something about ITIL in light of all the “poking” I have done via various mediums (such as the What Next for ITIL? and Giving Back to the IT Service Management Community blogs). The fact is that ITIL is an easy target, and that breaking something is far, far easier than creating something. Hopefully, we all appreciate that it isn’t really that difficult to pick fault with just about anything, even if it is nigh on perfect (and that is not intended to be read as “ITIL is perfect”). But as the oft-quoted senior manager quote says: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

I have great admiration for the creators of ITIL (or the IT Infrastructure Library, as was), even though I do think that ITIL v3 became bloated and potentially confusing, misdirecting, and demotivating. And, having only dipped in to my digital copy of ITIL 2011, I can’t yet comment on the latest incarnation of the ITSM best practice framework. So what do I really want to say? (Or, for heaven’s sake man, please cut to the chase!)

ITIL-bashing doesn’t work but we continue to do it.

This might be an overly dramatic statement, but a lot of us do it. I’d like to think that most, if not all, of us do it for the right reasons: we want I&O organizations to be better at managing IT service delivery and at enabling their parent businesses via technology. However, I can’t help think that we need to change as much as ITIL needs to change.

Let’s look at some “facts” (ok, “facts” might not be the right word):

  • ITIL is the de facto ITSM best practice framework. There are also many other options, such as ISO 20000, USMBOK, COBIT, and now Tipu (from Rob England), for continual service improvement, among others.
  • Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people now have an ITIL qualification (yes, it’s a shocking statistic).
  • Some people talk about ITIL as though it is the “master” and ITSM the “servant.”
  • ITSM tools have for many years been sold on the basis of their “ITIL-compliance” (I hate that phrase). ITIL has driven ITSM tool adoption and vice versa.
  • ITIL is here to stay.


  • How many organizations actually achieved their desired future state for ITSM maturity? ITIL has definitely helped to improve ITSM maturity, but there is still so much to do, despite all of ITIL’s content and all the people who've passed the exam.
  • The ITIL books are like War and Peace to a comic-book reader when it comes to having the time to read them.
  • The ITIL books only ever take you part of the way.
  • ITIL training can potentially be seen as teaching people how to pass the exams (and understanding the processes), but it often changes little in terms of service and customer-centric IT delivery “back at the ranch.”

I could keep going with both of the above bullet lists, but see little value in doing so. We all seem to be banging our heads against the proverbial brick wall, whether it is the purchasers of ITIL-related goods and services, or professional or part-time commentators on the “ITSM industry.” I think we all need to stand back, take a breath, and say/mutter/shout that it’s not working. Is this not an “ITSM civil war” where no one wins? One side wastes time in a futile attempt to topple ITIL, the other continues to buy or sell ITIL-related products and services that never seem to fully deliver the anticipated benefits. The real casualties are the organizations and people that invest in ITIL, but probably never fully get what they wanted or needed.

Looking Forward

I truly wish I had the answer for everyone, a way in which ITIL could be better delivered (across publications, consultancy and advisory, software, training, and the sharing of experiences) such that we all get more out of it (other than qualifications). The best I can do at the moment is think that there needs to be a “meeting in the middle,” where:

  • The detractors of ITIL recognize the good in it (thankfully, most actually do). ITIL as a beast cannot be killed; it just needs to be “housetrained.”
  • The sellers of ITIL-related products and services admit that there are ways in which ITIL can be better delivered and consumed, and then start to address them.
  • The buyers of ITIL better understand its intended purpose, strengths, and weaknesses, and proactively demand better offerings from the sellers of ITIL-related products and services.
  • Everyone works together for the collective good (yeah, it's somewhat idealistic and naïve, I know, but a guy has to ask).

ITIL is (or at least was) “documented common sense.” The real issue is that common sense isn’t as common as it ought to be. Is it possible for us all to work together for the collective good? I hope that Back2ITSM will help many, but, longer term, we need to address the root cause: the disconnect between theory and reality when it comes to ITIL.

So what do you think? Do I need to return to Planet Earth? As always, your comments are not only appreciated, but encouraged.

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