Published on August 30th, 201216
How to solve the ITIL paradox?
We need ITIL more than ever, but it is stopping us from meeting the challenges which will decide whether we have a job in five years from now. James West explains why we must solve the ITIL paradox.
One of the key themes emerging from recent conversations with some of the brightest minds in ITSM (which will soon result in a series of articles tackling the industry’s hot topics. And I mean hot – not lukewarm) is the ITIL paradox.
We appear to have entered a contradictory juncture in ITIL’s life cycle: businesses need ITIL more than ever, but it is also the element which is stopping them from delivering the service the business demands.
Allow me to explain. Service desks in recent years have been forced to accept that break/fix IT support is no longer their primary purpose. The service desk of today must support a broader array of technologies, manage third party relationships with cloud and outsourcing providers, and deliver useful services, not outdated SLAs. Running in parallel to these changing demands, years of over-exposure caused by marketers, consultants and trainers setting unrealistic expectations about what it can offer, has seen ITIL experience a backlash. ITIL 2011 has been criticised for being bloated and out of step with the rapid pace of technology change (a two year rewriting process does inevitably date the material). The drop off in ITIL’s influence is alarming, the industry is not talking about it anymore. ITIL has committed the crime of appearing unsexy.
The problem, and the start of the paradox, is that ITIL 2011 offers strong guidance for many of the challenges outlined above. It looks at supplier management, and has an entire book explaining steps for making service desks into customer-first outfits. It tackles contract management, invaluable in the fragmented cloud-influenced software era, and the basic principles of managing assets and change which have been solidly defined since ITIL version 2 could help define BYOD policies.
In short, ITIL is still of great value to our industry. But it is also holding us back. One of the defining principles of ITIL is control – managing change is the bedrock of ITIL, and its becoming increasingly clear that IT departments must cede some of this control. The lifecycle of IT assets, which in ITIL is based on the idea that technologies are procured by the technology specialists, prepped and fed out to the business, has fundamentally changed because of BYOD. The business demands flexible, agile IT with less safety controls, and service desks are struggling to deliver because such principles contradict ITIL. We need ITIL, but ITIL is killing us. This is the ITIL paradox.
The perceived damage caused by ITIL is gaining credence, with commentators such as Aale Roos suggesting we must ‘unlearn ITIL’ to free our minds from the entrenched thinking the framework has built. While I understand the need for drastic action, I feel unlearning ITIL would not benefit the industry, because the common language and shortcuts it provides are essential for controlling key areas of IT support and management. James Finister tackled the issue on a recent ITSM Rest of the World podcast, stating the problem with ITIL is that too many of those practicing it think it’s just about process. I agree, ITIL is not inherently bad – it is in fact the opposite – but an over-reliance on its teachings, and ITSM tools that push service desks down a pre-defined route, have been damaging.
Let’s be clear about the importance of solving the ITIL paradox: the careers of IT support and service professionals depend on it. Failure to tackle our entrenched thinking about the delivery of technology service will result in the internal IT department becoming increasingly bypassed, as business users – for good or bad – adopt appealingly simple consumer technologies. It is not implausible that the internal IT department in future will be little more than a connector between consumer IT and the corporate network. This would mean a massive reduction in the IT departments power and influence – from guardians of technology to mere gatekeepers in a short space of time.
How do we solve the ITIL paradox? I don’t claim to have a definitive answer and would welcome suggestions and debate on this page and in the wider ITSM community. However it’s clear we must take a more realistic look at ITIL. It is vital that we maintain our interest in ITIL and revisit the latest books for advice on the challenges faced today. Most importantly however, we must re-assess the value and role of ITIL. We should continue to make use of the common language it provides, but remember a core principle of ITIL: it is just a reference guide. Businesses today need IT which listens to their needs and facilitates technology, not prescribes and restricts it. Taking ITIL too literally is the reason why this has been so difficult so far, so by liberating us from the prescriptive, tightly defined mindset which we have unfortunately created, we will be free to react and operate in the real world.