What Problem Does ITIL Guidance Solve?

ITIL guidance

You need to improve the way that IT delivers. You see IT service management (ITSM) as the way forward. But there’s a problem. ITSM is an investment, a change of culture, and a significant challenge to make it work really well. So how do you convince senior IT and business leaders that ITSM, and specifically ITIL guidance, are worth the time, effort, and money? Yes, there are formal business case approaches that are necessary, but the first job is to win hearts and minds.

Some Personal Examples of This

A few years ago, waiting to meet a senior IT manager to discuss an ITSM project, a member of the manager’s staff took me aside and said: “Whatever you do, don’t mention ITIL.” So, quite a challenge.

Apparently, it was OK to refer to “ITSM”, but not ITIL itself.

“Too many negative vibes around ITIL guidance,” I was told. “Too much bureaucracy.”

Then a few months ago, I heard a senior technical manager – in the midst of a major, multi-million-dollar ITSM deployment program, mind you – loudly announce in an open office:

“I f***ing hate ITIL.”

The Root Causes of Such Feelings About ITIL Guidance

So what exactly is going on here? What are the underlying beliefs, emotions, or misinformation causing these attitudes and behaviors?

There are two things to consider: perceptions and facts. The perceptions of ITIL guidance are often negative, sometimes irrational, and occasionally valid. On the other hand, the facts about the huge changes in today’s IT industry seem to be undeniable. I want to talk about both areas, in this blog, to understand how we can reframe the ITIL conversation, and answer the crucial question:

“What problem does ITIL guidance solve?”

Some Negative Perceptions of ITIL Guidance

It’s quite easy to create a list:

  • ITIL is too bureaucratic
  • ITIL is too difficult to adopt
  • ITIL is too expensive to adopt
  • ITIL training is too expensive
  • ITIL is too complex
  • ITIL is too restrictive – people know best, let them get on with their jobs
  • ITIL slows us down
  • ITIL is no longer relevant.

The final point, about relevancy, leads us to the facts about developments in IT. Does ITIL guidance meet the challenges of today’s IT industry? Let’s consider some of the questions that are hanging in the air and which need to be answered…

Industry Developments Impacting ITIL Guidance

There are many questions that can be posed in relation to ITIL’s ongoing validity, for instance:

  • Is ITSM still applicable given XaaS, software defined infrastructure, and rapid cloud-based provisioning? Don’t these things invalidate huge swathes of ITIL guidance?
  • Are ITIL change and release management hopelessly inadequate in the face of XaaS?
  • Is availability management someone else’s problem in a cloud model?
  • Doesn’t financial management of IT increasingly become just a sub-process of supplier management?
  • Isn’t waterfall software development synonymous with ITIL guidance, and isn’t it impossible for ITIL to coexist with Agile development?
  • Doesn’t DevOps make ITIL redundant?
  • Don’t rapidly developing technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and massive data sets further increase ITIL’s lack of relevance?

You can probably add to this list, but hopefully you get my gist. I don’t intend to answer each point separately – every question could easily be a blog in itself.

Instead, I want to answer a meta-question:

What problem does ITIL solve?

If we can answer this question, we have a basis from which to proceed, a framework within which negative perceptions can be challenged, and a general approach for relating ITIL to any specific new and emerging technologies.

I eventually came to the format of the question via an article called “What Problem does Business Process Management Solve?” by Emma Harris. And the main point I took away from Emma’s article is this: we should be able to explain any framework, approach, or plan (all of which have a financial and opportunity cost) to senior business leaders and others in clear, jargon-free language. If we cannot explain the problem that ITIL guidance solves, of what use is it? Why should an organization invest in it?

I also want to be able to explain the problems that ITIL solves using language other than that which ITIL uses to explain itself. ITIL language can be difficult. For example, ITIL’s definition of a service shifts and changes at crucial points throughout the volumes of the library: sometimes it’s a specific service (payroll) and sometimes it’s a service provider’s total offering. In general, ITIL language isn’t plain enough.

So, without further delay, here are some of the specific problems which I think ITIL solves. All of them support or expand upon Emma’s “corporate objectives”: increasing revenue, reducing waste and costs, and delivering more value. And I would add “managing risk” to this list.

The Problems ITIL guidance solves

To make the long list easier to digest, I’ve split it into two: internal IT problems and business problems that ITIL guidance solves.

Internal IT problems solved by ITIL guidance:

  • How can we all get on the same page, speaking the same language, so that we can be more effective?
  • Who is accountable for what? We need clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Our processes are incredibly complex. It’s hard to see where they interact. We need to make their interactions clearer.
  • We do lots of stuff, and we get lots of outcomes. It’s hard to see the connections between the two. What parts of what we are doing work, and which parts don’t?
  • Did we do better this month than last month?
  • What does it mean for the IT organization “to do better”?
  • We need to be able to manage our interactions with the business across the whole IT lifecycle.
  • We need to be able to explain what value we give to the business. In general, answers like “We manage 1,000 widgets” don’t work – we need to talk about the services we provide in a more meaningful way.
  • How can we understand where to invest the IT budget?
  • How can we know if our investments have a reasonable return?
  • How can we plan for future business demand?
  • How can we deliver changes effectively and efficiently without tying ourselves to a single change framework?
  • When things go wrong, how can we minimize the negative impacts?
  • When things go wrong, how can we learn and prevent the same things happening again?

Business problems solved by ITIL guidance:

  • We want to invest in IT. We see its value for the organization, but we want someone else to manage the technical details effectively.
  • We want to invest in IT. We see its value for the organization, but we want someone else to manage the detailed risks involved in it.
  • We want IT to deliver business changes quickly and reliably.
  • We want to know how our investments in IT are doing.
  • We want to know if we could get a better, faster, and risk-optimized return on our investments in IT.
  • When things go wrong, we want negative impacts minimized.
  • When things go wrong, we want to learn and prevent the same thing from happening again.

This is a formidable list (well, two lists). If I’m right that these are the problems that ITIL solves (or can solve) then it’s a rock-solid foundation for challenging negative perceptions.

If these are the problems that ITIL guidance solves, then it’s a framework that delivers a series of concepts, actions, and outcomes that work at a layer above the technology stack. My point here is not that we don’t have to prove the value of ITSM in relation to something like software-defined infrastructure, or the IoT. It’s necessary to work this out in detail and to constantly renew ITSM. As with all complex systems of thought, we need to continually simplify, streamline, and make ITIL more flexible and relevant.

Rather, my point has been that we should remind ourselves that ITIL gives remarkably powerful guidance and does indeed solve many profound problems. That ITIL guidance should empower us to speak confidently about the problem-solving benefits of ITSM and ITSM tools rather than describing it via the processes being used.

Dan works for Verax Consulting and is currently working on the launch of Zeno assessment software

Image Credit

Want more? Here are informative ITIL 4 service value system and ITIL 4 service value chain articles.

Dan McCarthy
Co-Founder at Zeno Assessment Software

Dan McCarthy helps IT leaders assess and improve their organizations and processes. He writes at Verax about improving working life, processes, and efficiency, with some left-field perspectives from his Anthropology background. Currently working on the launch of Zeno Assessment Software. Dan has also been sighted lurking near pianos and guitars, as if to play them.

Want ITSM best practice and advice delivered directly to your inbox? Why not sign up for our newsletter? This way you won't miss any of the latest ITSM tips and tricks.

nl subscribe strip imgage

More Topics to Explore

3 Responses

  1. Dan, You use plain language, but because you have such long lists of varied benefits, it is still unclear to me what ITIL is for. Maybe you could explain its purpose in the context of an IT Operating Model – see http://www.operatingmodelcanvas.com Is ITIL a language that improves the IT “management system”?

  2. Andrew, Thanks for the comment. Too complex to answer here, but as it happens, I always start with the operating model in consulting engagements that are about ‘transformation’. Although IT4IT is fairly new on the scene I (and many others) have been using the ITIL service lifecycle and other frameworks to depict the value chain (I do it on one page, but it’s usually a BIG page!) and value streams. So I use ITIL as a language that both describes and improves the management of IT.

    I must admit, your post worked for me 🙂 I’m intrigued by your book etc – looks like the book I’ve been thinking of writing since 2007! Good luck with it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *