Why DevOps Won’t Replace ITIL in IT Service Management

DevOps and ITIL
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I recently attended a 2-hour DevOps presentation where the speaker had dedicated at least three slides to the advantages of DevOps over ITIL. Or, to be accurate, not ITIL but as he put it in his slides “Traditional ITIL” as if ITIL was already dead. I’d have rather that the speaker presented the complementarity aspects between ITIL and DevOps, and how we can use the best of both to enhance IT service management (ITSM).

In this article, I thus give my point of view as to why DevOps won’t replace ITIL, and how it could, and should, improve – and add more agility to – some ITIL processes.

What ITIL and DevOps Are

Before explaining why DevOps is not a replacement for ITIL, it’s a good idea to first understand just what ITIL and DevOps are.

In the last decade, the DevOps approach has become incredibly popular in reducing software delivery times by enhancing the collaboration and productivity of development and operations teams and automating the test, release, and deployment of operations. DevOps is now driving the digital transformation of many organizations by adding greater agility and automation, and using Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) in the software development lifecycle.

So, DevOps is defined as a software development methodology designed to reduce the organizational friction between Dev (Development, QA, and Design teams) and Ops (Operations and Support teams) to speed up the time to market.

ITIL, on the other hand, is described as the most-widely adopted ITSM framework, which aims to align IT services with business objectives. The latest version (at the time of writing) of ITIL describes 26 processes covering the stages of Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement. It covers far more than the scope of DevOps.

Is DevOps a Replacement for ITIL?

First of all, DevOps is a software development methodology, or philosophy, and not an ITSM approach that covers the whole service lifecycle as ITIL does. While DevOps has dramatically accelerated application delivery, these applications still have to work reliably in a production environment – commonly by ensuring that the service level agreement (SLA) targets are met.

In my opinion, DevOps doesn’t currently provide any concrete recommendation on how the DevOps team should deal with operations after application delivery. Instead, DevOps needs to rely on some ITIL processes and functions (service desk, incident and problem management, continual service improvement, etc.) to ensure the quality of service.

The next point to consider is that many DevOps roles, or profiles, are technical profiles. For instance, cloud engineers who are masters of cloud, development, and automation technologies and tools. The DevOps profiles are generally former developers or system engineers who don’t have experience of dealing with ITSM and operational processes.

DevOps therefore still requires skilled people and some ITIL processes and functions to manage aspects such as: the business relationship, service levels, budgets, information security, and suppliers. As a result, other roles should be created within the organization to support DevOps with ITSM/ITIL knowledge and experiences. The service desk function should be kept as the single point of contact with the end users, and a Service Management Office (SMO) – with combined ITIL processes and DevOps methodology and experiences – should be established to maintain and adopt the existing ITIL processes with the agility of DevOps.

On the other hand, the most criticized aspect of ITIL is the heavy and bureaucratic management of change, release, and service validation and testing – due to the workflow of approvals and documentation. In ITIL the processes of software development and release are structured around and managed by different departments (the Applications Management and Operations Management functions) to separate the responsibility and accountability. This makes service delivery very slow compared to DevOps. Whereas DevOps proposes an increase in delivery speed through the elimination of silos between the two ITIL-following functions.

Finally, DevOps is very focused on quickly delivering a product, but who’s looking after it post-delivery? In my opinion, ITIL is much better suited for taking care of the delivered product.

In Conclusion

. The change process should be instantaneous, the Ops and Dev functions should be gathered in one team, and the approvals workflows should be automated.

During 2018, the ITSM best-practice market announced the enhancement of various ITSM approaches to include the agility and speed of DevOps to better support organizations in the digital-transformation age. VeriSM and a more-agile ITIL 4 are good examples.

So, ITSM best practice is changing, as will the organizations that have adopted it. How has your organization already changed? And how does it plan to change? Please let me know in the comments.

Saad Mousliki Photo
Saad Mousliki
IT Service Manager at

Saad Mousliki is an experienced IT manager with 7+ years of qualified success in IT/IS and ITIL. He is Microsoft certified and has in-depth knowledge of IT service management, web/mobile/cloud apps, and telecom. He's currently working on an ITIL adoption and ISO20000 certification project in a large company, and is also a blogger who frequently shares knowledge related to ITIL, cloud/mobile, and JavaScript.

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