Can ITIL Do It All? Uh, No

Ann All

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Sheila Upton, a member of the Innovation Value Institute, about the institute's new IT Capability Maturity Framework, a five-stage maturity model used to organize and structure a framework for mapping IT improvement efforts. One of my questions to Upton: Why, with existing frameworks like the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), did CIOs need another one? Upton told me that members of the institute believed there was a gap in what existing frameworks did and what IT organizations, especially CIOs, needed.


I gleaned some similar insights from sources whom I interviewed for my recent story on ITIL. For instance, Bob Mathers, a principal consultant for Compass Management Consulting, told me it's not uncommon for organizations to integrate ITIL with other improvement frameworks such as COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology). "That came out of their realization that ITIL wasn't necessarily going to solve everything they thought it might solve," Mathers said.


After putting in some of ITIL's core processes, some organizations "stepped back and realized they needed to be more realistic about the benefits any process framework can give them," he said. "ITIL may work quite well for some areas but be lacking in others."


Bad news, guys and girls. There is no magic formula for solving all of your IT ills. ( I feel a little like a jerk telling Virginia there is no Santa Claus.)

Version 3 of ITIL, introduced in 2007, attempts to address some of the perceived shortcomings of earlier versions of ITIL, said Mathers. But some organizations simply adopted aspects of COBIT or other frameworks to create a kind of hybrid framework. ITIL is most often the "foundation" for these hybrid frameworks, he said.


IDC analyst Fred Broussard, who wrote an HP-sponsored white paper on IT service management needs and adoption trends, told me ITIL adoption levels were higher in organizations using other types of process improvement frameworks such as COBIT or Six Sigma. That's likely because it's easier to "sell" ITIL to senior management at organizations already on board with the idea of structured process improvement, Broussard said.


Predisposition to improvement frameworks also may help explain why ITIL is most popular with large enterprises, which are more likely than their smaller counterparts to use other frameworks, said Matt Schvimmer, head of products, IT Service Management and Project Portfolio Management, for HP Software & Solutions. "Large organizations are generally able to be more proactive and devote more time to process effectiveness work. As you go downmarket, you get more into survival mode and find yourself doing more firefighting," he said.


All of my story sources agreed on the inherent value of ITIL and other IT service management initiatives. For a contrarian view, I found some thoughts from Robert Lewis, author of "Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology" and six other books, included in an interesting piece.


One of ITIL's key tenets is to treat internal business units and their employees as "customers" consuming IT services. That's a mistake, said Lewis, as it diverts IT's focus from "real, paying, external customers."


Simply responding to the needs of internal customers prevents IT from assuming a leadership role when it comes to identifying new technologies that can solve business problems. The better approach, said Lewis, is one of working together to achieve corporate goals.


I also unearthed a link to a two-year-old discussion I had Hydrasight Managing Director Michael Warrilow in which he made the point that, for most IT organizations, best practices should be viewed as an ideal rather than a realistic target. Why? He said:


... When it comes to IT operations, the aim is quite simply "to do more with less" - as the saying goes. Why? Because the generally accepted rule of thumb is that more than 70 percent of IT expenditure currently goes to "keeping the lights on." There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that best practice will increase the cost of IT operations within the vast majority of organizations, and hence increase the risk of doing less with more.


For more ideas on ITIL and process improvement, please consider joining this discussion in our Knowledge Network.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 10, 2009 5:07 AM Pete Pande Pete Pande  says:

Most "models" are oversold and incomplete, so I agree with the goal of reminding people that "maturity" will not necessarily translate to "achievement."  A lot of the time and energy devoted to the various "frameworks" could probably be better spent just looking for smarter ways to deliver value and service within the context of your organization's specific needs. 

The concluding quote from Michael Warrilow, however, raises concerns.  To say that "best practice will increase the cost of IT operations within the vast majority of organizations" implies that improvement means spending more money.  I guess the term "best practice" is referring to the aforementioned models, but it's not quite clear.

In reality, of course, REAL improvement should focus on finding ways to deliver greater value at equal or less cost.  Every IT organization -- for large or small companies -- should make that a priority.  The quickest way to do that is first of all. drop the assumption that better is more expensive and, second, start identifying all the things you're doing that are NOT adding value (perhaps including ITIL?) and stop doing them.  That will let you focus on both the internal and external customers -- both of whom are important.

Mar 12, 2009 9:01 AM Don Schueer Don Schueer  says:

First....any diet is better than eating with abandon.  Having ANY framework targeted towards improvement is better than not having any model to work from. That being said, many organizations struggle to swallow seemingly onerous frameworks such as ITIL. The framework can be perfect but if the dogs don't eat the dogfood it doesn't matter. I agree with the point that there is no silver bullet here. The most important aspect of frameworks like this is to have a checklist for the key issues you should be addressing and understanding what the best practices are in the marketplace today and choosing the best for you.  Often there are multiple ways to skin the cat. So, clear access to others in your market space and pragmatic approaches to solving your challenges ("The best way to solve THAT is to do THIS) is what really can help organizations make headway. In our business we occasionally see technology vendors try to make improvements using ITIL and it often fails. The reason is that trying to apply "Internal IT" style interactions doesn't map over to the software and hardware business that has hyper development schedules and a bunch of technical people trying to bring direct revenue in the door.

Mar 12, 2009 11:40 AM Scott Jaeger Scott Jaeger  says:

A Framework is just a guide to help you achieve what is needed in your organization.  Use the pieces that apply to you and do not try to over achieve your goals.  It is always best to take these in acceptable pieces, master them, then move on to the next piece.

To address the cost concern, yes, there will be an added cost to implement and do ITIL right the first time, but that expense will come back exponentially - Pay now, save later.  There are many organizations out there to prove that logic (see itSMF Fusion 09 Convention for some real feedback:

They key effectiveness of any ITIL implemention effort is to have the commitment from senior management/executives to support the intiative and to communicate changes throughout the organization.  It also helps to engage a consultant group that has done this type of work and can provide real value and experience to get a project off the ground.

Mar 12, 2009 11:54 AM Ann All Ann All  says:

Folks, these are some fine comments, w/ some good suggestions for process improvement. I've started a discussion on the same topic in our Knowledge Network, a forum designed to be a bit more collaborative than our blog comments. Please feel free to join the discussion there, as one of the sources from my ITIL story, Grant Leathers from Kelley Blue Book, has already done. I've added the link to the discussion to my blog post.

Apr 18, 2009 3:01 AM Vyom Labs Pvt. Ltd. Vyom Labs Pvt. Ltd.  says:

Every organization is different, this concludes that every organization has different needs too.

ITIL is a Framework of Best Practices. There is no hard line rule which says that a particular process has to be implemented in a particular manner. The ITIL Framework maps out the best ways to manage IT Infrastructure. It depends upon an organization how they blend the Best Practices guidelines according to their requirements.

Also, no matter how much a certain framework does for an organization, there will always be complaints

Thus, ITIL can do it all... Only if you want


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