Are ITIL 'Refreshes' Enough to Address Adoption Issues?

Ann All
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14 Tips for a Successful ITIL Implementation

Tips on completing a successful IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) initiative.

There was quite a bit of angst when the UK's Office of Government Commerce in 2007 issued version 3 of the IT infrastructure Library (ITIL), a framework for best practices in IT service delivery. I'm afraid I did my share of encouraging it with all of my interviews and blog posts focused on the differences between version 2 and version 3 of ITIL. I was just trying to help, as were all of the other writers (and there were lots of us) who chose to focus on the same topic.


This week ITIL is getting what ITIL practitioners are calling a "refresh." As ITSM Academy co-founder Jayne Groll writes on ITSM Professor, future revisions to ITIL publications will be referenced by the year they are published rather than by version numbers. She likens the latest update to what happens with textbooks, which are revised regularly with little if any impact on students. She writes:

Past attendees do not retake their final exams or replace their textbook. Just a normal course of continual improvement. Do you base your decision on whether to take a college course on the edition of the textbook being used? Not really. What's important is the relevancy of the topic.

She cautions readers to be leery of anyone using the latest refresh as an opportunity to push new ITIL classes or tools. Indeed, some super-skeptics thought version 3 of ITIL was little more than an excuse for consultants and software companies to push new services and products on customers confused about when, how or if to transition from version 2 to version 3.


Groll nicely links to a handy list of FAQs about the 2011 ITIL refresh. According to the FAQ, the update incorporates some of more than 500 suggestions submitted by both ITIL users and trainers with the aim of producing "guidance that is easier to navigate, read, translate, adopt and teach." Reiterating Groll's point about new classes or tools, the FAQ says many of the changes involve simply reorganizing existing content. Specifically addressing certifications, it says:

Because the basic principles of ITIL are intact, ITIL qualifications remain relevant for any prior and current released versions. There is no need to retake a qualification, and all qualifications will continue to be recognized across the industry.

Yet neither refreshes nor new versions do much to address a fundamental issue, a lack of much adoption beyond ITIL's most reactive processes. As Forrester Research analyst Stephen Manning writes on his blog:

... If we are going to continue to be content with watching ITSM practitioners struggle with the more-proactive ITIL v2-espoused disciplines then surely we should be focusing our efforts on the bits people do already, not adding more things to do.

I wrote about this about a year and a half ago, citing a survey from IT service management software provider Hornbill that found few organizations were moving beyond incident management, problem management and change management, and not moving toward the service lifecycle approach stressed in ITIL version 3. In that post, I included some good advice from Hornbill CMO Patrick Bolger and from Lee Marshall, a guy who refers to himself on his blog as an "ITIL geek." Both men stressed taking an incremental approach to ITIL, picking areas in which quick wins could be achieved, and communicating those wins throughout an organization loudly and often.


Organizations can certainly achieve benefits from adopting only a few ITIL processes, as I wrote last summer, but those that don't advance to the more proactive processes miss an opportunity to take IT service management to a more strategic level.


Forrester's Mann offers several suggestions he thinks could help move organizations toward a more cohesive adoption of ITIL:

  • Reduce the number of processes and make them more relevant to issues that are top-of-mind today, such as cloud computing and multi-sourcing.
  • Focus less on process-based information and more on the overall service concept in ITIL training.
  • Promote the more proactive processes.
  • Take a good, hard look at current ITIL adoption levels.
  • Acknowledge that many ITIL initiatives stall, and initiate discussions about it with the broader ITIL community - vendors, service providers and peers.

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