Can ITIL Do It All? Uh, No


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 CIOZone.com 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.


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