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Part 1 – Three Misconceptions about ITSM and ITIL


Part 1 of a 3-part blog post

There is nothing new under the sun. Google searches will easily find you a list of articles and blog posts about the misuses, misconceptions, and myths about Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®1 ). So, why then do we observe the same issues again and again?

Myth 1: ITIL is about compliance.

A couple years ago, I heard this opinion for the first time. I was a bit surprised but really didn’t pay much attention. But recently, I again heard the same thing again – this time from a respected member of the ITSM community. For some incomprehensible reason, it looks like the idea has become widespread. Therefore; I think it worth going back to recall the story of ITSM and ITIL, because ITIL was never intended to be a compliance instrument.

ITSM as we know it emerged in the late 1980s but became widely adopted in 1990s and 2000s as the response to the need for managing large-scale IT operational environments. There were multiple attempts to document and propagate good practices based primarily on two key ideas:

  1. IT is considered as provider of services to the business.
  2. To provide good services, IT needs to run certain business processes.

Most early efforts are often attributed to IBM’s Information Systems Management Architecture (ISMA) research2. The Government Infrastructure Management Method (GITIMM) designed by the UK Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) was the immediate predecessor of ITIL. Microsoft was working on the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) from1999–2008. There were (and still are) many other attempts to design IT Service Management frameworks. But, ITIL turned out to be the most viable and industry prevalent.

The first book of ITIL was published in 1989. Between 1989–1997, approximately 50 books covering various aspects of enterprise IT management were released. So that you can appreciate the breadth of coverage, here are a few of the book titles:

  • Service Level Management (1989, ISBN: 0113305214)
  • Cost Management for IT Services (1991, ISBN: 0113305478)
  • Software Lifecycle Support (1993, ISBN: 0113305591)
  • Human Factors in the Office Environment (1992, ISBN: 0113305737)
  • Data Management (1994, ISBN: 0113306342)
  • Surviving IT Infrastructure Transitions (1995, ISBN: 0113306784)

ITIL v2 was introduced in 2000. The attempt was made to consolidate multiple books in a framework based on a common process model. Overall, there were nine published ITIL v2 books, but only two of them – Service Support (2000, ISBN: 9780113300150) and Service Delivery (2001, ISBN: 9780113300174) – became very popular and widely used. These books covered 10 major ITSM processes:

Service Delivery

  • Service Level Management
  • Financial Management for IT Services
  • Capacity Management
  • IT Service Continuity Management
  • Availability Management

Service Support

  • Incident Management
  • Problem Management
  • Configuration Management
  • Change Management
  • Release Management

ITIL v3 was released in 2007 and later updated in 2011. Five main books dedicated to the stages of ITIL service lifecycle – Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement – covered 26 processes and four IT functions.

ITIL v4 is being born before our eyes. The first book, ITIL Foundation3, was released in February 2019. The new version contains many new ideas, some long-awaited ‘practices’ instead of ‘processes,’ service value chain instead of service lifecycle, focus on co-creation of value, and other important additions. Practice guides (there are 34 management practices listed in the Foundation book) are not yet available, so it’s hard to make the final judgement about the new version – but one thing is clear – ITIL is progressing.

To me, ITIL history looks like 30 years of thought and search for a better IT operating model. You can like or hate ITIL. It can be more or less relevant in your specific environment. But, ITIL was never intended to be a compliance instrument. ITIL books never contained requirements or controls you can conform to. ITIL 2011 explicitly stated that ‘ITIL is not a standard that has to be followed; it is guidance that should be read and understood and used to create value for the service provider and its customers.‘ (ITIL Service Strategy – 2011 Edition, ISBN 9780113313044, TSO, 2011, p.3).

In fact, perception of ITIL as something prescriptive served it a bad service. As an IT consultant, I have seen many ugly attempts to “implement” ITIL following the letter but not the spirit of the framework. (Would you really be willing to “implement” an instrument?) This becomes even more strange, given that the “adopt and adapt” slogan has always been a part of the ITIL message.

  1. ITIL® is a registered Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.
  3. ITIL® Foundation – ITIL 4 Edition, ISBN 9780113316076, TSO (The Stationery Office), 2019

Part 2 of 3 is coming soon.

Alex Lamykin is an IFG Senior Consultant responsible for Managed Services and IT Service Management consulting.

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