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Part 3 – Three Misconceptions about ITSM and ITIL


Part 3 of a 3-part blog post, read part 1 and part 2.

Myth 3 – DevOps Supersedes ITSM.

Nowadays, we often hear that ITSM is no longer relevant; that DevOps practices supersede ITSM. Is this really true? Are ITSM and DevOps competing or complementing each other? An effective corporate IT operating model requires components from both ITSM and DevOps approaches.

At first glance, both ITSM and DevOps are intended to solve the same problem – building effective operating model of an IT shop – i.e. suggesting the ways to register the work to be done, prioritizing and assigning it to the proper people, tracking the work done, measuring results, and so on. However, their origins and key ideas are quite different.

ITSM began in the late 1980s in the corporate IT domain with the idea of building a holistic operating model. At that time, IT infrastructure was mostly hardware and fragile. Application development was believed to be basically the business of specialized companies; having Programmers within corporate IT was considered expensive and not always justified. The emphasis was on infrastructure (remember, ITIL® originally stood for IT Infrastructure Library). No wonder that control was the main focus of traditional ITSM.

But technology has changed over time. Infrastructure became virtualized (i.e. mostly software) and more resilient. It became clear that standardized software is not capable of providing for competitive advantages. Modern software frameworks and tools made application development faster and cheaper. Software started “eating the world.” Pace of change in business and technology also increased. Adaptability and flexibility became more important than control.

DevOps is highly influenced by application development and Internet business

So – DevOps emerged as the response to the challenges of the new time. But its origin is pretty different compared to ITSM. If ITSM has its roots in corporate IT (mainly operations and support), then DevOps is highly influenced by application development and Internet business. At the moment, DevOps has no agreed-upon and generally accepted body of knowledge. It can probably be described as the movement or school of thought emphasizing automation, culture, measuring outcomes, and value chain optimization to deliver value for business through improved software delivery and operational performance.

While thorough analysis of ITSM and DevOps strong sides and applicability is the subject of a separate discussion, several points are worth mentioning here.

DevOps is really strong in all the aspects of software delivery and release management. It suggests robust approach for monitoring and gathering and processing telemetry data. DevOps provides great recommendations for creating culture of continual learning and experimentation.

But, corporate IT units are somewhat different from Internet companies. They have to take care of COTS and third-party applications, legacy infrastructures, end-users devices, patching and software updates, and so on. Also, user support – a component not under the DevOps spotlight – is very important for corporate IT. And, unlike software/Internet companies, corporate IT departments simply cannot position services toward a certain category of users. They have to provide support to everyone in the organization, regardless of their role or level of computer proficiency.

DevOps was not intended to play the role of comprehensive IT operating model. If we compare it with ITSM approaches like ITIL or IT4IT, we will notice that it covers only part of capabilities required by a modern corporate IT organization – mainly change and release and deployment management.

So, as also stated earlier, an effective corporate IT operating model would require components from both approaches. And, nothing speaks in favor of the fact that they are mutually exclusive. Moreover, some experts are of the opinion that DevOps is ITSM, see for example the blog post by Doug Tedder.

In the near future, I believe that we will see a significant convergence and interweaving of DevOps and ITSM practices in corporate IT

And, let’s not forget that ITSM is not standing still. We can see many new interesting approaches these days including Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) as Google’s approach to service management, swarming for incident management, and use of AI. ITIL updating is underway, and it is trying to integrate many new ways of IT management. In the near future, I believe that we will see a significant convergence and interweaving of DevOps and ITSM practices in corporate IT.

DevOps and ITSM are definitely at different stages of hype cycle. DevOps is younger and does not have a heavy load of unsuccessful implementations. Also, depending on the maturity of your IT management practices, return on investments into ITSM or DevOps initiatives can be quite different. But, an effective corporate IT operating model requires components from both ITSM and DevOps. ITSM practices are still relevant for many organizations.

In the digital age, we definitely need new approaches to IT management. However, even despite its venerable age and burden of failed projects, ITSM (especially taking into account ongoing updates) still has a lot to offer to corporate IT units. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  1. ITIL® is a registered Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

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

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