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The history and future of ITIL

As ITIL 3.0 nears its launch date, systems product management and author Richard Ptak primes us for it with a brief history of ITIL's evolution and coming challenges.

Approaching 20 years of existence, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is moving from adolescence...

into adulthood with the looming announcement of ITIL V 3.0. This de facto world standard description of best practices for the delivery of quality IT services is changing its focus from process-orientation to an emphasis on IT service strategies, service design, and continuous improvement.

More on IT service management:
Are data centers adopting ISO 20000?

A practical approach to implementing ITIL practices

But how important is this change in focus? Is it important enough to radically alter and improve IT's enterprise role and operational effectiveness? This will be determined over the coming months. But let's first take a quick look at ITIL's evolution over the last 20 years.

ITIL roots

ITIL emerged in the mid-80's as an attempt to define standard, and, eventually, "best" practices. This was an attempt to replace the duplication of effort as every IT organization learned by trial and error how to implement and use IT for meaningful work. As with any newborn, the original versions faced a considerable struggle before it was actually useful. It is doubtful that any of those at the birth expected nearly a decade would pass before what eventually was to become a major IT services revenue stream caught on.

ITIL survived its birth in the UK to catch on in the international IT communities in Europe, Canada, Australia, etc. as a way to design and implement IT services. The early adherents and disciples recognized it as a more descriptive rather than prescriptive set of guidelines for IT operations. ITIL developed a whole range of definitions, terms and structures which were fought over and eventually agreed upon. The result was a vocabulary that allowed the community to think and talk about IT and its functions in a way that was both consistent and made operational sense.

ITIL focused on IT operations as independent entities and solutions to reflect the existing IT world of siloed technology and functions. IT processes were the preferred implementation schema and focus of IT operations. This also led to the appearance of service delivery experts in ITIL-based implementations and a whole new class of services that IT could purchase.

ITIL shifts to enterprise business, more questions

Then the world changed. IT and enterprise business found each other. IT was already linked by default into the success of the business. But its management, processes, and performance weren't explicitly, visibly, and understandably linked into business operations. Unfortunately, at the same time, competition was increasing. Margins were being squeezed and IT was being forced to justify its contribution. IT processes could no longer be treated in isolation and had to be tied to business processes or, better yet, the delivery of business services.

This led to the discussion of IT services. Couldn't IT define services to the business that allows the business to in turn deliver services to its customers? If so, how do these relate? What are the best practices in this model? What does this mean to IT? For example, if an automated process can be created to handle the problem of performance management, i.e. proactive identification, analysis, diagnosis, and repair, is the Help Desk necessary? Can the Service Desk be replaced with automated processes that link together IT and Business Services? Stay tuned for further discussion!

About the author: Richard Ptak is an analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates. He has over 30 years experience in systems product management.

This was last published in January 2007

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