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ITIL is a process not a product

ITIL expert says to focus on process not products, and warns users away from the upcoming ITIL version 3.

The New England Chapter of AFCOM recently met for a discussion of ITIL in Westford, Ma. There were about 30 attendees, a mixture of users and vendors with varying levels of AFCOM involvement, from first-time attendee to full-fledged members. Further diversifying the crowd was the level of ITIL knowledge. A show of hands at the beginning of the meeting indicated a fairly even split between beginners with very little ITIL knowledge and intermediate users who are actively implementing some of the concepts.

Speaking at the event was Brian Johnson, co-founder and Life Honorary Vice President of itSMF, an independent organization that focuses on IT service management. He was involved with the original development and implementation of ITIL in the United Kingdom and is currently the ITIL Practice Manager at Islandia, NY.-based CA. "Having Brian here to discuss ITIL is like having Edison here to discuss electricity," said AFCOM chapter president Rocko Graziano. However, as the presentation continued, this analogy could have been replaced by Stephen Hawking talking about astral physics.

IT service management is often misunderstood

More on ITIL:

The history and future of ITIL

Successful IT service management

ITIL and DR plans

ITIL is being hyped as the de facto "standard" in IT service management best practices. However, ITIL is not a standard in the sense that IT departments can get ITIL-certified. For that, Johnson, recommends ISO 20000, the actual standard for managed services as put forth by the ISO organization. There is no such thing as ITIL compliance. This misconception possibly highlights a reason for its slow adoption in the U.S.

Johnson likens the ITIL process to a subway map (particularly, a map for the confusing U.K. underground subway system) based on four principal business actions for service support: plan, do, check and act. In this model, processes, say, incident management, cross these nodes, as well as other processes, at different times. This creates a map, a sort of work flow, for effective process management.

Another misconception is that ITIL is some kind of product that a vendor can sell. With ITIL, "you don't get anything directly," according to Johnson. Rather, knowledge is gained that enables IT shops to streamline their organization. It is a process, a "journey," as Johnson prefers to describe it. Furthermore, it does not focus on technology, per se. "Technology is a secondary thing," Johnson said during his presentation. "[ITIL] can be applied just about anywhere."

ITIL version 3 is over-opinionated

Whereas versions one and two were collections of best-practices, version three changes direction and is heavier on opinion, according to Johnson. This is a point that Johnson mentioned at least three times throughout his presentation. Instead of looking into version three, Johnson recommended two additional resources.

IT managers can look to the U.S. military for their best-practices. This is because the Freedom of Information Act makes it possible for users to see how the U.S. government has been able to streamline their IT processes through IT service management.

Johnson also points out the Gateway program used by the U.K.'s Office of Government and Commerce (OGC). The OGC also provides a best practices toolkit on their site.

However, what Johnson views to be limitations by the upcoming Version 3, Richard Ptak, analyst at Ptak, Noel & Associates, views as a positive change in direction for the ITIL franchise. "[the new version] is supposed to be a break from past versions," he said. "Version 3 will be implementation-oriented as a result of the move from an emphasis on process to an emphasis on service."

Previous versions focused on "what" users needed to do with IT processes, whereas Version 3 will focus on the "how" to execute those recommendations. In effect, a service and implementation-oriented ITIL will further integrate various processes, which will enable businesses to execute transactions more efficiently, according to Ptak.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Adam Trujillo, Assistant Editor

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I’ve always been disappointed when people or organizations place too much emphasis on best practices when they talk about ITIL. One of the seven basic principles of the context-driven school of testing is “that there are good practices in context, but there are no best practices.” In that vein, I think it’s important to align IT services with the needs of the business, and have seen many benefits from doing so, but let’s try to remember that these are just practices.