ITIL qualifications board to take up issue of V3 certification

Can the new ITIL certifications turn IT from a "collection of cowboys" into a profession? They'd better, says an ITIL author.

A year ago this month, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) came out with ITIL V3, touted as the first significant revamp of the British-born system of IT best practices in seven years. The five-volume set, slimmed down from 10 books, aimed to reflect the evolution of IT from marginal business player to the beating heart of most 21st-century corporations.

While V3 was rolled out with the fanfare of a World Series parade, the certification courses for the new version were not ready. IT trainers and students have made do with an ITIL V3 foundation course (already revised once) and various "bridge" courses to fill in gaps for people who already have V2 training.

"The market was somewhat confused by that," said George Spalding, co-author of the fifth book of in the V3 series and vice president, global events, at Pink Elephant, an IT services training provider in Burlington, Ontario.

When the ITIL qualifications board meets today in England, Spalding and others are hopeful that "a whole slew of the things that are questions today will be answered."

The V3 pyramid, in theory and practice

The board's delay is due in part to the ambitious aims of the new ITIL version. In addition to updating the content of the ITIL library, the governing body of ITIL is determined to professionalize the process of certification, Spalding said. Unlike the training offered for V2, for example, the V3 courses will be based, for the first time, on credits. In addition, all ITIL training organizations will be required to use the same tests to certify candidates, another departure from the past.

In V2, there were certifications for only two of the 10 ITIL books, "so all of the other books were just nice books," Spalding said. Part of the rationale this time was to have the certifications for V3 span the five books of the library. "We want people to be more broadly educated in the ITIL library," he said.

Changes like these are difficult to enact, but especially so in an incestuous political structure like ITIL's, which is headed by the Office of Government Commerce, the UK organization that owns the copyright to ITIL, and includes the ITIL accrediting and training companies that stand to make (or lose money) in the wake of a major revision.

The theoretical view of what the new V3 certification structure will be, Spalding said, starts with the foundation layer, followed by a middle layer of service capability and service lifecycle modules.

The V3 Foundation layer is covered in a 2.5-day course. Participants take a 40-question multiple choice exam and need to earn a 65% to pass. So far, Spalding estimates that more than 3,000 people worldwide have earned the V3 Foundation certificate. The average pass rate for this course is 88%. V2 Foundation Certificate holders can upgrade to a V3 certificate by taking the one-day V3 Foundation Bridge course.

The ITIL Service Capability modules will replace the four "ITIL practitioner" courses in V2: Release and Control, Support and Restore, Agree and Define and Plan and Improve. The new courses, in final review, will address every process in V3, as well as cover the material in the previous version, albeit from a "process-centric view," Spalding said. The processes will be "clustered" in four categories: Operational Support and Analysis; Planning, Protection and Optimization; Release, Control and Validation; and Service Offerings and Agreements. These are five-day courses, 30 hours per cluster. The 90-minute exam requires 80% to pass. Many people might opt to master the cluster of processes most useful to them, rather than taking all four courses.

The new ITIL Service Lifecycle modules include a course for each of the five books in the V3 library: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement. The syllabus and exams are in the final review phase; these are four-day courses, with a 90-minute exam, requiring 80% to pass.

After the middle layer of training there will be a "capstone course," called Managing Across the Lifecycle. This layer in the pyramid of training makes sure that no matter how IT professionals get through the first two layers -- and there are several options – they complete a five-day course dealing strictly with V3, Spalding said, and have accumulated a total of 22 credits. The capstone is a five-day course, also in review, that will be topic-based (planning and implementation, projects, framework integration, risk management and so on) and require either lifecycle or capability certification as a prerequisite, or a total of 17 credits.

"When you pass the magic test after taking the Managing Across the Lifecycle training, you become an ITIL expert."

George Spalding, author and vice president, global events, Pink Elephant

"When you pass the magic test after taking the Managing Across the Lifecycle training, you become an ITIL expert," Spalding said.

V2 foundation certificate holders can also reach this level by earning a certain amount of credits as well as taking the aforementioned five-day "Manager Bridge" courses.

There are so many nuances and rules for reaching the capstone layer -- for example, no overlapping courses -- that Spalding said he expects the ITIL qualifications body will develop a Web site that allows IT people to automatically plot a way to the top, by clicking various options. "Even we get confused," Spalding said.

For the time being, Spalding has a recommendation: Because the credits courses in the middle layer don't yet exist, the long, hard and expensive service manager course, which requires 10 long, hard days of active training, might actually be the most direct route to ITIL Expert, if that is your goal.

"Even if you were coming in blank today, you could get a V2 Foundation certificate, a Service Manager Bridge and get to ITIL expert, probably faster and cheaper and maybe even easier than going through the middle, because the middle is currently not available," Spalding said.

Not a collection of cowboys anymore

The pinnacle of the pyramid -- now called the Advanced Service Management Professional Diploma -- is undefined, to date, a "pipe dream," really, Spalding said.

"What I believe it will be, is someone who has taken all the appropriate tests to get to ITIL expert, plus has three years of documented ITIL management experience," Spalding said.

The ITIL board may also decide to require continuing education credits, so ITIL experts can maintain that level, similar to those required of lawyers, doctors, real estate agents and by other professions, Spalding said.

This ITIL offering, when it happens, will perhaps turn out to be the biggest game changer for the industry, in Spalding's view. He uses the example of house construction, where each portion of the work -- plumbing, electrical, etc. -- must be signed off by a licensed inspector.

"What is the license I need in order to design the infrastructure of the world's largest bank? My sole qualification is I can breathe -- that's it!" Spalding said. "We can design an infrastructure where 10% of the world's economy goes across it and it is just because we're good geeks that it works and the commercial entity needs it to work. But what is the entity that signs off? When do we get the infrastructure code?

"IT is maturing. IT is not a collection of cowboys anymore," Spalding said. "Don't you think it's time IT became a profession? I do."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

This was first published in May 2008

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