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ITIL 4 has some bones to pick with ITSM trends

New guidance from ITIL — the widely adopted framework for the design, delivery and maintenance of IT services — is scheduled to be published in early 2019. ITIL 4, as it’s called, is the first major update of the IT service management (ITSM) library since 2011 — light years ago in technology years. What will it bring, and will it be enough?

In a recent webinar on new guidance, Akshay Anand, lead architect for the ITIL 4 update, gave a preview of what to expect. He reviewed the challenges facing service management today, the bad practices that result from these challenges, the criticisms of the current version of ITIL, and how ITIL 4 aims to address all of the above.

ITSM challenges

Let’s start with the challenges identified by the ITIL 4 research team:

  • Adoption of frameworks designed to solve local problems for enterprise use

Anand said that frameworks and methods such as IT4IT and DevOps were designed to solve problems for a specific department or team, but they are being misapplied. “What enterprises tend to expect is that these frameworks solve problems at an enterprise scale,” Anand said. While these approaches may be marketed as “that one bullet that will solve all of the organization’s problems,” the actual literature on them says otherwise. “Many of these frameworks acknowledge their own shortcomings, or they acknowledge where their scope starts and ends,” Anand said. “There is no one silver bullet, but unfortunately the message is getting lost.”

  • Adoption of bimodal IT as an organizational construct

Bimodal, the approach ballyhooed by Gartner as the way to meet business demands in volatile times, was roundly condemned: “I firmly believe bimodal is dangerous. We should be talking about multimodal IT organizations. It is not just two speeds, it is multispeed organizations,” he said.

  • Adoption of ‘product-centric’ thinking

The current fixation on developing software products rather than focusing on IT services needs to change, according to Anand. He argued that even companies like Uber and Netflix are ultimately delivering a service – a transportation service in one case, entertainment in the other.

“They are using products as the primary vehicle for customer engagement and brand reinforcement and customer support, so certainly products have a critical part to play, but they are the mechanisms for delivering a service.”

ITSM ‘anti-practices’

The ITSM challenges listed above have given rise to some bad practices, or what he called “anti-practices.” These include: “watermelon SLAs,” a “join the dots” approach to ITIL implementations, and “endless maturity improvement initiatives.”

  • Watermelon SLAs: IT service providers believe they are providing good service (all the indicators are green) but “when they cut into it, everything is red” — the customer is unhappy. This situation stems from misaligned expectations, Anand said. Often it’s the case that metrics are related to outputs, not business outcomes.
  • Join-the-dots ITIL: Companies are looking for a linear exercise that will allow them to implement ITIL to solve a particular problem, Anand said, but ITIL doesn’t work this way. “Part of what ITIL has always stressed is that in the management of complex environments, you have to continuously iterate your way to service management success.”
  • Maturity improvement initiatives: Endless quests to reach ever higher IT maturity levels “tend to be vanity exercises,” and a waste of money, Anand said. “Yes, a Level 4 is better than a level 3 maturity, but oftentimes what the business needs is Level 3 done better, rather than Level 4.”

Criticisms, ITIL 4 fixes

The scrutiny of ITSM challenges included a hard look at ITIL. Anand said the criticism his team heard “time and again” was that the guidance is too vast to grasp. The current ITIL library, he noted, runs to about 2,000 pages, and people simply don’t know where to start. The team was also told the guidance needed to be more “human readable,” and practical, similar to the approach taken in the new ITIL Practitioner certification published in 2016, which tests the ability to adopt, adapt and apply ITIL concepts in an organization.

In response, the ITIL update team has aimed to make ITIL 4 modular, as well as more lean and practical. The modular design will allow ITIL researchers to update topics that are evolving quickly (e.g. incident change management) to be updated more frequently than those that aren’t. The update “trims out the unnecessary fat,” he said, and offers lots of examples templates and practical advice.

It remains to be seen if ITIL 4 elevates the art and science of ITSM. No matter how modular, lean and practical the guidance turns out to be, one wonders if it could ever be enough to wrangle the technologies and IT services that are eating the world.

ITIL 4 comes at a time when the delivery of enterprise IT services is being disrupted nonstop by new technologies — cloud, IoT, AI, to name the biggies — and in an age when IT-based services, from Google to Netflix to Uber, are disrupting entire industries. How do you get a handle on that?

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