Commercializing ITIL Weakens IT Service Management

This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who is an ITSM advocate and a partner in a consulting and training company that leverages ITIL best practices. But it’s my very passion for service management that is at the root of my argument. I have learned over my 30 years in IT that it’s fairly easy to design a process or buy a tool. If you want success in ITSM you have to do the hard work.

It’s not enough to design an incident management process and install a tool to support it. You need the dedication and governance to make sure people understand why they have to enter an incident; that they enter the right information into the incident record; and that someone uses the information for continual improvement. The same could be said for any of the ITIL processes.

The commercialization of ITIL is taking focus away from doing the hard work and is placing it on certifications, compliance schemes and on taking something relatively simple and making it overly complex and bureaucratic. The introduction of ITIL v3 has placed the focus squarely in the stratosphere with the introduction of dozens of new processes, roles and CMDB-like data-stores. Schemes are being designed to “certify” a vendor’s tool compliance to ITIL. What does that even mean―other than a chance to impose additional cost on the vendor?

I made a comment earlier in this article about the fact that senior management’s awareness of ITIL is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s always good when dedicated IT executives place focus on improving IT services; it’s good for IT and it’s good for the business. But if these same executives see additional bureaucracy, exercises in empty process design, added costs for training and re-training … well, they may just come to the conclusion that ITSM is just another management fad straight from the pages of a Dilbert cartoon.

It wasn’t long ago that the mainframe, and the people who managed it, were ostracized because of their perceived bureaucratic and process heavy approach. The business took a detour into distributed computing because it offered the promise of freedom and better time to market. Will the business look at ITIL as the right path or just another road block put up by the IT department? Will the business feel the need to take another detour away from the bureaucracy?

I’m not knocking process at all. Effective and efficient processes are required to manage the complexities of today’s computing environments. But I think its time that we take our heads out of the clouds and focus on the core of what makes an it organization run. A successful IT organization needs to fix incidents and provision service requests and they need to do it faster, cheaper and with a focus on customer service. To do that requires only a handful of well designed processes, the necessary tools to automate and a focus on execution.

I believe there is a real danger of an overly-hyped and commercialized ITIL leading people down the wrong path having them focus on the wrong things. This of course will result in failure and lead to a backlash against the very thing that can help IT be more effective in supporting the business. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let’s learn from our mistakes and apply process in a practical, lean and pragmatic way. Let’s focus on our customer, namely the business, and help them do things faster and with better quality.

The last thing any IT professional needs is a backlash against the very thing that will improve the deliver of services to our clients.

This article appears courtesy of

David Mainville is CEO and co-founder of Consulting-Portal, an ITSM consulting and ITIL training company focused on helping Fortune 500 and mid-size companies assess, design and implement robust IT Service Management processes. Consulting-Portal also offers a full curriculum of ITSM education including: ITIL, ISO and CobiT.