Does ITIL R3 really represent the entire IT shop?

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ITIL is everywhere. Most of my larger clients have implemented it or are implementing it to some extent in their organizations. It has made it out of the operations world and is becoming a strategic topic. So far, most of it is talk at the high level and some decent quality and efficiency improvements at the detailed process level, but not much to connect the two.

Before I go forward, I must confess once again that I am not an ITIL expert. I have attended a couple of sessions, read the workbooks, talked to experts, but I’ve not been through the training and can’t go too much further than describing the benefits and elaborating a bit on how they define their core process areas.

My history with ITIL began about ten years ago, when I was doing some organizational strategy and process improvement work for a large IT organization trying to implement both ITIL and CMM. At the time, with the focus of these two frameworks, it made sense to focus on CMM within application development, ITIL within operations, and resolve the differences in the overlapping areas like release management and change management. Since then, ITIL has come a long way, and their latest version, R3, really attempts to represent all of IT in a services-centric rather than operations-centric view.

I was recently working with an IT organization, doing some strategic work around their future state organization, internal processes and supporting tools. We needed a picture to describe their delivery model, the activities that they do as an organization to deliver value to their internal customers. We needed this picture to better clarify organizational roles and responsibilities as well as clarify the scope of several process improvement initiatives underway. I worked with the executive team to build a picture that described their core activities of strategic planning, project/ enhancement delivery and operations, as well as the various supporting activities like resource management, vendor management, account management and financial management. This picture was very useful to us as we worked through roles and responsibilities. It had served its primary purpose.

And then it was time to communicate many of the decisions we’ve made to the organization. For a lot of reasons, it would have made sense for this organization to use the ITIL model for this purpose. They are implementing a service catalog to more accurately and transparently allocate costs to their business units, and using ITIL best practices to do so. They are organizing themselves around how they deliver services, and defining accountability within their organization by service. Furthermore, some of the products and services they sell are built on ITIL principles, so they should be big proponents of the methodology. If there were ever a situation to use ITIL’s overall model, this was it.

And so we tried to do it, and I threw myself into it thinking if there were ever a time to use ITIL’s model to describe the strategy, this was it. I spent some time working with their ITIL experts and talking to some of my own to map the activities we wanted to represent into the R3 model. It was doable, but many of the activities either spanned multiple areas or didn’t logically fit in any areas. A few examples: Vendor Management spanned multiple areas. Project Management didn’t fit anywhere. The whole SDLC, for new projects and enhancements, wasn’t very obviously represented. Account management did not fit. When it came down to it, while we were able to force fit all the activities into ITIL, it was through such an operational lens that it would not have been a useful communication tool for the organization.

So here I am, back where I started. I do think ITIL has come a long way and I am a really big believer in IT organizations transitioning to service based thinking. But practically speaking, the model isn’t yet a useful strategic tool, at least not for the purposes I described above. I’m sure this will spur some thoughts from my ITIL friends out there… let me know what you think! I’m particularly curious for perspective on how IT organizations are transforming from traditional thinking into more services based thinking and what that looks like in practice.

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