ITIL isn't evil but

ITIL Isn’t Evil But…

At Interop New York last October I sadly missed out on an intriguing presentation called “ITIL isn’t evil. Most people who implement it are” by Colin McNamara, Chief Cloud Architect at Nexus IS. And, despite not attending his session, the title of Colin’s presentation has stuck with me into 2015.

It’s not just an interesting perspective from someone (Colin) travelling on a DevOps journey; it’s also a great reminder that any object in the wrong hands (or an object used incorrectly in the right hands) can bring harm. Or similarly, that a great idea applied to the wrong mindset can also do more harm than good.

In my opinion, both of these “misuse” concepts are very true with ITIL – the IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework. And to Colin’s point – ITIL itself isn’t evil but those who misuse it might be.

Continuing this thought-journey in a Volvo

It might be a stretch, but consider someone who passed their driving test many years ago, is now a very experienced driver, and owns a Volvo – allegedly one of the safest cars on the planet. It doesn’t automatically mean that they aren’t going to have an accident or even cause a pedestrian fatality. But they might personally be more protected from harm as and when they do.

The cynical amongst us might also argue that the fact that the driver knows that they are safer in a Volvo might cause them to subconsciously drive in a less safe manner (maybe taking more risks) because of their belief in the Volvo’s safety credentials. Think about – they feel safe and protected, so are they less concerned about, or alert to, the potential dangers around them?

Behavioral scientists call it “risk compensation.” That we have an inborn tolerance for risk, such that as safety features have been added to cars (and roads) we feel less vulnerable and take more chances. This feeling of greater security tempts us to be more reckless.

So is ITIL the Volvo of ITSM?

In the same way that Volvo cars have been consistently shown to be one of the safest cars on the market (and have awards to prove it) and drive counterproductive behaviors.  Some IT or ITSM professionals might view ITIL as the provider of absolutely everything needed to do a great job in terms of IT service delivery and IT support, which as with the Volvo might drive the wrong behaviors. So, circling back to the title of Colin’s presentation that ITIL isn’t evil, maybe it isn’t, but its misinformed use is probably close.

Whether the people who misuse ITIL are evil is probably open to debate though, and of course there will always be people who are considered evil whether they use ITIL or not. I’d have liked to make a joke about North Korea dictators here but, after Sony’s issues with The Interview, I think I’d better not.

Let’s stop all the ITIL evilness

You still might think that ITIL is evil, but how can something that you choose to use, and to use only when and where it helps you, be evil? Unless perhaps you have ITIL, or more appropriately “bad ITIL,” forced upon you.

This is the real (and Colin’s) issue – it’s the people and IT organizations that have created the perceived ITIL evilness through their misuse of ITIL; in that they have made poor decisions about why, when, where, and how to use ITIL. Or, more fundamentally, that they don’t understand one or more of:

  • The concept of ITIL – that it’s really about improving IT services not implementing best practice processes
  • How to best use ITIL to improve IT service delivery and IT support – that blindly adopting ITIL, rather than thinking in terms of better IT and business outcomes, is not the best approach
  • That adding extra layers of ITIL-driven bureaucracy without compensating benefits slows down and ultimately hurts operations and speed of change
  • How new ways of working, incorporating ITIL or otherwise, need to seamlessly work with other IT and business operations to be successful
  • That ITIL isn’t the only way (or ITSM framework, methodology, or standard). Nor that it has to be used in isolation
  • That success shouldn’t be measured in terms of ITIL but instead in terms of the things that make a difference to business operations.

It’s sort of obvious unless you can’t see beyond the ITIL books, training, and certifications to look at the reasons for ITIL adoption above the ITIL adoption itself.

I truly hope that you are using ITIL to your best advantage, and that you can read the above bullet point list without flashing on how you use ITIL in your organization.

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

5 thoughts on “ITIL Isn’t Evil But…”

  1. Avatar mf2112

    The problem I have with ITIL is that it treats me in IT as a “servant to the business”. I think that is a terrible relationship. “Servant”. Really? I think this was perpetuated by managers who would love for employees to be scared of the “outsourcing” demon to keeps wages lower. I think a successful company will have IT Employees who are a part of the business.


    1. Joe the IT Guy Joe the IT Guy Post author

      It’s an interesting POV, personally I’m not sure that ITIL is totally responsible for this subservient mentality – I think that some business teams and people see themselves as more important than those who back them up with things like technology and its support, employee support (HR), or paying expenses (finance). For instance those who sell a company’s product to external customers can see themselves as more important than those working really hard “behind the scenes.” But everyone has a role to play to make the company tick. I also think that what you touch on is most relevant to the help desk/service desk as this has long been undervalued by IT let alone business colleagues. It’s a real shame as it does play a really important role – sometimes even ensuring that a business can continue operating – and service desk agents are totally undervalued in my opinion as organizations have continued to cut service desk costs, training, etc. And as you say, the threat of outsourcing hasn’t helped. The really sad thing is that the help desk/service desk is the business’ “window into IT,” one of the few human touch-points that employees have, and is thus a big influence on business colleague perceptions on how well IT as a whole is doing … so surely if IT wants to improve how it is perceived then it should be working at supporting service desk agents more?


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