How can a system like ITIL® - forged in a year of seismic historical change 25 years ago - still be relevant to the world of ITSM today?
Leaving aside the shift in information technology since 1989, the global changes in that year alone tell us how different the world was back then: the USSR (remember that?) pulling out of Afghanistan, the final throes of Apartheid in South Africa, Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" against communist rule, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sending of the first unofficial text message.
The fact that text message volumes in the UK peaked at more than 39 billion in 2011 - and are now challenged by instant messaging and Whatsapp - shows how technology continues to move forward.
ITIL comes from an era when computing was mainframe-oriented and had a very special place in businesses and organizations: usually in a darkened room sealed off from everyone and everything else! The IT department was considered separate, mystical and staffed by a people apart, doing something no-one else understood. New computing technology - including PCs - that would eventually touch a greater number of people was in its infancy and IT was considered a necessary expense rather a provider of revenue or value.
This disconnect between IT and the wider organization is captured well in the blog post - "Do we still need ITIL?" by service management consultant and trainer, Stuart Rance, in which IT departments of the past held "great knowledge" and "told the business what they could have"; a far cry from the integral and interconnected role they play in today's enterprises.
The British Government's desire to get more out of IT services heralded the first series of ITIL books (hence Information Technology Infrastructure Library), originally published in 1989, which covered the gamut of advice from running organizational IT, through cabling to finance.
Assisted by ITIL, the function of the IT department changed its focus to what Stuart Rance describes as "providing services rather than managing technology". It was the beginning of what we recognize in IT services today: communicating with and being a pivotal part of a business or organization.
ITIL, designed originally with government IT usage in mind, has grown organically and remained relevant regardless of the major IT developments that have happened in the past quarter-century. In the context of such vast technological change, how could that be? In essence, the central tenet of ITIL's best practice philosophy of "adopt and adapt" - which is neither IT vendor nor technology driven - has defied any risk of obsolescence.
But that doesn't mean ITIL has stood still: from its early emphasis on processes, improving services and reducing costs, it has evolved to embrace the lifecycle approach complete with an updated series of books, standardized exams and accredited trainers.
The ITIL issues log is very important, allowing the ITSM community to provide ongoing input, creating a bank of feedback and comments that are categorized and, if relevant, scheduled as changes that are ultimately incorporated into ITIL.
ITIL's continued relevance is based on not trying to be a prescriptive "recipe book" but a set of proven best practices that the ITSM community has identified and that continue to do the following:
- Support business objectives
- Enable business change
- Optimize customer experience
- Implement continual improvement
- Drive business efficiency
And the principles of ITIL are there to "adopt and adapt" the processes as necessary to each individual and unique IT environment. For example, the novelty of technology doesn't matter to ITIL; if someone using a remote working IT solution has a problem, then the IT service desk logs the call and decides on an appropriate response. The important element is having a process that helps to deliver a service and provide value at the "sharp end" of the business.
Having a clear framework for organizational IT, such as ITIL, is also crucial for IT professionals during difficult economic times. If IT can prove unequivocally its value to a business then it's less likely to be axed as part of cost cutting procedures.
But it's important to recognize that learning, adopting and continually improving based on ITIL principles is not a quick fix; it's undeniably a long-term commitment from both business leaders and staff rather than being the IT world's equivalent of the "magic slimming pill".
For ITIL to flourish, organizations need to address their culture and help everyone reliant on efficient and effective IT to understand what's in it for them. Yes, it requires an adherence to certain processes; but if the ITIL champions within an organization can convey why it's important, for example, to log a call to the service desk then the general adoption of these principles will make IT services work well across an entire enterprise.
So, after 25 years, what does the future hold for ITIL?
Ivor McFarlane, service management veteran and part of the original ITIL development team, said in his "Interesting Times for ITIL" blog post that the "attitude of people working in the field" of ITSM over 30 years is notable for a "willingness to share and be supportive of each other".
To me a critical aspect is the "light bulb" moment for people in service management; that instant in time when the realization hits you, that you are part of something much bigger that works and can have profound results. This is the reason we have so many dedicated people in the sector doing extraordinary things to help each other and make the ITIL of the future, as Ivor says, "more valuable, widely used and just plain better than ever". This passion on which ITIL is built is the foundation stone for ITSM excellence. It will enable IT professionals of today and tomorrow to use ITIL as the 'grid' that can be laid over their organizations, connecting the dots between IT capabilities and business requirements.
You can be assured that AXELOS aims to ensure that ITIL maintains its relevance through incorporating new ideas and examples of best practice, modularising where possible, whatever the next big thing might be to ensure that IT supports the business.