Saving ITIL: How To Protect The Reputation Of Best Practice Frameworks

Since the news came out that the Office of Government Commerce stated in a report by the Office of Public Sector Information they had ‘no policy remit’ to produce and develop the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology, various articles and blogs have been written declaring the ‘death of ITIL’, or at least of the discipline as we know it.

This has been interpreted by some as an intention to drop official support due to lack of interest, since ITIL is admittedly not one of the OGC’s core responsibilities. Critics believe the move will make ITIL an even more lucrative money machine for vendors and service providers which may end in self-sabotage. Most opponents have focused their editorials on the consequences of this move on the Best Practice framework’s quality and credibility, or have taken this as an occasion to declare that ITIL is already overrated and over-praised.

Those who welcome the change, instead, believe it would be a good thing for ITIL to be free, open and available to all. However, there seems to be little analysis of what the choice made by the OGC might mean, the pros and cons of a liberated Best Practice framework and, ultimately, hardly any propositions on how to save the framework’s reputation.

Taking into account such pros and cons, it is difficult to have a clear opinion on thesituation. There can definitely be some benefits in liberating a framework – for instance, it creates an opportunity for professionals to provide recommendations and contribute with ideas and innovations which derive from their personal experience. They are able to interact more comprehensively with the discipline, allowing it to grow, improve and change with the market and the various business environments it operates in.

But labels like ‘ITIL’ – which have become brand names – are often used as a sales tool to sell books, memos and software, and by making it even more commercial the risk is that the discipline will lose its authority. Let’s take Neuro-Linguistic Programming as an example. As there is no regulation, people are free to say that they are NLP practitioners although they are only recognised within their own training company, and their methodology may be different from practitioners who come from another company. There is no official recognition of what is good and bad practice in NLP, therefore it may not be felt as a discipline one can rely on alone.

So if any consultancy, training company, book author and software vendor was able to say that their product or service is ‘ITIL aligned’, although it complies with their version of ITIL which might be different from another one, then it would be impossible to have some measurable quality standards that can be used to evaluate and choose. If you take away standardisation and consistency, if there isn’t a strong and consistent identity or an independent body that can set standards, the framework will practically cease to exist.

To reassure readers, the ambiguous OPSI report does not state that the OGC has no interest in ITIL and, in fact, it still owns copyright on the product. The information on the report might mean that the body will outsource development but will still have the last word on content and the power to approve a product or service. If this is the case, then the situation might prove ideal for the reasons stated above, balancing the pros and cons in a safer scenario.

But this is not the main problem with Best Practice frameworks, it seems. An example of one that is not supported by an official body but is still popular and widely used is the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). Although it is free and available to everybody, it doesn’t appear to be very different from ITIL in its recognition, methodology and principles.

Nevertheless, it appears to have the same issues that consultants see in ITIL as it is – there is a lot of emphasis on gap-fill documents and selling books rather than in delivering a thorough understanding of the processes and aims. Unless the professional who downloads the templates and fills the gaps understands the content and context of what they are doing, it has little value and probably little effectiveness. It is apparent, then, that freeing the discipline doesn’t solve the issues behind Best Practice frameworks, nor does keeping control over it.

Perhaps the problem is not about ITIL being endorsed by an official body or not, but rather how to enhance the reputation and effectiveness of Best Practice frameworks. Disciplines such as ITIL and MOF need to find a way to overcome their credibility issues, cease to be mere money machines and become what they are supposed to be – guidelines for carrying out operations in the best possible way to reach efficiencies and cost savings.

Only if Service Management professionals start believing in the ‘wider aims’ and practicing the discipline with a thorough understanding of what is being done, will it be possible for such frameworks to regain trust and, ultimately, to really deliver results.

Samantha-Jane Scales is an ITIL and Prince 2 certified Service Management consultant working with London based Plan-Net. Having worked as an operational IT manager with organisations as diverse as Nuffield Health and Steria, she brings her expertise from the real world into the engagements she undertakes, focusing on the quality of service to the end customer, the effective utilisation of IT resources, especially people, and the relationship between the business and IT. Samantha-Jane is a Member of the British Computer Society and has recently taken over the reins of Membership and Communications Secretary of the Kingston and Croydon BCS Branch.