The future of ITIL

Forecasting is hard, especially about the future. Nevertheless here are some thoughts on the future of ITIL: it is not going away but it is on a trajectory of gradually decreasing significance.

Marcus Harris asked me about it for a presentation he was doing. As you may have gathered from my recent blogging, ITIL is a topic of waning interest for me but I gave him my thoughts anyway :-)

In general, in organisations which have yet to participate in the IT Renaissance, ITIL is of continuing usefulness for them but it has become part of business as usual, and is no longer an exciting and interesting new field. This is having a clearly visible impact on the ITSM conference industry where they are all struggling to maintain their numbers. People still do ITSM but they are not curious about it anymore.

This also means that, despite ITIL trying to be a strategic framework across the whole of IT in the same way that COBIT is, ITIL is pigeonholed - as it always has been - into service delivery and service support.

ITIL needs to get on board the total renaissance in the IT industry which -unfortunately for Axelos - was gathering strength just as they took ownership of ITIL. Talk about being sold a pup.

ITIL had the opportunity to embrace the Agile/DevOps movement, but commercialising ITIL and linking it so strongly to the training industry prevented that.

Axelos are caught between a rock and a hard place, because the training industry is so huge and they are so dependent on its revenue; whereas any new version of ITIL is going to cause the training market to dip terribly as it did in previous versions.

itSMF and the ITSM conference industry both had the opportunity to embrace DevOps and make it theirs, but that would have been extremely hard for them with the anti-establishment stance of the DevOps community.

The DevOps community tended to reject the need for ITSM, but they are rediscovering the necessity of considering the entire service and how to manage it. This is the last chance for generating a resurgence in interest in ITIL: by positioning it as ensuring the successful delivery and support of DevOps-deployed products.


The only thing that forecasters have in common is their inability to see the future. Nevertheless if I was going to have a punt - as I have done in the past - I would say that ITIL certification numbers will continue to fall; and ITSM conferences will stay plateaued in their numbers until they somehow reinvent.

The ITIL Practitioner course shows that Axelos is willing to patch ITIL to keep it current, but - whether they like it or not - an ITIL 4 version will become necessary, in fact I think it already is.

As it stands, the curiosity and innovation in the IT sector are all focused elsewhere and will continue to be that way. ITIL, even if reinvented, will be one tool amongst many and never the dominant model it aspired to be.

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