How do we feel about ITIL being a commercial product?

ITIL has been sold (and Prince2 - the following discussion applies just as much to all of the "Swirl" products sold). It is a commercial product. No more half-way house with OGC outsourcing publishing and accreditation: they've gone the whole hog and flogged the Swirl suite off for the corporate shilling. (First example of this in the UK Government apparently and supposedly a model for more.) How do we feel about this new situation?

In a recent article in The ITSM Review, Ros Satar (a.k.a. "Sister Skeptic" - private joke) said

There is also an opportunity for those who have, in the past, rebelled at the gates of the fortress – surely now is their time to help shape the best practices to what they believe it should be?
Or will they choose to ignore this emerging spirit of collaboration with the community, and continue to throw stones into the moat?

I replied

I don't think it is a question of "ignore this emerging spirit of collaboration". OGC and TSO and APMG have made similar promises in the past.
The "free ITIL portal" promised by OGC morphed into the obscenely priced TSO product which died the death it deserved.
TSO happily used volunteer itSMF labour to launch ITIL V3 worldwide, then screwed them on book deals.
How many people even know how to find the Swirl websites? Where's the community on them?
If the aloof Cabinet Office and the bumbling TSO and the ruthless Capita are going to spawn a collaborative, cuddly steward of ITIL then I'm all for it. Just forgive me for being a bit cynical at this stage until I see some evidence.

(See the reply from Chris Barrett - hearts-and-minds spokesman of the still-unnamed JV - in the comments on that article).

Then TechieBird left a thoughtful comment on this blog about contributing IP to products, e.g. a Samsung TV. I started writing a reply to that comment but it morphed into this blog post.

Let's separate the discussion from the personal digital experience (which tends to mislead us), and look at commercial software user groups instead.

A company uses software product (or SaaS service) XYZ.
1) The company joins the product's user community who get together to vote on new features. Great. The community speaks.
2) The community propose new features. great. The vendor is crowd-sourcing its idea-generation.
3) One or several companies using XYZ develop an extension to XYZ with new functionality. They contribute the code to the supplier for no cost. Good on them.
4) The supplier incorporates the extension into the product and uses it as a promotional feature in their sales. OK good, I guess. Some kickback would be nice. At least we hope they loudly credited the source.
5) But if instead the supplier packages the new feature as an extra-cost option.... um...

For me personally, it's not the contributing of IP to ITIL that gives me pause. After all I made a little contribution to 2011 Service Strategy and I'm proud of that, not concerned. Of course if I was - for a hypothetical example - Ian Clayton and they wanted me to back USMBOK into ITIL that would be a totally different discussion with such a large body of knowledge.

I'm more concerned with contributing volunteer effort, e.g. itSMF did much of the leg-work promoting ITIL V3 worldwide, to the profit of APMG, TSO and OGC. If the JV wasn't funding itSMF then I'd think twice about being involved in such efforts.

itSMF also did all(?) of the translating of ITIL and whilst payments were made for that I gather they didn't much reflect the actual effort. There's also the question of translating the training stuff; syllabus and exam questions. I have no knowledge of how that was remunerated.

As another example, itSMF run all the conferences worldwide using volunteers and with mostly-volunteer speakers. These are nominally ITSM conferences not ITIL conferences but they sure as hell remove the need for Castle ITIL to do any such thing. This was fine when ITIL was seen as a public service that recovered enough costs to continue developing the body of knowledge. It ceased to be that with the CAR tender that first introduced commercial for-profit vendors to the picture.

On the other hand if the JV did fund itSMF, many of us would feel ick-y about that too. I know I felt that way when APMG did it, though the fact it was kept quiet played a large part in that.

There is an interesting case study that nobody is talking about: MOF. The Microsoft Operating Framework is public domain, released under the Creative Commons license. Download it for free! You can copy it, republish it, rework it, quote it to your heart's desire. It is aligned with on ITIL, more rigorous than ITIL, more detailed than ITIL, provides techie advice as well, is not platform specific to the MickeySoft gear (though of course they provide extensions to the advice into their own environments)... There's not even a significant after-market for Microsoft: they're not enriched by the adoption of MOF: there's no book or training industry that they cash in on off the back of it. So why didn't it sweep the industry? Because it starts with "M". Of course everyone loves Capita so there is no comparison to be made here, right?

Sure it's not all bad. For a lyrical description of the upside, see the recent ITSM Weekly podcast interview with Chris Barrett (and some quiet G2G3ers). Of course we can expect the USA to eagerly embrace commercialisation in the land of the free. The only skeptical note in the whole jolly occasion is Matt Hooper's insightful point that as a privately owned JV there is zero obligation for any transparency of reporting (unlike a publicly listed company). Nice one Cabinet Office; superb governance structures as ever.

If the UK Government had thought less about selling assets and more about transferring stewardship, they might have handed it over to a not-for-profit group in return for royalties. Politically I'm a capitalist myself but there are times when commercialism destroys community and Generally Accepted Practice is ALL about community.

Whatever the willingness of the JV to play nicely and promote community, the ITIL model is still a mangled mess of historical compromises. The ISACA/COBIT model of IP governance and ownership and community looks more attractive every day.

So where does that leave us, the practitioner community, with the current JV model? Personally I don't see it as an improvement. Commercial interests act in the best interests of commercial interests: that's what they are for. It's not about the customer . I'll be closely scrutinising the remuneration of contributors to books, certification, conferences, and other promotion - I don't see why that should be volunteered any more. Of course it will be, by vendors and their paid voices, and by those who want to raise their own profiles.
Others see the Swirl Sale as an injection of energy and money which will reinvigorate ITIL.

What is your reaction to the sale of ITIL?

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