The UK Government reinvents ITSM

How exactly does the UK Government spend time and money building a "Government Service Design Manual" targeted at builders of the online services that only once mentions ITIL?

And how does think that essential public services like passports, BD&M, benefits, justice, citizenship and tax are going to run with "Resources for service managers" that barely summarise the syllabus of an ITIL Foundations course?

DevOps ideology and dangerous over-simplification, that's how.

© Copyright Canstock Photo IncThe UK Government are best known to most readers of this blog for their Best Practice team within the Cabinet Office who gave us such golden oldies as Prince2 and ITIL. But there is of course a bit more to the UK Government than that. There's more to the IT side of the UK government. Even the giving-of-IT-practice-advice aspect of the UK government has more to it than the Best Practice publications.

You see, the whole online face of the UK government is supposedly converting over to "". (Beautifully designed it is too.) That means a lot of developers building to the new interface. They get advice on how to build, including

The advice is compiled as the "Government Service Design Manual".

It starts with

A short phase, in which you start researching the needs of your service’s users, find out what you should be measuring, and explore technological or policy-related constraints... It’s a very short phase, probably taking no more than a week.

Hosting is important, so it gets a whole 650 words, including

The software running your service will need servers to run on. This guide will help you decide how you host your applications and the things to think about if selecting a vendor...
It is important to keep good notes from any interviews or deliberation sessions and to access different suppliers equally. A scoring matrix can help here...
This is, unfortunately, a technical field with many options. Seemingly similar services can have wildly different architectures or different cost models can result in large differences in total cost of ownership. It is recommended to involve technical colleagues or trusted third parties in any discussions and decision.

Don't try this at home.

Then at the end, apparently

The work doesn’t stop once your service is live. You’ll be iteratively improving your service, reacting to new needs and demands, and meeting targets set during its development.

OK that's that all covered.

Here are the Resources for service managers. Not much you'd recognise here.

Supplier management? No. All I can find is procuring consultants.

Service level management? Yup, the performance framework which does include a number of references, from sources such as Google Analytics and The Guardian.

Portfolio management? Not that I can tell, though that is a different audience I guess.

Risk management? No, though to be fair nor does ITIL.

Ooh wait, helpdesk.

In order to provide high-quality service, you will very likely want a dedicated group of specialists - or current staff dedicating some of their time - to handle user enquiries and to help direct them to the information they want. We’ll use the term “Helpdesk” to refer to them.

715 words, and not one of them about on-call support or supplier service desk interlock. Or tech support. Or process, of any sort. Or shared helpdesk services. Apparently every single service of the UK Government is going to have its own helpdesk.

Under configuration management, it says

Your system is likely to be much larger than a single application... Even a simple application probably requires some configuration, to provide database credentials or a web service endpoint for instance... Three examples of existing open source configuration management tools are CFEngine, Chef and Puppet

Hands up who sees the issue?

That's right. The UK Government owns the most famous and one of the richest repositories of IT practice: ITIL. And ITIL gets mentioned in the advice how often? Once. There are a few "More reading" links, to open source tools and other such topics. But only one mention of ITIL in the whole damn thing:

Many departments will find it useful to engage with a partner who can help build digital capability within the department at the same time as working with them to deliver working digital services. In selecting a supplier as a digital transformation partner for the department, these are some of the things that we’d like to see...
[Lots of stuff about "Agile project planning", cloud, UX, DevOps, SOAP and J2EE and....]
[right down at the bottom...]
Depending on the department’s existing estate, the partner may need to have have a proven track record with the migration of complex legacy systems.
The partner should:
- adopt a pragmatic approach to ITIL
- show an awareness of auditing and standards (ISO27001, PCI, etc)

[Update 5/8/14: I've found a section covering ITIL. I'm not sure if it was there when I wrote this post but I don't think so. it's still light, and it is not used in any other part of the manual, e.g all the stuff on service desk, or change, or release, or strategy or... Nor is it in the ToC page "Operating Your Service", though DevOps is.]

[Update 20/1/15: hallelujah! we've got discussion of ITIL. Skeptical on ITIL, which is OK, but at least service management is now addressed.
It's still quite glib and weak when it comes to incident management of mission critical government websites.]

Nor is there reference to any other body of knowledge except Information Security which apologises for "quite a lot of acronyms" and refers to ISO27001 and some UK Government security standards. Seems like security is the only external knowledge that can't be ignored by DevOps.

All this would be merely surprising if the advice were equally as extensive and comprehensive as ITIL. To an experienced ITSM eye, the advice looks facile. It is a kindergarten primer in ITSM. FITS, the UK government's cut-down version of ITIL for schools, was more sophisticated than this. This guide has got more to say about cookies than it has about managed hosting. Heck, the ITIL Foundation syllabus covers about as much.

Hey kids, anyone can build essential government services for one of the world's biggest economies! Just follow the magic footprints!

It's so cute watching the DevOps guys reinventing ITSM for themselves, but it is a trifle frustrating when it is the tax-payers' money and there are so many more useful things they could be contributing to the world than to start designing IT operations again from 1980.

This blog post will be branded as a beat-up and it is. Not because I hate DevOps. I don't. I'm immersing in it for the tremendous value it brings to ITSM. And this guide does shine the light on how DevOps can simplify some aspects of ITSM. But let's not lose sight of the old adage "Simplify as much as possible, and no more".

It is good practice to have multiple “environments” for the development, testing and live (aka production) versions of any service...
When errors occur they should be recorded and tracked over time...

No, this is a beat up because it pisses me off when people wilfully pretend ITIL and ITSM don't exist because they are somehow uncool, as if abandoning decades of accumulated wisdom is smart. We're supposed to grow out of that attitude when we end our teen-age. The trouble is too many DevOps developers apparently haven't. I don't care if John Willis is back to wanting to punch my nose again - this stuff deserves a beat-up.

If it just once - no, a number of times - said "This isn't as easy as it looks. Get an expert. There is a shed-load you can learn from ITSM in general and ITIL in particular." If it did that I'd be happy to treat it as a nice little primer for service design beginners, a DevOps version of my Basic Service Management book.

But it doesn't. It trivialises the operation and support of one of the most complex and mission critical web interfaces in Britain. On it's own, without reference to anything else, as the definitive guide to rebuilding the UK Government's presence? Seriously? S***, these are core services from monster government departments in the world's six-largest economy. This isn't a game. It looks to me like an experiment on a huge scale to apply purist Agile/DevOps ideology to running the United Kingdom, to prove that IT is actually no big deal.

Well this should be interesting. What could possibly go wrong?

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