Some thoughts on the Capita JV

As many readers will know, The UK Government and a British outsourcer called Capita have formed a joint venture (JV) to own and sell the whole "Swirl" best-practice portfolio, which includes ITIL and PRINCE2. The company (which remains nameless) exists from 1st July, and will be fully operational from 1st January 2014. This is the end-game (end of days, some would say) of a journey to commercialise these frameworks that started with the mysterious disappearing 1.1.1 five years ago. OGC was run by two of the highest-paid civil servants in Britain: you don't put highly-paid execs into a tiny backwater like OGC unless it is to return a profit.

Having met Peter Hepworth (JV CEO) and Chris Barrett ("opening batsman", read: running PR interference until the JV gets a formal PR voice of its own) at the SDI13 conference in Birmingham, I thought it was time to write down a few thoughts I have over the JV.

First, they can't win. Like a city council, or any entity with a broad constituency of vested interests, they'll never please everyone. People want concerts and sewers, social workers and drainage, recycling and rates reduction. So, much as I am a fan of consultation - which I am - the JV will end up making its own way. They'll have to lead not follow.

Coming from New Zealand, I'm allowed to be deeply cynical of privatisation. Our railways, electricity, and crown land have all been pillaged by big-business pirates to the cost of the citizens, with the government abdicating or failing to control. So when a hard-nosed private business is sold a controlling share of ITIL and PRINCE2, disappearing into a private entity with no public accountability whatsoever, I'm not overcome with the same optimism that others have been just because Peter and Chris are nice guys. I was in sales for nearly 20 years: I know how to love 'em to death. In terms of transparency and public accountability, this is clearly a new low for the best practice portfolio.

There is so much the UK Govt could have done better here. They did none of the following (correct me please if I'm wrong):

  • retain a 51% controlling share
  • publicly list the company to require some financial reporting
  • give a minority shareholding to an industry body, say itSMF
  • appoint an independent Board
  • ...or any kind of overseeing committee
  • create regulation to require information - any information - from the JV

It's hard to describe it as anything but a sell-out. What gets forgotten here is that ITIL is the product of the efforts of hundreds of people around the world. The UK may have led the effort and put the bulk of it in (or paid for it to be put in) but the fact remains that most of the public considers ITIL a public product. I don't see that attitude continuing with a closed commercial enterprise.

Then there is the choice of Capita. Despite all the fine words they have no international presence, whereas some of the other bidders had far more global infrastructure. They have zero presence in Asia, especially China, the super growth market for best practice. Heck, they have zero presence in the Americas!

The JV is making all the right noises so far. Chris Barrett is skilfully and accurately echoing back our desires and concerns. The three points in the recent newsletter are spot on:
1. the integration / assimilation of other methodologies and frameworks should be pursued;
2. open JV communications and true community engagement are both a must – including expectation management; and
3. better demonstration of ITIL value to the business and return on investment should be woven into the ITIL framework.

The charm offensive certainly won over the USA's ITSM Weekly podcast team at PINK13, though the UK podcast team were unsurprisingly more skeptical.

Me, I'm watching with a jaundiced eye. I'll be looking for:

  • true community involvement and transparency, and even some accountability
  • ITIL 4, to embrace new developments, while on the other hand...
  • get the blue-sky fadism separated out from proven practice
  • find proper online medium for delivery e.g see MyCOBIT
  • formalise the structure of ITIL. COBIT would provide an excellent taxonomy
  • a true and transparent contribution mechanism. If anyone cares, I described such a thing five years ago for my failed Core Practice initiative: it is quite possible.

but I'm not holding my breath. A commercial approach could make some great positive changes to ITIL, but an ungoverned commercial approach is a worry.

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