ITIL V3 core books - the IT Skeptic's impressions

[A couple of years ago the IT Skeptic wrote of my first impressions of the ITIL V3 five core books. That article is no longer available online, so I have revised it and reprinted it here]

As discussed in my review of the Service Strategy book, it will take considerable time to really digest these books and their implications, and to test the chisel of theory against the cold hard rock of reality (none more so than that Service Strategy book).

But first impressions can be drawn now and they are good ones.

The books are beautifully graphically designed (as a matter of personal taste I’d have chosen a slightly less aggressive bullet style that dominated the page less, and left a bit more white space at the bottom, but then ask my wife about my design credibility). The colours and fonts are easy to read. The layout is fresh and clear. The covers are pretty.

Printing is crisp and the paper quality excellent, though I question how long the covers will stand up to the kind of service some of us will be subjecting them to. The binding seems pretty strong.

The content is laid out logically and to a consistent plan between books, even if Service Strategy was bashed and bent to fit that consistent design.

Some of the books have a lot to say. One hesitates to pick on Service Design, given the pedigree of the authors, but it is a big book. The objective was for the books to be the last word in ITSM best practice, not a pocket guide. And that they are: simplification will be the order of the day for many sites. The world awaits a Beginner’s ITIL book. We can leave it to time and the community to decide how much of the content is debatable opinion and how much generally accepted practice.

The other question for the world to put to the test is how practical and useful the books really are. I had mixed feelings. On the one hand these are a superb comprehensive reference. On the other, the depth and sheer volume of material will be a challenge for many organisations: gosh what a demand there will be for consultants to interpret and apply it all!

The other thing I’m not sure about is whether we have more or less advice on risks and problems with implementing ITIL and how to deal with them than we did in Version 2. There are practical tips scattered throughout the books, but the formal discussion of risk and problems is pretty light in some of them, e.g. Service Operation – of all books – devotes 5 pages to the organised discussion of challenges and risk. Service Design has one-and-a-half! One assumes the authors figured they had covered it all elsewhere, but people are not going to read these books cover to cover: they will refer to them. “Challenges and risk” is one of nine standard chapters for all the books: it should not be tossed off in a couple of pages, as they all did except for Service Strategy.

The “Implementing” chapters are equally anaemic in the four books that have it, except for Continual Service Improvement which has good stuff. Probably this is for the same reason – that it was spread through the book. Implementing ITIL is a meta-lifecycle: a lifecycle for the lifecycle. As such, the core books “accidentally” have useful material on planning, design, cultural change etc that is as applicable to implementing ITIL processes as it is to implementing services. A good case can be made for a Complementary book devoted to the subject, since much of it is generic across all the core books. Hopefully we will see such a book before too long. Anyone?

I found the books light on practical examples. One particular disappointment for me was the Service Catalogue example in Service Design: it is trivial, banal. Sure there are “value added’ examples on the internet if you can afford ITIL LIve, and all sorts of complementary content promised for the future, but we may wish the books had not been so theoretically focused. If you are going to put samples in, make them robust ones.

While we are on the topic of Service Catalogue, the IT Skeptic wrote recently about how it is the pivot to the whole wheel of ITIL (to use a metaphor current in Version 3). Service Design gets stuck into the subject, fixing a huge hole in version 2, but it is curiously coy about one essential aspect of the Catalogue: as a selling tool. It uses dry terms such as “the customer view”. It acknowledges that there are business and technical versions of the Catalogue, but the business version is not treated as what it is: a brochure. If IT is to operate as a business and meet business on its own terms, marketing is an essential activity that does not feature in these books except for Service Strategy which addresses it head on. Or perhaps I haven’t found it yet.

One major hazard of these books is the mixing of aspirational goals (e.g. CMDB), blue-sky theory (e.g. SKMS) and genuine generally-accepted good practice (most of it) with no warning or indication of which is which. ITIL can either be a thought leader or sound practical advice. It tries to be both.

Perhaps my biggest objection to Version 3 is the continuing insistence on a CMDB, or rather a CMS as it is now, which is an even more complex system of multiple CMDBs. The IT Skeptic has written before about how CMDB is a technology solution to a process problem that only serves to line the pockets of the tools vendors and send poor ITIL implementers on a fool’s quest. ITIL is admirably vague on the technological underpinnings of process in all areas except this one – it is high time the processes were designed without this requirement either. Just like Service Desk, good processes in other areas can work without much configuration technology – they just work more efficiently and effectively with it. I had hoped Version 3 might improve the situation but it seems only to have compounded the complexity.

These issues aside, the books are a wonderful addition to my library. Three hundred quid is a lot to pay, but most users will be spending somebody else’s money anyway, and I’ll get my money’s worth before the covers give out. To all those who worked on these books: great effort folks! Thank-you.

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