The Sheep from the Goats: ITIL vendors and Version 3

ITIL Version 3 makes a big ask of the ITSM industry. It will be fascinating to watch how it shakes out. The scope of ITIL is an order of magnitude wider now: how many individuals and organisations will have the knowledge and skills to step up to the new requirements?

Let us start with an interesting quote:

Adoption of ITIL v3 will help to hasten the integration of management and operations across business areas and IT functions, which can be no bad thing. The framework now completely unifies business and technology considerations, which were formerly still distinct (rather than separate), but which are now inextricably bound by the service context of every aspect of applications, systems, and processes. There will be learning for participants from both business and IT disciplines, but organizations could benefit strongly from the framework basis for collaboration of people with different backgrounds and skills.

There are those who think it is impertinent of ITIL to poke its nose into business, especially business strategy. Some think it is going too far even wading into architecture or development.

But let’s assume for now that the onward rush of ITIL continues, and the framework starts to show up in all the new contexts set for it, especially by Service Strategy and Service Design. What of today’s ITIL practitioners? Imagine the new demands on the “ITIL Owner” and all the ITIL process managers in a large organisation to now discuss boardroom issues, or technology architecture issues, or application design.

The first people they will turn to for help will be the ITIL consultants, and to a lesser extent the trainers. Many of those come from an IT Operations background (and some have no experience at all but that is another issue…), from – dare I say it - a “blue collar” IT background. They came up from the factory floor. They’ve never been on the top floor before.

There are a few like Concrete Campus* here in New Zealand who are already there, expanding their capacity at the strategic levels, but many will struggle. Among those who will need to expand quickly are the vendors. Even the largest of them are pretty light-on at the more rarefied levels, despite the impression they try to project. I think it is no accident that OGC went outside the usual suspects to get the Service Strategy book written.

It will take a year for the heat to really get turned up, but then a few are going to find the kitchen a bit much for them. Look for (1) specialisation on “shop floor ITIL” (2) alliances/mergers with management consultants, and (3) the big consulting firms muscling into ITIL (as they have been threatening to do for some time).

*Concrete Campus is run by Craig Pattison and Alison Holt: familiar names to those in both the ITIL and ISO20000 worlds


And those tied to tools/technology...

...will struggle most of all. These days if you tried to sell the ability to develop software based purely on the IDE that you used then no-one would take you seriously. So claims of 'look we can implement our Cure/Hunting Bird software and that will help you do Strategy at board level' are going to look pretty silly. My guess is that the big consulting firms (who already have plenty of C level access) will simply remarket their current offerings as 'ITIL v3 conforming' and use their board level influence to sell them. Maybe they will engage the 'shop floor specialists' to deliver training and implement tools where appropriate, leaving their own staff free to concentrate on influencing and developing strategy.

Wool Pulled Over My Eyes?

At a recent conference, I asked why should I make any improvements to a service that was running fine and dandy and that the customer was more than happy with, in response to a hypothetical about Continual Service Improvement.

I was told it was the difference between Continuous and Continual - continuous being you've got to do it all the time, continual being you can take a break from it if you chose and also, some improvements may be of benefit to the provider not just the customer. Semantically it may well be correct, but from an expectation setting viewpoint (ie the customers' stance) I'm not sure this matters a jot.

Happy to be proven wrong, but I'm sure there will be many a Supplier Manager rubbing their little hands with glee at how it's going to keep them in a job!

More than semantics

I think the distinction between continual and continuous improvement is a significant one. Continual improvement not only allows you to objectively judge whether the changes you've made made have achieved the desired result but it also prevents organisations from suffering from change fatigue. If you have consultants continuously on site over a period of years you might want to question what they are doing. If, on the other hand, they spend three months a year working with you then that's probably a good sign.


It is interesting to note that companies in the automobile, computer hardware, computer software, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries typically depend on products and services that are less than 5 years old for over 50% of their sales.

No one can foretell the future, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

It is really not as

It is really not as interesting as it is obvious.

The only companies that I can think of that make a majority of their revenue from sales of old merchandise are pawn shops, dollar stores, art galleries and auction houses.

Everything else is always new. A new Corvette is new as is a bottle of Coca Cola as is Oracle ERP... you might think it's the same brand but something is always different- the label, the container, the color, plastic or metal, the perception of the brand by the consumer, the consumer's perception of other people's perception of the brand, the manufacturing process, the raw materials procurement or costs...

Trick is to invite more people to the party

As you say: in practice, the fact that ITIL is broadening out does not mean that current ITIL practitioners will all expand to cover the full stack. Rather, by making the reach of ITIL that much broader, other individuals within a company (and other services firms) will come in to fill the gaps, or alliances will be struck.

The new content in ITIL v3 is not new information in the marketplace - just new to the framework. Wise companies and vendors will look to experienced staff (irrespective of whether they have an ITIL background or not) to fill the strategy boxes, and use the ITIL v3 framework to set the context for discussions.

Any strategist worth paying money for should not have a problem taking the Service Strategy book and using it as a starting point to present their standard consulting / planning approach in a light well suited to IT management. Good operations people should likewise be able to talk about their domain expertise using more appropriate language to a business conversation. Breaking down the communication silos between business and IT is a good thing.

Those who see ITIL as being impertinent by sticking its nose into areas that are essential to a well run IT environment are both right and wrong. Yes, some people from an ITIL background are going to end up trying to teach experts in e.g. enterprise architecture to suck eggs, and will do themselves and their companies no favours in doing so. Conversely, to assume that an operations expert looking after a large budget cannot understand strategy is as incorrect as assuming a strategist can know nothing about how to actually run an IT shop.

There's more than enough examples of strategies that are blind or overly ambitious, or operations teams acting as a brake on good ideas, that the smart individual will be willing to learn from "the other guys". Perhaps both sides should agree to make the v3 books their common enemy when disputes arise, rather than fight each other. That way they get agreement and hopefully progress, while the OGC and vendors should get feedback to improve ITIL itself.

As ITIL is not prescriptive, the successful companies and individuals will be those who use ITIL v3 as a framework, the concepts as practical advice - as usual. Likewise, all strategy models, consulting methods and suchlike are tools that can be adapted by a competent consultant. It will be interesting to see who will prove themselves capable of avoiding all the hype, FUD and egos, and get on with delivering real results. The potential is very much there.

We shall see...

Completely agree. the interesting question will be who can deliver to the broader requirements.

I got told a story about one of the big ITSM vendors completely failing to deliver on what ITIL would call Servrice Strategy requirements. they could talk operations but they couldn't talk business. And it was a vendor who would have you believe otherwise, at a huge US prestigious account.

We shall see...

A story about a vendor?

As a representative of one of the big ITSM vendors, I can happily confirm that mistakes are made. This is easy to do; I have yet to meet a company that does not make mistakes, and so a story means little in and of itself.

By mentioning an ITSM vendor, is it your intention to imply that the well known business consultancy firms do not (or will not) make mistakes?

a systemic failure to deploy suitable resources

I'm not describing a mistake. I'm describing a systemic failure to deploy suitable resources to meet a strategic business consulting requirement, which culminated in the client going elsewhere for services. Given the size of the client and the fact that it was in the USA, I conclude that the vendor did not have the capacity. that isn't a mistake, it's a failure to come up to the mark. there will be more of them as ITIL V3 raises the bar.

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