ITIL's value statement to the business

Recent correspondence suggests that ITIL3 struggles to articulate a useful value statement. Since anyone can play, the IT Skeptic has a crack at defining one.

A reader recently wrote to me (please everyone feel free to write to me):

I've just listened to a two hour or so long webcast featuring current star names in the ITIL universe...and as far as I can understand it all they are claiming is that what ITIL 3 brings to the table is a view of services that "add value to the business". All well and good, but I remember ...early advocates of ITIL such as Ivor Evans, Michael Hill and Bryan Dennis, who said that,with a passion, twelve years ago.

Everything adds value to the business, from McKinsey consultants to paperclips. Well, at least the paperclips do, but you know what I mean. Heck even I add value when I rouse myself enough to go earn a buck. ITIL has always struggled with a value statement. If that's the best they can do for V3 then it only means V3 hasn't advanced any on V2 - it doesn't mean it has gone backwards.

For what it is worth, here is the IT Skeptic's value statement for ITIL. Note that in line with current thinking, I dislike the concept of "IT and the business", as in "aligning IT with the business" or "adding value to the business". We don't talk about "Finance and the business". [We might talk about "HR and the business" but that is just because HR people are a bunch of tossers living on another planet, and usually acting contrary to the interests of the very organisation of which they purportedly form a part.]

IT is part of the business. In a desperate attempt to avoid refering to "the business" I am trialing the name "not-IT" for the rest of the business other than IT.

So the IT Skeptic's ITIL value statement for the "not-IT":

  • In the worst case, the not-IT will see ITIL as IT getting its house in order. Reactions will range from a disinterested grunt to "Why are we paying extra for you to do what you should have been doing already?"
  • In a reasonably well-done ITIL shop, the not-IT will see a better focus on quality and service. They will see IT talk about the service delivered instead of IT's own internals, and they will see a recognisable Deming Cycle making that service better over time. IT should not expect the not-IT to get excited about this; it is perfectly normal good management.
  • Best case, in an excellent ITIL shop, the not-IT will observe IT talking in business language, will see them operating off the same strategy [what the heck is an ISSP? Why should IT have a distinct strategic plan?], and will get some transparency into why IT makes decisions and how it spends money. They will say "Welcome to the table, brothers ( last)"

The value statement is that in the best of ITIL adoptions you can expect IT to start performing as if they are a normal part of the business.


IT is part of the business: Hogwash :)

I figure you like heated debate, and being from the superior part of the southern hemisphere (Aussie Aussie Aussie), I thought it would be good to have a contrary stance.

There are very few types of companies that can truely state "IT is part of the business". And I probably work for one of them, "IT Vendors".. Certainly some of the e-generation of companies (googles, yahoos) will fit in this space. Although here in Silicon Valley we might think the world revives around IT, for the most part, economies revolve around other types of products and services (retail, health, finance, government etc..). IT is just an enabling part of that services/product delivery process.. No different than a HR person could say people are "part of the business" or Finance says money is "part of the business".

No doubt a well performing IT organization should be integral to the business, but it is not core. In many companies, it can be outsourced, along with HR, Finance and everything else..

In the future as the economy tips globally and the companies that exist today have gone I expect I can lay claim to be "part of every business", but for now we must qualify that only for those for which IT is strategic to success is this true today.

No doubt you can see I am from the alignment..


Brad Vaughan

from some parallel dimension

obviously any disagreement stems (as it always does) froma difference in interpretation. My position is that IT is part of the business in precisely the same way that HR or finance is. Sure it can be outsourced but it is not more disconnected than any other function of the business: it just behaves as if it were. The times that I doubt my own thesis are when I look at some marketing and HR departments who behave in the same way; as if they were from some parallel dimension where the success of the business didn't come first. But in general IT is batting for the same team, or should be.

two sides of the same coin

I agree interpretation is the difference.

Precisely because they can behave separate is the reason why alignment is the goal. Being part of the business is the goal and not the starting point. This is the reason for the focus on alignment. If you started as part of the business then the business would change with you and not vice versa.

Another 2c

Brad Vaughan

Value in Good Execution

I am not sure if you could say "ITIL" brings value to business, because most of the value is only derived from good execution. Poor execution of ITIL could as much cripple a business with inappropriate adherence to process and unecessary expense.

If executed (adapted and adopted) well then ITIL can theoretically help drive business value in a few areas;
- improved service quality creating more revenue (business value)
- optimized cost structure (better profit) through management to service levels, financial management etc..
- increased flexibility/responsive to meet market/business pressures due to a alignment between IT service delivery and business requirements and effective us of IT infrastructure

I also blogged some of these issues in;

Brad Vaughan

Hey Spam Watcher!!!

Hey Spam Watcher!!! Where are you now? Why aren't you abusing our friend Buraddo for blog-dropping like you did me? For one of two reasons: either you've finally wised up that this is normal and useful behaviour on the Web (my attempted nettiquette lessons have had a month to sink in which might just be enough), or because your real issue was with me personally (my preferred theory).

Is the value of ISM the same as the value of ITIL 3

I like the suggestions, but my question would be which of the value propositions, if any, does ITIL 3 specifically provide the tools to deliver?

In the worst case IT managment lack the talent to recognise the key elements of ITIL that will get them out of the mess -in fact they probably lack the ability to work out they are in a mess. ITIL3 seems to make it very hard to identify the "mandatory" elements of basic service managment.

In the best case the IT department will look at a variety of sources of best practice, from general management thinking not just the IT world, and synthesis them to create a tailored solution. They probably won't waste time going through the books in detail, but will grasp the big picture view put forward in seminars and articles.

So that leaves the second group as the target audience - will they find what they are looking for?

And what exactly are the

And what exactly are the mandatory elements of service management?

Hence the inverted commas!

By putting Mandatory into inverted commas I was drawing attention to my own opinion that these aren't defined, but perhaps should be.

I think it was something I would have liked to have seen in ITIL 3 - clear guidance on the things that you have to do if each process/capability/function is to be effective, with some variation perhaps to allow for ITIL Lite in a small organisation. You could argue that ISO20000 sets out the mandatory requirements, though in its present incarnation I personally feel it is stronger on the meta process than the practical points of operating the processes. Another alternative is COBIT, of course, which in many SOX compliant organisations is treated as being mandatory in part.

Of course opening up the question of what should be mandatory would probably lead to a fierce debate.

fierce debate

"Of course opening up the question of what should be mandatory would probably lead to a fierce debate." Hope so!

No substitute for good management.

I really like Skeptic's three points.

I don't agree that good management won't go through the whole of ITIL v.3. There's lots of repeated material, it's really not that much stuff. Good managers study a lot of materials, ITIL is an increasingly important management structure, I think you seriously underestimate just how informed and involved good management generally is.

After consulting on IT Service and Asset Management with hundreds of the biggest companies, there's one unequivocal fact I've observed - companies get the success they want. Success with ITSM is about will, problem solving and persistence. Good practices and technology are significantly over-emphasized.

There is just no substitute for good management. Admiral Hyman Rickover said, "Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous impatience. Once implemented they can be easily overturned or subverted through apathy or lack of follow-up, so a continuous effort is required."

Good managers


I've worked for a major management consultancy, a niche ITIL consultancy and a management school, and like you I agree that good managers spend a lot of time scouting out and understanding ideas. My point was specific to the ITIL 3 books - the effort involved in going through them in detail is going to put even good managers off, whereas both ITIL 1 and ITIL 2 were managable and digestable. As you say, a lot of content in v3 is repeated, and a lot of it is a rehash or precis of other management theories that managers will have come across elsewhere in their original form. In other words I was being critical of V3 rather than making a general statement about good managers.

Where I really agree with you is "companies get the success they want" or perhaps deserve would be a slightly better term. I could list a lot of reasons why attempts to follow ITIL fail, but I'm sure the biggest factor of all is the overall quality of the IT management team.

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