Define ITIL for the IT layman

How do you define what ITIL is, in plain English? The IT Skeptic has a stab at it:

A bunch of folk over in the Open Management Consortium were discussing ITIL, and I felt some of them, coming from that distributed server techo background, didn't get it. So I took a stab at defining ITIL - a Quixotic quest I know but I quite liked the result if I say so myself.

You don't need ITIL to run a static environment where nothing goes wrong and nothing changes and nothing grows. ITIL has nothing to do with technology, nor can it be implemented with technology. ITIL is about how an organisation and the people within it respond to planned and unexpected variations in the environment, from outages to changes to growth. ITIL defines human behaviour.

Every organisation needs the processes ITIL describes. Every organisation already has them. ITIL is just one way of defining a standard approach to performing them. You may not need ITIL but every IT shop needs to be doing what ITIL describes, one way or another.

What do you think? How do you define ITIL without all the consultant-speak and ITIL-speak?


The alignment thing

How about;

"An attempt by a select few individuals to define a single set of requirements for people and process to deliver IT, no way based on real world implementability or practicality because organizations are a infinitely complex ecosystem which cannot be serviced by a static construct such as a book !" :) Just kidding

How about "A 'set of books' that attempts to document a set of 'guidelines' for the 'people and processes' required to match a organizations 'need for IT' with the 'resources available' to deliver."

Further definitions;
1) need for IT - defined in terms of quality, amount and type
2) guidelines - guidance which should not be taken as absolute or definitive
3) resources available - quality, quantity and type (people, technology, funding)

Tried to steer away from that "alignment" work you hate so much skep..

Brad Vaughan

I read recently someone

I read recently someone describingITIL as being more like the "Pirate Code" - a set of guidelines (for all you Pirates of the Carribean lovers).

The platform independent part of IT

One way I frame it when speaking professionally:

ITIL (or ITSM) is about technology concerns that don't change with technology advances. In fifty years, we may all be on optical-bus quantum computing communicating over wireless analog networks. Ethernet is a thing of the past and no-one remembers Unix. But we will still be assessing technology changes for risk, resolving incidents, managing capacity, and trying to financially account for it all. That is the essential value proposition of ITSM.

Charles T. Betz

Well said

Really well said Charles! I'm glad a found this website tonight, some great thinkers on here.


COBIT Definition

I like the definition which is provided with COBIT - “the framework for the leadership, organisational structures and business processes, standards and compliance to those standards, which ensures that the organisation's information systems support and enable the achievement of its strategies and objectives."

I don't believe it is COBIT specific in the least; in fact it applies to any framework such provides governance.

the plain English test

It might explain COBIT and ITIL but it fails the plain English test. Consultant-babble if you ask me, sorry. Same as "seeks to make the IT organisation more responsive to the business needs and to help demonstrate value". What IS ITIL? What does ITIL DO?


Agreed that a definition beyond the consultant babble is required however we live in a world where consultant babble is what, generally, achieves CxO buy in. A clearer definition of what and how is something the organisation should establish within it's own context. Often what and how changes as the organisation maturity increases.

Layman definition

Great explanation.
Just a minor quibble: Instead of "nor can it be implemented with technology", I think what you mean is "nor can it be implemented with _just_ technology", since there a lot of tools that are mission critical to effective ITIL. That said, you're point is taken that it's a governance framework and not a set of technologies.

Returning your quibble

Returning your quibble: Name one technology that is "mission critical to effective ITIL". Many technologies make the process more efficient. A few make them more effective. None are critical to achieving basic effectiveness. You can run ITIL with a good notebook, spreadsheet or pad of Post-It Notes.

Sure it is harder. It might be more error prone. You probably would struggle to get to maturity five :-D But no technology is critical to the ITIL processes.

ITIL & Techies

I agree, the focus should be moved to people and processes, since usually involved people tend to solve everything with technology. And all three - people, processes and technology - should matter.
Paper and pen, spreadsheets, post-its - are also technologies. It's only sad that most of the ITIL implementations first revolve around tool choice, and only later processes and people problems are considered. At the end of the day, it's not important what you do, but who implements your tool.

And also...

Sorry, I forgot to mention: the way I see it, ITIL is all about customer satisfaction, or quality perception. As all service business should be.

you have left out that ITIL

you have left out that ITIL seeks to make the IT organisation more responsive to the business needs and to help demonstrate value (which is what service management is all about, IMHO)

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