Is ITIL another Y2K?

[This article has been podcast]

There certainly are some strong similarities.

Everyone jumped on the Y2K bandwagon. I spoke about Y2K to many audiences, including once for three hours to an audience of over 300 people in New Delhi, India, in about 1998. After the session there were the usual cluster of people wanting to talk further. Among them were three young men, looking terribly out of place among the otherwise Western-dressed audience in their battleship-grey shalwar kameez, the traditional shirt-hanging-out-and-baggy-pants blue-collar uniform of that region.

Their leader wanted to know my thoughts on how they could turn Y2K to advantage in their business. What do you guys do? He pressed a battered business card into my hand: they were diesel engine reconditioners. Mechanics from Jaisalmir.

Jaisalmir???!! You must have travelled a long time. Yes he says, we have been travelling since yesterday morning. They looked so eager for me to share the secret of infinite wealth with them. I assume they travelled back home a little wiser but no richer. Yes, everyone jumped on the Y2K bandwagon, or fell off while trying to get on.

Y2K became an industry in its own right. As momentum gathers, that very momentum becomes a powerful selling tool that few can resist. In other areas of business, I have told people a certain solution will take effort to do properly, or they should not undertake it at all, or even that it is impossible, only to watch less scrupulous vendors commend the outcome and take the business. If you can’t see some consulting firms and software vendors fanning the ITIL flames you need to stand back a bit and look again.

The Y2K industry raised the art of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt: a technique reportedly pioneered by IBM] to heights not seen before. Nor will we see them again, as the world is wiser and more cynical as a result. But they whipped the business world into a frenzy of spending. Everyone did it because everyone else was doing it. You were mad if you didn’t. Worse, you were risking the business.

Does ITIL feed on FUD? No, but it feeds on a different momentum founded on the implicit assumption that everyone should do ITIL because everyone else is. Is it a bandwagon? Absolutely. Are the vendors and consultants jumping on? For sure. It has become an industry, and the industry’s marketers learned a few techniques from Y2K for creating momentum.

So there are some interesting parallels with the Y2K phenomenon: the wave, the marketing frenzy, the “why aren’t you?” mentality. Hopefully we have learnt something from Y2K so as not to repeat our mistakes. Hopefully we have learnt not to get stampeded into anything.

We in the ITIL community must thank Y2K for generating the wave of interest in ITIL in the first place. It was the Y2K-induced budget blowouts that triggered much of the interest in transparency and business alignment that led us to ITIL, that and the collapse of change control systems when the Y2K freeze came off.

Equally we must beware the mines that Y2K has set for us. People are cynical about any IT project that has no clear ROI; that appears to be IT fixing stuff that should not have been broken in the first place; that sounds like it should be simple; that looks like this year’s big thing.

Do ITIL when you can see the benefits, when it delivers something tangible to the business, when you feel you ought to.

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