The state of ITIL

Some time ago I did some research for APMG on the state of ITIL. Now the resulting white paper has been published. What I actually did was a meta-analysis - a review of existing studies to consolidate the results. You can read the paper for yourselves, but I want to pick out a couple of points that especially interested me as I wrote it.

  1. Similar analyses of topics of academic interest frequently synthesise the results of hundreds of studies. I found 23 useful academic studies of ITIL and I looked pretty hard. "We found 12 studies that had some estimate of the adoption of ITIL". As I have always maintained, the true "scientific" evidence about ITIL is thin on the ground.
  2. "Using" ITIL or - worse - "doing" ITIL are ill-defined terms. They can mean anything. You can adopt ITIL by declaring "I hereby adopt ITIL". Done. "[Estimates of the adoption of ITIL] varied widely from 28% to 77%". Clearly "adoption" is a poorly defined metric.
  3. ITIL is still rocking. For all the anti-ITIL whining and nay-saying and downright hysteria from certain sectors (looking at you, DevOps), ITIL uptake shows little sign of slowing down. The numbers suggest more than 20% year-on-year growth in training (APMG official stats have grown compound annual 30% over the last ten years) and in organisations "using" ITIL (3 studies: 13%, 21% and 26%).
  4. ITIL still has room to grow. See the paper for the convoluted reasoning but "we would estimate that the actual level of adoption of ITIL is less than 57% (the mean) but more than 28%, the lowest result reported" ... i.e. once you allow for sampling biases, somewhere between 30% and 60% of organizations use ITIL. "Two studies suggest that only 10% of organizations surveyed strictly or thoroughly use ITIL". I believe that sounds about right.
  5. I can't resist: "One study suggests fully-fledged, accurate and updated CMDBs or CMSs are not common, occurring in perhaps 10% of organizations … or less, depending again on what population you consider." Yes, the 5-Percent Club, as predicted here.

Thank-you APMG for giving me the opportunity to do this work. it was fun and interesting - I hope you feel the same about the resulting white paper.


A double-standard?


I enjoyed skimming the paper -- one of the few level-headed documents regarding ITIL that I have seen. I do have to comment on your continuing rant that only 5% have fully implemented a CMDB (which may be true) implying that a CMBD is useless (which probably is incorrect).

As you say of ITIL in general, "the flaws don't matter" which is another way of saying, "ITIL sucks less than the alternatives" or more politely, "ITIL is less ineffective than the alternatives." The alternatives would include the status quo.

I would suggest that the same is true for a CMDB. It sucks less than the alternatives, which is far from declaring a CMDB as the answer to all things in ITSM.

Looking at it another way, it would not surprise me if the number of shops which have fully embraced ITIL is near zero. The zero percent club?

As always, your work was good analysis and I thank you for sharing.


CMDB is useless

I don't think a CMDB is useless. It would be great to have one. An Aston Martin DB9 wouldn't be useless either.

For 95% of IT shops, including those with one staff member, a CMDB is over-expensive and over-engineered. There are better uses for limited resources of time and money. THAT's what I mean by the 5% Club. The reason i "rant" about CMDB is because the vendors don't say that. Oh no! the implication is that you are in some way deficient if you don't have one, and all your incidents will disappear in seconds if you do.

A CMDB doesn't suck less than the alternatives, not if you evaluate it against the alternatives on all levels including ROI and portfolio management of projects. A CMDB only looks good if you narrow the criteria to tech features and sexiness. We must remember we are not here to buy toys, we are here to maximise value for our employers.

Careful analysis and interesting conclusions but ...

... as you said the resources used were of variable quality but you have made that absolutely clear. I was pleased to see that your academic paper was peer reviewed but very surprised to see that both the reviewers' and your comments were included in the paper instead of being used as the basis for adjustment of the paper. Was there a reason for this?


The paper was much adjusted on feedback from the reviewers. The comments included are additional opinions as background

Where's the beef

Ok showing up for this one.

Repeat business

Something else the global ITIL market can take comfort in is the mature UK market some organisations are "adopting ITIL" for the second or third time, sometimes more.

James Finister

Not only UK

Same thing happens everywhere. Adoption does not mean much. I think there is a difference with practicing.

Practicing is relatively easy to measure. One should not ask: "Have you implemented (adopted) ITIL Change Management?" Instead ask "How many change requests were submitted and what was your change success rate in 2011?"

A response like 5000 and 95% is a guess, so no process.


Bad Science

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" is an interesting and relevant read

In the early days of the EFQM I believe they did some research that showed how the Dunning-Kruger effect inflated self assessment scores from less mature organisations to a level that would be a major achievement for a world class organisation.

James Finister


The paper itself addresses the meaninglessness of "adopted" and points out that when asked about strictly adhering to ITIL, only about 10% put their hands up

I found this paper very

I found this paper very useful. The multiple snippets of additional opinions was also valuable. An excellent piece!

Interesting paper. Though I

Interesting paper. Though I notice it stops just short of two consequential questions:

1 - If the hype cycle is a predictive tool, does this mean there is a slope of enlightenment in ITIL's future? Or is there a different prognosis?

2 - Why does ITIL flourish? There aren't many topics in IT that remain relevant for decades. I can name only one other (maybe two). Is there a generalizable reason?

ITIL principles are timeless

For a formal white paper I was only willing to attempt analysis not prognostication or punditry (that's all I was engaged for too).

Yes I think we'll have a more moderate, mature view of ITIL in future and both extremes will fall away.

ITIL flourishes because it is useful. The flaws don't matter. ITIL is the hitchhiker's guide. And it is useful at a level that doesn't age. It talks about principles that are timeless (which is why predictions of it losing relevance are b.s.). I'll be discussing this at the South African conference.

clarification for Aale

Just for Aale; when I said "The flaws don't matter" I meant "The flaws in ITIL don't matter enough to practitioners that the flaws would reduce or reverse ITIL's uptake amongst the general population". Of course the flaws matter to me :) Half this blog is about the flaws in ITIL the content or ITIL the movement. But clearly they don't matter to the general IT population.

Syndicate content