Why ITIL is IT-centric not customer-centric

Despite all the fine words, ITIL is clearly still a body of knowledge written by IT geeks for IT geeks and focused inward on IT. It has as much to do with the customer as a blue-print for a ship has to do with fishing.

ITIL has advanced us from being technology-centric to being service-centric but I think it still has a way to go to be customer-centric. In ITIL we use customers to define services but we use them as some external reference not as an active part of all our systems. They are there in the distance, at the beginning and/or end of processes, on the outside.

Way back when I wrote Who does the service desk serve, in the comments Oskar challenged me to name "some internal-centric (inside-out) aspects of ITIL". I replied:

Um... most of it.

  • Where is the Customer Relations function?
  • Where is the customer involvement in the CAB? In Incident? Major Incident? In Release?
  • How many mentions of the Service Catalogue are there in the five books?
  • How many metrics and KPIs are determined and measured by the customer?
  • Where are any mentions of corporate governance of IT?

Perhaps readers would like to name some more indicators of how ITIL V3 is an inside-out, self-centric framework?

I'm fascinated by the number of IT people who just don't get this, who just can't step outside and look back in and see the back of ITIL's head as it gazes at its own navel.

How would IT look if it were run like a five-star hotel? Or if that sounds too expensive, like Starbucks?


I think the very fact you're

I think the very fact you're asking this question is itself an indicator of the self-defeating tendency of engineers to try and reduce relationship-based interactions to a simple process or model.

In other words, I think the question is nonsense. From my viewpoint, ITIL is an attempt to bring some governance, visibility, accountability and discipline to a complex set of engineering-style functions. It specifies a framework which establishes - if nothing else - a common language and set of processes in order that management can gain a sense of control and visibility into what "IT" is doing.

Customers fit completely outside this model. Customers are not logical. Customers do not know what they want. Customers cannot be trusted to reliably describe their own experience. In short, the care and feeding of customers is an activity best left to experts - in other words, people who work for IT but do not originate in that world.

In comparison to the political animals which make up other departments in any organisation, IT is usually a bunch of babes in the wood. Those unique individuals who can engage with engineering types AND the business world and effectively convey information between them are rare and like gold. If you get a good one, hang onto them.

The issue I see is that any IT department should be engaging with the rest of the organisation as a strategic partner. It should be actively involved in presenting full solutions to the organisation based upon a detailed analysis of business goals and processes. It should not be supplying a frammenwanger, simply because someone in the business world decided they needed one.

In short, I see engagement with the customer as an incredibly political exercise which cannot be readily summed up or defined in a spec such as ITIL. The variance between what the customer thinks they've asked for and what IT thinks they require can be as disparate as various perceptions of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the final analysis, customer satisfaction depends upon a number of factors, many of which are based upon presentation and perception. Attempting to somehow bring the customer into otherwise (we would hope) smoothly flowing operational processes is not only fraught with peril, it shows a deep misunderstanding of how customer satisfaction is actually achieved.

How much framework is necessary?

I am asking myself "how much framework is really necessary?"

At my workplace, we are gradually aligning what we do more and more to the various standards & frameworks, but also trying to "remember the customer" with activity in the area of:

1) Net Promoter Score (how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague)
- leveraging off the good things (what the end user and customer "Promoters - 9-10/10" say)
- turning Passives into Promoters (7-8/10) (ask them what could we do to make you score us a 9-10?)
- asking what Detractors (0-6) what it is that we should stop doing
We completely park the ITIL/ISO/CoBIT mumbo-jumbo to the side - get the feedback in the user/customer's own words, then try to act on it.

2) Analysing customer centric and also internal "Moments of Truth"
ie: what JOINT outcomes and BEHAVIOURS are important and when to they happen?
Some "hidden" stuff (much of the ITIL and Ops stuff) happens in the background and is honestly not the user or customer's concern, but there are plenty of touch-points where we can stuff things up - either directly or indirectly.

3) Focused CSI initiatives around 4 key areas implied in ITIL but often ass-u-me d:
Interpersonal (more constructive, less aggressive/defensive)
Expectation Setting (across the SM lifecycle)
Knowledge (especially knowledge ofthe business)
Performance (relating customer outcomes to IT Mgt KPIs->measures etc)

Yes, these are simply marketeer/customer service 101 techniques.
It is all Pantene stuff - won't happen overnight, but if we persist, it will happen (I hope).

and you're right Wraith, the above sorts of things are led by non-engineering people working in IT... But you'd be surprised how well Gen X & Y techoes are reacting to a sometimes different perspective on why they come to work.

20 cents worth.

So it's not the cloud

Compelling look at ITIL and ITSM. Kind of stating the obvious, unfortunately, we usually miss the obvious until it is pointed out. Plain and simple, the reach and influence of ITIL is and may stay hamstrung because it is so IT focused. We can expand in and out of Operations to other IT Disciplines (Portfolio, Project, Strategy, Costing, etc...), but our reach and influence hits a brick wall in way too many cases with the Business side of the house.

As a side note, I think what we are seeing is that it won't be the cloud that will ultimately lead to ITIL's untimely death, it will or should be Business Process Management. BPM, if and when they finally realize that IT is important and mission critical to success, should purchase, recreate, come up with a better set of IT related processes or through hostile takeover, take the reigns of ITIL from a kicking and screaming Castle ITIL and fit it in appropriately to the business process that we keep hammering on the door of...

The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that in the long (hopefully shorter) run, this must/should/can/needs to happen... Otherwise, ITIL (and ITSM for that matter) starts with IT - we're pigeon-holed, typecast, etc...


BPM is a "process optimization process." While process optimization is good, it is still about the process.

It seems to me that for the next 5 years or more, we'll see progressive companies execute a rapid change from IT as overhead to IT-as-a-Service.

Instead of organizing IT around a group of isolated, siloed, process-related functions, we'll see IT re-organize around services. They'll use the processes of ITSM as part of their way of doing business to provide their services.

Ian's outside-in approach will, I firmly believe, help these supporting services improve their ability ro provide customer focused services. Using ITSM governance (CobiT, etc.) defined processes (ITIL, USMBOK, ISO20k, etc.) will help us get more standardized. As Longfellow wrote, "We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, others judge us by what we have already done."

Organized management - BPM, work orders, BOM, WBSs that apply the ITSM processes - will help each supporting service provide consistent, reliable execution.

Effectively, IT will start running like a business within a business. With each of the supporting services knowing who their customers are, what services they offer, at what price / quality points Who their competition is (externally available services) what services they offer, and at what price / quality points.

Time for each service to show value. Comparisons to outsourced services or cloud-based applications will soon be made. As Michael Golhaber of Wired wrote, "If there is nothing special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself you won’t get noticed, and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much either."

It seems to me that we can have to strongly consider re-organizing around a daily demonstration of value and customer service. I don't think it that the status quo can hold under the pressure of information economics of the cloud.

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." --General Eric Shinseki, chief of Staff, U.S. Army

I think, quite simply,

I think, quite simply, outside-in thinking helps IT folks understand what investment in ITSM stuff is absolutely necessary.

Do the customer/user care whether someone has an all-singing & dancing CMDB? Doubtful.

OI lives....

Tom - thank you for lobbing in the net promoter stuff - important twist. As an outside-in thinking advocate for some years now its great to see some realism at last on the blogs. As I keep banging away at, "the path to service excellence leads through respecting and managing the customer experience of interacting with your products, services and organization".

In the Outside-In Service Management model I developed and use as a piece of 4x2, incident, change, configuration are all valuable support processes, just like a reservations system is to a hotel. They are largely invisible to a customer, a paying guest, unless they get in the way - and become visible for the wrong reasons!

As a customer, I expect certain things when I walk into a hotel. I don't necessarily need a service catalog (brochure) or an agreement to book a room. Yes, a shrink wrap contract of terms may flash by, and I may visit a (service) portal - a website to research hotels and choose... (did I hear user experience design...?), but I do not need to learn a whole new language to be a customer.

Herein may lie another problem for IT folks - trying to make the case for ITSM. Sounds like the hotel receptionist asking if I would pay more to allow them to get their reservation system to work....

Does it matter?

While I am sure this position is unpopular, does it really matter if ITSM Operations do not revolve around an end-customer?

Using the hotel analogy, what about the operations group who manages the fibre backbone for storage of the servers which perform marketing analytics for a hospitality organization, spanning hotels, resorts and cruises? Do this operations group need to have a focus on the actual paying customer? If they focused on the paying customer, would that divert their attention from the operations?

Who is the customer anyway? In the above example, is the customer the person booking a hotel room? Is it the hotel chain? The marketing group of the hotel chain? The datacenter group? The storage group? Does answering this question even help the fibre guys with their KPIs?

Who is the customer anyway?

You pre-empted my next blog post! Who is the customer anyway? Yes I think it is important that everyone be aware of who pays the piper, and no the customer of the ops group isn't the person checking into the hotel room.

On the other hand, I think your example is contrived. the ops group don't only manage fibre, and the fibre is not only used for storage, and the storage is not only used fro marketing analytics. The ops group likely have an enormous impact on the experience of staff and guests and that matters. You are drifting dangerously into cowboy country there padner!


Consumer (user), buyer (guy with the checkbook), decision-maker? We have so many customers to choose from.

> You pre-empted my next blog post!

Yeah, that was a little freaky.

> I think your example is contrived.

It was indeed.

> the ops group don't only manage fibre

Probably true. At the same time, given a sufficiently large and complex organization, there will be a group within a group within a group, etc. which focuses on something that specific.

> and the fibre is not only used for storage

Partitioning for performance and security may dictate application-specific or domain-specific fibre.

> and the storage is not only used fro marketing analytics.

See above.

> The ops group likely have an enormous impact on the experience of staff and guests and that matters.

We agree.

> You are drifting dangerously into cowboy country there padner!

Not sure I'm following you.

Yes, ITIL is for IT

I couldn't agree more.

ITIL is not just focused on the IT view, more specifically it is focused on the IT Operations view. Enterprise Architecture, Portfolio Management, IT Logistics, etc. - all virtually ignored or limited to the IT Operations viewpoint.

I've come to believe that's not a bad thing, to accept what I cannot change. Although it does provide a serious barrier when discussing IT customer service with ITIL zealots that see ITIL as the alpha and omega of IT.

To be fair, ITIL does briefly mention techniques like Lean and Six Sigma - that can be used to improve customer service. And, ITIL does discuss, the borrowed concepts of quality and costs.

I'm not so sure that this is an ITIL problem as much as it is a management philosophy problem and an implementation problem - an IT cultural problem. IT personnel have a tendency to be highly skilled technical problem solvers - that is their strength. We tend, as a group, to think in black and white, not gray, because of our career of needing to translate loose business rules into logic. We tend to think that tools will solve the problem.

Real success with ITSM is 75% policy and process. Real success with ITSM is not the internal processes, but improved outcomes for the "rest of the business." A focus on outside-in customer service techniques is vital to the perception of service. When IT management is actually charged with delivering outcomes for the business, not just technical solutions, then this will change.

As our customers, the "rest of the business", are increasingly presented with many more options for IT solutions by those who are, traditionally our suppliers, but have now, in actuality, become our career competitors (IBM, HP, CA, CompuCom, ACS, Oracle, Microsoft, etc.) by offering services directly to our customers - cloud, more discrete outsourcing, etc. - IT management will either compete for the "business", demonstrate value and competitive service pricing, or will be working for one of the providers.

Ironically, it is the very management that exhibits status quo bias and is resistant to change to a service-oriented structure, budget and chargeback - that is most likely to be superflous as companies rapidly increase their outsourcing and cloud usage.

The question of people

Cary brings us back to a basic issue.

IT workers are what they are. We recruit them because of that. You cannot expect a large percentage of them become a different kind of animal.
That. of course, is why many organisations put a service management layer between IT and the business, with the catalyst often being a shift to an outsourcing model, the supplier being managed by a business focused retained organisation.

James Finister

Those who do get it are part of the problem

I think you could argue that throughout the history of ITIL's development (and ISO 20k) one of the problems has been that those involved in developing it, and the early adopters, have very much got the concept of outside in thinking, but have either:

a) Taken it for granted that other people also get this,and that it is too obvious to be worth mentioning explicitly
b) Deliberately toned down the more revolutionary aspects of ITSM in order to encourage more widespread adoption

Once you are on the inside of "Castle ITIL" it becomes difficult to admit to the compromises.

Incidentally another indicator of how inward and backwards looking we are as an industry is the number of supposedly customer service centric IT conferences that I go to where the keynote speaker comes from the world of sport. Now some of them have great and relevant things to say, but it also promotes a macho competitive ethos that is very old skool IT.

James Finister

Sportsmen eh?

Going to any conferences with sportsmen soon Jimbo?


They think it is all over


Ha Ha.

I was aware of the irony that we might be interviewing a sportsman on an upcoming episode of the podcast when I made that comment. I don't choose the speakers, and it certainly isn't a reason why I am going to that event. I suspect it might have been a deciding factor for some attendees though.


James Finister

Syndicate content