Since the UK Government transferred ITIL (and the rest of their best management practice portfolio) to AXELOS there have been lots of suggestions about what they should change. I’ve been involved in discussions about the future of ITIL with many people, face-to-face and in social media, and there is clearly a lot of passion as well as many creative ideas. This article is my contribution to the ongoing debate.
Three is the magic number
When I think about ITIL, I think of three distinct things, and it is really important to distinguish these, and to make sure we plan what is needed for each of them.
- A body of knowledge that can be used by IT organizations to help them create value for their customers. This body of knowledge is available in the form of five core publications, plus a number of complementary publications, but I think of knowledge as something that lives in people, that they can use to do something useful. In this sense, ITIL really is owned by the huge community of service management practitioners who use it to inform decisions about how they will plan, build and run IT services.
- A collection of training courses that people attend to develop their knowledge, understanding and competence. These courses are based on the ITIL publications, and often lead to certification, but they are distinct from both of those. The purpose of the training should be to help people develop knowledge, understanding and competence that they can use to help them improve how they manage IT services to create value for their organizations or customers.
- A set of exams that are used to certify that people satisfy the requirements of specific syllabuses. These exams are used to demonstrate that people have knowledge of ITIL when applying for jobs or tendering for contracting opportunities.
One mistake I have seen in many discussions is to confuse two of these things. If we don’t look at the requirements for each of them separately then we will never plan well, but if we plan them each independently that won’t work either!
Here is what I would like to see in each area.
Body of Knowledge
The body of knowledge has a number of problems which should be addressed in a future release.
- It needs to adapt to a rapidly changing world. It doesn’t offer sufficient guidance in areas such as Supplier Integration and Management (SIAM), integration across the service lifecycle (ITIL service design has virtually nothing about application development for example), management of complex virtual and cloud environments, and many other areas. It would be great if ITIL could adopt ideas such as Rob England’s Standard+Case for example.
- Even though the 2011 edition fixed many inconsistencies, there are still some contradictions between how terms are used in the different publications and how inputs, outputs and interfaces are defined.
- The books are very long, and somewhat repetitive. It is a huge challenge for most people to actually read them!
The ITIL body of knowledge also has a number of great features which I would hate to lose. Probably the best feature of ITIL is that it is NOT a standard, it is a narrative. It tells stories and provides examples of how other organizations have done things that can be copied. Any future development of ITIL must retain this narrative approach.
I think we could resolve the issues with the ITIL body of knowledge by defining a service management architecture. This could be done at a fairly high level and would allow us to simultaneously define a lifecycle, and processes, and many other views and ways of thinking about service management.
The architecture could show how the bits fit together without providing excessive detail of how each part works. We could then charter authors to write narrative that fits within the architecture. This would retain the narrative approach that ITIL does so well but put it within a more formal structure which would improve consistency.
It would also allow for different narratives that could even contradict each other, that fit within the same architecture. For example there might be different descriptions of incident management for use in a complex multi-supplier environment and an in-house IT department.
I don’t think we should be in too much of a hurry to create a new version of ITIL, it’s more important to get this stuff right than to get it fast, but I would love to see AXELOS working towards this vision of a properly architected approach to IT service management, especially if they can adopt the ideas I have previously suggested in ITSM Knowledge Repository – proposal for ITIL owners to ensure that we get input from the widest possible community of ITSM practitioners.
I see many different problems with ITIL training courses:
- In my opinion they are too focused on the exams rather than on helping people to develop knowledge, understanding and competence. There are some very good training providers, but price pressure in the market drives many of them towards lower cost, shorter, exam-focussed courses.
- People often leave the courses with a complete misunderstanding of what ITIL is, and how it could be used to help create value for their customers.
- Due to the above issues, many people think that ITIL is a rigid framework of bureaucratic processes, this leads to some very poor practices that don’t provide value to anyone.
- Very large numbers of people attend ITIL Foundation, which is often simply an exercise in cramming facts. There is a lot of material to learn in a fairly short time, and only a very talented trainer can motivate people to really care about creating value for customers while communicating this amount of information in the time available.
- Almost all of the courses focus on ITIL exam syllabuses. These may not be appropriate for everybody in the organization, and many people would be better off with more focused training that teaches them how the things they do contribute value and how they could improve their practices.
There are a number of things that could be done to improve ITIL training. I would like to see more training organizations provide courses that focus on how ITIL can be used to create value, rather than on fact-cramming. I love the ITSM simulations created by G2G3 (and other organizations), and I am very encouraged that Capita (the majority owner of AXELOS) now also own G2G3.
I think the main thing that is needed to improve ITIL training is to somehow separate it from the exam system. We could do with some really good marketing of non-examined training courses that help practitioners develop the knowledge, understanding and competence that they need to create value for their customers.
I don’t think the ITIL exams should be changed in the short term. It will take a long time to create a new version of ITIL, especially if AXELOS follow the suggestions I have made above, and I think that making significant changes to the exam system before there is a new version of ITIL would create significant problems for the market. It would take more than a year to create a new exam system, and training organizations would then have to create new courses.
There would be confusion over the value of the retired exams; training organizations would incur a huge expense to create new courses for the same expected revenue; and if there is an expectation of a new version of ITIL in 3 to 5 years then the ITIL exam market may stall completely. These issues are amplified by the need to release exams and training courses in many languages to support the worldwide community.
In parallel with work to create a new version of ITIL, I think that AXELOS should work with all the stakeholders in the exam system to understand what is working well and what could be improved. The first step of this should be to identify the correct stakeholders. We talk to exam institutes and training organizations, but spend far too little time trying to understand the needs of the organizations that use ITIL. AXELOS should talk to a wide range of IT organizations, IT recruiters, outsourcers and other users of IT service management about what they want from an exam system.
I think we should be working towards releasing a new version of ITIL, based on a formal architecture, in 3 to 4 years, and I think we should create a new exam system at the same time. Meanwhile we should help create more value in the short term by creating more innovative training courses that are not solely focused on the exams.