A vision for ITIL

examSince 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Training Courses

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.

In summary

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.

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23 thoughts on “A vision for ITIL”

  1. I think the points above are excellent, particularly the part about not rushing to create the new version of ITIL. I was very excited about the multi-layered approach allowing for new concepts to make their way quickly to the table. One of my biggest issues with ITIL is the fact that it tends to be retrospective (many commentators sold ITIL v3 saying that ‘its what we have all been doing since ITIL v2)

    I also agree with the training course direction however I would add that it will be critical that, if the training is ‘off exam’ then it needs to have a way to be recognised as ultimately there is always that ‘on the cv’ requirement for people undertaking the training (for example a verified CPD for prISM etc). I am sure it could be successful without this but will be much more so if there is a known value attached to it.

    In terms of the exams. They are the lowest priority in my opinion but they do need work. Until I hit ITIL I had always been told that ‘exams are there to test your knowledge not to trip you up’ and then discovered that ITIL is the other way round. Slight wording differences, massive paragraphs to read through, it all feels like someone felt ‘clever’ when they designed the exams and decided to make them as nasty as possible.

    Exams are of debatable value (judging by industry discussion) and therefore there should be no issue with making them as straight forward as possible to allow candidates focus on the responses and not the ‘technique’.

    1. But the exams are the reason people buy the courses and exams bring the revenue to Axelos. I am afraid that the exam revenue will have the highest priority (as it has had before) and lowest priority is the usefulness of the content.

      1. I would echo what Aale did point out regarding exams. At the end of the day economics/ROI take precedence over value and that’s just being pragmatic.

  2. Agree on getting it right and not rushing in… and also feel that more people misunderstand ITIL than truly ‘get it’ causing longer term issues for organizations…. with that said, it’s always good to look for continuous improvement opportunities to adapt… great article Stuart…

    1. Thanks for the feedback Geoff. It’s a very long time since we last met. Let me know if you’re ever in London.

      1. Will do Stuart… it has been a while indeed… I usually get back once every 18 months or so… will catch up next time…

  3. Excellent read on your post as usual Stuart. Couple of my thoughts on the same lines
    It would take a paradigm shift to get Training Courses that provide more value (Specialized deep dive on various facets of ITSM) popular because organization still tie ITIL with exams and credentials to proclaim proficiency.
    While SIAM and other trends would need to be addressed in the upcoming versions, the basic appetite still revolves around the five core publications. It would be worthwhile to add complementary publications like we had it in ITIL V2 (7 Books) and have them optional for people who are advanced to take cues and move forward.
    I am definite proponent of the collective body of knowledge and initiatives that you had started on Knowledge repository must gather further momentum and strong collaboration providing value, for AXELOS to make it into their planned agenda.

    1. Suresh,

      You say that “the basic appetite still revolves around the five core publications” but I would challenge this. Let’s go and speak to the HR departments of big IT organizations and people in IT Recruitment and ask them what certification they would find useful when selecting employees or consultants to work in IT Service Management roles. I bet they don’t spontaneously answer “Certification on the 5 core ITIL books”


      1. Stuart, what I meant was that they still have ITIL Intermediate and ITIL Expert as preferred ones and all of the existing ITIL Certifications revolve around the 5 core books. Hope that clarifies my intent

  4. One aspect that needs serious attention is the application of processes.
    Time and again I am hearing ITIL ramblings without any consideration for the intent of maturation, improvement or alignment. I see dogmatic practitioners fighting for the need of IT Service Catalogs or Problem Management, without any business justifications for such intensive or expensive undertakings.
    How do we measure and evaluate experience vs. learning?

    1. Matthew, I let out a big sigh when I read “ime and again I am hearing ITIL ramblings without any consideration for the intent of maturation, improvement or alignment”

      We really do have to seize the concept of ITIL back from these idiots who do us, and their customers, such a dis-service.

  5. While the interests of the stakeholders in each of the three areas described by Stuart are not always congruent, they are nonetheless closely related to each other as parts of a developmental process. Rather than speak of training and examinations, I would think in terms of:
    – designing, building and evolving a service management body of knowledge
    – communicating that knowledge
    – validating the understanding of and skills in using that knowledge.

    Training – whether it be in a traditional face to face environment, mediated by technical means, or any of its more ludic versions – is merely one approach among many to communicating and acquiring knowledge. Doing and reading are only two of the many other channels that exist. Formal training, especially training based on a formal syllabus, has the double-edged impact of both interpreting and explaining what might be otherwise difficult to apprehend, but also misinterpreting messages and deluding students into believing that they know something, but do not.

    The validation of the transfer and understanding of knowledge, in the form of a multiple choice examination, is similarly double-edged. It gives the illusion of being objective while at the same time being largely divorced from practical realities. It has been noted by Michael Imhoff Nielsen that one can succeed very well at many ITIL examinations without being able to manage services. Surely, validating that one is a good service manager is far more important than aceing an exam. So let’s not be blinkered by the historical approaches to the validation of knowledge.

    I would add to Stuart’s vision the concept of a standard way of managing services. If we are ever to attain the levels of maturity that exist in other disciplines, there needs to be some norms in place. I am not talking about a quality system, such as described by ISO 20000-1. I am talking about something much more concrete, along the lines of the debits, credits, charts of accounts and journals that are some of the components of generally accepted accounting practices. To continue with the analogy, I suppose that it is theoretically possible to design a system that fairly and accurately represents the financial status of an organization, other than the internationally accepted practices in use today – but why should we want to do that? Similarly, in service management we need to start getting away from a situation where the answer to every question about how to do things starts with, “It depends…” In a mature discipline, there are a lot of things that are simply not up for grabs. It doesn’t depend on anything (except wanting to honest and law-abiding). In short, we need to be able to say in many cases, “It doesn’t depend on anything – this is the way you have to do it.”

    I would close by emphasizing that I have not yet seen a reason to treat IT service management any differently from the management of any other services. We can only benefit in IT from opening our eyes and ears to other service domains and building a shared foundation and practices shared among all types of services.

    1. Robert,

      I do think that training and certification have different purposes and need to be considered separately, but I agree that there is a lot of overlap and they also need to be considered together.

      I also have a lot of sympathy with your comments about the need for a more professional approach to service management, but we do need to be careful not to make things too complex. Simply is nearly always better then perfect.

  6. Great article, I agree with all of it. Btw the possibly official complementary guidance for SIAM and ITIL is being developed as we speak by a friend of Stuarts 🙂

  7. Stuart,

    Nice job!

    I 100% agree with your point on

    “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”.

    When students graduate the cert courses they are like college grads…certified in theory but not certified in application of that theory (regardless of what people say or promote there is not enough time in a 3 or 5 day program to share any useful practical application ideas).

    This is the where the opportunity is. Right now the solution is to hook your cart to a good organization and ITSM mentor and hope that over the next 10 years your certification knowledge turns into wisdom….hope is the magic word

    We need to turn hope into guarantee and we need to make it real time. Would love to discuss this with you in private as we have some really good things going on in this area that I cannot yet share in public

    1. Rick,

      What an intriguing post. Please come back and post more detail when you can share what you are doing.

  8. Stuart,
    As ever some really good points made. The “body of knowledge” is something that I feel needs to be continuously updated. Maybe they could compliment the 5 publications with an annual updated complimentary book or online publication that covers not only the improved ITIL/Business processes but updates to the world of IT in general. We work in an ever changing landscape and ITIL has to keep up. Additionally they could add updates that are in the pipeline….does this all sound familiar?

    Thanks to Chris Dancy, I’ve also read Rob England’s Standard+Case – I’d advise anyone who deals with incident and problem management to do so – it really does fill the gaps and you’ll probably be surprised to realise you already do it!

    I’d like to know if any training organisations out there make a point of teaching ITIL rather than focussing on the exams. I’ve always found the exams to be a distraction from the message and I would hazard a guess the training “experience” would be quite different.

    I really hope that future training provided will be somehow inspired by Capita’s acquisition of G2G3. This makes for the perfect recipe for learning and I only hope one day I get to “play” with a G2G3 simulation 🙂

    Something I have been impressed with is the endeavour Axelos are showing in getting out there amongst people like us involved in the world of ITSM – Tomorrow night (12 September) the BCS Service Management Specialist Group have organised an event with Axelos in Covent Garden – If anyone is interested, the details can be found on the Facebook Back2ITSM page.

      1. Stuart – thanks for the information, I’ll be checking those out. Shame you can’t make tonight.

        I will be recording the audio of the event tonight, making a rough audio (pod)cast – the Q&A should be especially good.

        I’ll pop a link on here and the Back2ITSM page when it’s ready to be downloaded.

  9. As usual, Stuart a well thought out piece. I am all for education and certification being treated on a different plain to ‘training’. I believe that service economies are missing a ‘big trick’ in not engaging with students early enough in the principles of service management. Helping to form opinions of service management at school and in further / higher education. That’s why GK are currently working with high schools and universities on projects in this area. Then (and only then) with graduates and young people qualified in the principles can the “training” market add real value in the form of experience to the mix. It’s a long term vision but a must if we are ever to be considered a true profession and career option.

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