Don't freak out. ITIL isn't mandated.

ITIL is a collection of best practices that is designed to enable 'adaptation' into your world -- not brute force

Q: What is it about ITIL that it's so irritating?  The possibility that it's right? -- D.D. (location unknown)

A: Exactly! David DeJean wrote this blog in this magazine yesterday, based on a story that James Rogers wrote in Byte and Switch titled "ITIL Irritates IT Managers." In short, the debate is a perfect microcosm of the disconnect between IT and the "business." Even better, it was all started by me.

Last week, I presented at the Storage World Conference in Boston (DeJean made the mistake of crediting ESG with running the conference, but alas, we were just small parts) on the topic of Enterprise Infrastructure Abstraction. Somewhere in my brilliant dissertation, I got onto the subject of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) and ITSM (IT Service Management ), which have become two of my favorite discussion points. Apparently, Rogers was in attendance and heard me (correctly) state that IT folks in the U.S. needed to get ready and get smart about the concept of ITIL/ITSM because it's going to be upon us sooner rather than later. As I always try to do, I attempted to break down what ITIL is and isn't, and what I felt IT folks needed to know about it. As often occurs, I created controversy -- which I also love.

Both authors are exactly correct. Rogers rightly captured the mood and reticence of the IT world, which knows what it is like when senior management gets a big idea. And, ITIL is a big idea. Big ideas almost always end up being the tail wagging the dog when it comes to IT. Misconception is the root of many of the problems that create the chasm between IT and the business, and this was a wonderful illustration. Paraphrasing one IT pro, he said that IT was already overburdened, overwhelmed and underappreciated, and being forced into an ITIL compliance exercise would be awful. DeJean correctly pointed out that there is no such thing as ITIL "compliance," and therefore the IT community should mellow out. He further correctly pointed out that ITIL is a collection of best practices that is designed to enable "adaptation" into your world, not brute force.

So the crux of the biscuit (technical term) is that no one knows what the heck anyone else is talking about. My original point is that because we speak different languages (IT and the business), we end up misinterpreting intentions, which gets us into an even larger gap and pushes IT further from the business.

ITIL is a fantastic idea that will add great value, consistency, and improved discipline into chaotic distributed computing environments. If the business and IT actually sat down and listened to each other, and came to an agreement that process consistency and discipline were good things, then an ITIL exercise would benefit the entire organization with no downside whatsoever. However, it only takes one misperception to cause an uproar and defeat the entire plan. If some senior vice president hears from some other senior vice president about the wonders of ITIL without really understanding what it is other than thinking it's going to be mandated by the government, prompting him to demand that everyone in IT become ITIL-certified, well, bad things are going to happen. If IT hears the ITIL term and thinks it's another ISO9000 exercise on top of their attempts to be compliant with Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) rule modification 87.4, they might just revolt.

So, before everyone freaks out about the next crazy thing to come down the pike, I suggest we all take a step back and try to understand what is really being asked of us. In this case, the concept of ITIL is simple: it provides a framework of best practices with the ultimate goal of enabling IT services to be delivered consistently, at a known (ever-decreasing) cost, and at a guaranteed service level. It seems simple enough, though today it can't ever happen due to the restrictions of infrastructure, which was really the point of abstraction to begin with. Until everything is connected to everything, and all those things are entirely abstracted from the user/application so that change has zero negative effect, we will never be able to really deliver on the promise of IT as a business, or a utility, or whatever you want to call it.

Of course, we can't even get to that argument since by the time you got to this point you missed the overriding point and instead are focusing on whether or not David's blog really is a blog at all, or if it's an article. And, by the way, why does he spell it with a capital 'J' anyhow?

Perhaps we'll never solve any of these problems without industry wide ADD medication. What was I talking about again?

Steve Duplessie founded Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in 1999 and has become one of the most recognized voices in the IT world. He is a regularly featured speaker at shows such as Storage Networking World, where he takes on what's good, bad -- and more importantly -- what's next. For more of Steve's insights, read his blogs.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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