Is ITIL® doomed to being an “Operations Only” Framework?

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Many organizations have attempted to establish IT Service Management (ITSM) following guidance found in ITIL[1] , but focused only on the operational aspects of the IT organization.

Then those organizations become frustrated that ITSM isn’t working as well as they had hoped.

Why isn’t ITSM working as hoped?  Because the service strategy, service design, and continual improvement phases of ITSM have been largely ignored.  Some aspects of service transition, like change management, knowledge management, and configuration management, have been addressed — but often not very well.  But service operation aspects, like a service desk and incident management, are fairly well-defined.  A “service catalog” – really a portal for managing service requests – is sometimes present, but often lacks distinct (if any) request models.

Frankly, it’s usually been a commendable effort, typically led by an IT Operations organization, in an attempt to establish ITSM and bring some normalcy and consistency into IT.  But many of those efforts ran into a glass ceiling.

What is IT Operations?

Wikipedia defines IT Operations as consisting of the superset of all processes and services that are both provisioned by an IT staff to their internal or external clients and used by themselves, to run themselves as a business.[2]

IT Operations focuses primarily on areas such as:

  • Working with IT Applications, troubleshooting application and performance issues, and specialized integrations
  • Database Maintenance
  • Job scheduling
  • Network Infrastructure
  • Server and Device Management
  • Help Desk – providing user and IT application support
  • Computer operations

Make no mistake – all of these areas are critical for providing business technology enablement.  But to be effective, ITSM has to be more than IT Operations.

Can ITIL be more than Operations?

ITIL was intended and designed to be more than operations.  The core concept of ITIL is to relate IT services to business outcomes and value – from ideation to retirement. But many ITSM implementations based on ITIL didn’t connect what IT does to business outcomes and value. What were some contributing factors for those  implementations?

  • A training industry focused more on certifications, less on how to achieve tangible business value.
  • ITSM tools that were focused on managing day-to-day activities, and less on how ITSM enabled or supported business strategy.
  • Implementation plans that were more focused on managing-by-procedure than on producing measurable business impact and results.
  • IT management looking for “quick fixes” or to “grease the squeaking wheels” of business colleagues’ complaints regarding the services from IT, rather than take the longer (and more valuable) approach to becoming a business innovator, leader, and partner.

Perhaps those IT organizations would’ve been better served utilizing ITOM.

ITOM vs. ITSM – What’s the difference?

ITOM, or IT Operations Management, deals with the day-to-day tasks related to the management of overall infrastructure components, and specific individual application, storage, networking, and connectivity elements of a total IT stack in any given deployment scenario.[3]

ITOM is infrastructure-oriented; primarily concerned with managing the infrastructure components of an IT organization, such as storage, servers, and network.  ITSM is service-oriented; that is, ITSM is concerned with the value chains of people, process, and technology that work together to deliver defined business outcomes and value.

So, while ITSM is concerned about technology, it’s not *just* the technology.  It’s also the people and processes and business outcomes and value – in other words,  services.

The concept of a service is the exact issue where so many operations-focused ITSM implementations fell short.   Those implementations did not define services in terms of business value and outcomes, but rather as lists of things that IT does.  Rather than identify and define the value chains of people, process, and technology that deliver business outcomes and value, they conducted an infrastructure discovery, and called was what found “services”.

Think about it.  When you’re conducting a discovery to build up your ITSM environment, what you’re really doing is taking an infrastructure approach, not a service approach. You’re chasing and recording how an electron travels across a wire. A discovery will never find service assets like processes, documentation, service level agreements, businesses cases, business strategy, service requirements, or a service portfolio.

What’s best for you – ITSM or ITOM?

For some organizations, ITSM may not make sense.  Trying to implement ITSM may not make sense for IT organizations that:

  • Are unable to properly define services
  • Will always be viewed as a “cost center”
  • Do not have a seat at the business strategy table
  • The development and operations teams resist collaboration
  • All that is expected from IT is to take orders and keep the lights on

For these organizations, ITOM may be the better approach – and that’s okay. Managing IT infrastructure in a consistent, reliable, and repeatable way is critical for businesses, and ITOM provides great guidance for doing just that.

But if your IT organization wants to transform not only itself, but the business it serves, then a service-oriented approach – ITSM – is what you need.  But getting ITSM started is not easy.  Sustaining ITSM is just as difficult.   But good ITSM must start from the top – and must have executive business support.

Think like a business exec

While bottom-up, grass roots approaches may have some initial success, such approaches rarely achieve the full potential of good ITSM. Good ITSM must be driven from the top-down. You must have business executive support.  To get business executive support, you have to think like a business executive.  A business executive wants to know things like how ITSM will:

  • Help the business be more profitable
  • Improve productivity
  • Optimize costs

In other words, what is the financial impact of ITSM implementation?  This is the first question you must be able to answer – and not having the answer is a blocker.  You won’t get the chance to even discuss the nontangible benefits of ITSM.  To get that top-down support, you have to first think like a business executive.

Here’s a suggested approach for getting the business executive approach support you need.

  • Conduct a business impact analysis – This is a great way to get some attention to the problems that good ITSM can solve. What if the business suddenly lost its IT capabilities?  What would be the impact? A business impact analysis quantifies the impact to the business if IT services were not available.
  • Build the business case – The business impact analysis provides the cold, hard facts. Take those facts and put them into the proper context with a solid business case. Not only depicting the tangible and intangible returns from ITSM – but what will the business feel from ITSM?  Improved productivity?  Cost avoidance?  Improved profits?  Make the case – and sell it!
  • Define services – How is value generated and delivered to the customer – the real customer (not your colleagues) – within your organization? Now how does IT enable or support that generation and delivery of value?  When you answer those questions, you have defined services.  When you’ve truly defined services, you’ve enabled the “value” conversation – a conversation that your business executives want.

Without senior executive support, your ITSM implementation will never move beyond managing the day-to-day.  The impact of good ITSM must be felt in the executive suite – and the only way for that to happen is for ITSM to deliver real business value.  Make the business value of ITSM extremely clear using the tips above – and get your senior executives onboard.

Are you missing senior executive support? Need some help building the ITSM business case?  Perhaps you need to identify and define services?  Tedder Consulting can help – contact us today!

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

[1] ITIL is a registered Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited.

[2] , retrieved 10/28/2017.



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8 thoughts on “Is ITIL® doomed to being an “Operations Only” Framework?”

    1. Thanks Dan for reading the post and for your comments. Having the proper executive support for any business initiative is critical; not having it often separates the effective ITSM implementations from those that struggle (or even fail!). If an organization is not ready for ITSM, ITOM makes a lot of sense, as modern businesses are critically dependent on the use of technology, and IT must deliver the reliability and consistency that ITOM guidance describes.

  1. Nice article, hits the nail on several areas where it hurts. I have worked over 15 years in these areas and from personal experience the number two primary reasons are IT still does not see itself as just one of the links in the business service chain. And therefore remains talking about technology, IT processes and IT methods only, while they should act as being equally responsible for the end product and how IT processes best fit into the business processes. In other words IT should stop seeing themselves as a separate identity whom everyone depends on an whom everyone has to confirm to. Second reason is that Business executives still do not understand that pro-active service management is the number one tool that helps prevent unplanned and unwanted issues and downtime. In other words when they would invest in problem management and CSI, the number of incidents, and the costs that go with it, would reduce. Resulting that users and the business will no longer see IT departments as being problem generators. If IT people would be a little less arrogant and if management would have the guts to see the advantages of pro-active service management, the business and end users would see IT less as a burden and more as a blessing.

    1. Appreciate your comments, but I would have to disagree. ITIL is not just operational – please have a read of the books. Having said that, many organizations have only implemented the ‘operational aspects’ of ITIL – which reflects a challenge of adopting and adapting any framework….when an organization only ‘cherry-picks’ what it wants to do without recognizing or thinking about the impact of those decisions, the use of the framework is incomplete. ITIL is not the only way to deal with service strategy, service design, and continual improvement – so if an organization doesn’t want to leverage ITIL guidance in those areas, that organization better adopt and adapt or implement other approaches to address those aspects.

    1. While ITIL is not perfect (but then again, what is?), it is too bad that ITIL concepts have not been applied more holistically in many ITSM implementations. For many organizations, just enough ITIL was done to address some of the pain, but not to the degree to really drive efficiency and effectiveness throughout the IT organization. Thanks for your comments and for reading the post!

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