Do we still need ITIL?

I have seen many blogs and social media posts predicting the end of ITIL, so I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on whether we should still be using it.

Many years ago, IT was expensive and complex and only a few people understood it. IT departments consisted of people with great technical knowledge who told the business what they could have. These IT organizations were often inefficient and many of them had poor understanding of what their customers really needed.

The introduction of ITIL was the point where many IT organizations finally started to focus on providing services, rather than managing technology. At first ITIL had a very strong focus on processes and this helped IT departments do two things.

  • They improved the quality of the services they delivered
  • They reduced the costs of delivering those services

This was a very powerful combination. Every ITIL process that IT adopted helped them become more efficient and more effective – for example

  • Introducing incident management meant that they resolved incidents more quickly and they used fewer resources to do so
  • Introducing capacity management meant that they spent less on expensive IT resources while reducing the number of times they failed to meet business demand

At this time ITIL really helped IT departments to do what the business wanted, reduce costs and improve quality. Unfortunately many IT departments were so caught up in these wonderful new processes that they forgot why they existed. SLAs were seen as the absolute statement of what the customer would get, and nobody remembered that the purpose of IT was to create value for the business.

ITIL has always recommended that organizations “adopt and adapt” its ideas. This means that they should only use the parts of ITIL that make sense to their organization, and they should modify these to work in their specific context. Unfortunately many consultants and training organizations have presented ITIL as though it is a standard – “paragraph 3 on page 28 of this book says you must do this, so this is how you must work”. This has resulted in some very poor “ITIL implementations” which are seen as bureaucratic by IT staff and the business. These poorly designed ITSM processes often result in reduced costs for IT at the expense of their customers, who are seen as a problem rather than as the reason for IT existing.

The authors of ITIL recognized some of these problems, and with the introduction of ITIL V3 in 2007 they changed their emphasis. The purpose of an IT service was no longer just to deliver what was written in an SLA, it was to create value for the business, and everything was seen through this lens. The processes weren’t discarded, but these processes were now targeted at business value creation, and the new lifecycle approach included continual service improvement to ensure that services continue to meet the needs and expectations of the business.


So, where should you go next? One thing we really don’t want to do is go back to the bad old days of IT experts who manage the technology and tell the business what they can have.  We have to go forwards from where we are now. There are alternative approaches to ITIL that you can consider, for example COBIT 5 provides a high level description of the things that an IT department needs to do, and ISO/IEC 20000 is an auditable international standard for IT Service Management. The trouble is that these alternatives are more prescriptive, and they don’t give the level of detail that you need to adapt and adopt into your own IT service management system.

My advice is that you go back to basics. Make sure you understand the advice in ITIL and then use it to help you:

  • Improved the quality of the services you deliver
  • Reduced the costs of delivering those services
  • Ensure you create the value that your customers expect
  • Continually review and improve everything you do

If you approach ITIL with this mind-set then it can make an enormous contribution to your IT organization.

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