The question isn't "What is ITIL 4?" The question is "What is ITIL for?"
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
How many people, I wonder, remember the help desk software, SupportMagic, DOS version 1.5?
I began working with that software back in 1989 at a company in the St. Louis area. Although that project was abandoned due to the inordinate amount of network traffic the software would generate, over-taxing their .1 GBS T3, that experience led me to an “adult beverage” company to install and maintain SupportMagic for use by their computer help center.
SupportMagic - as all “help desk” tools at the time - was about opening “trouble tickets”, records of calls which came in usually via a telephone call.
In March of 1997, I attended a conference in Nashville, Tennessee put on by what was then called “The Helpdesk Institute”.
One of the vendor booths was occupied by Prolin, a company which sold a software product by the same name. I was greeted by Prolin employee, Paul Barringer, who explained that the Prolin software was designed and built to enable “ITIL”.
“Eye till?”, I asked. “What’s that?”
Paul explained that ITIL stood for “Information Technology Infrastructure Library” and was owned by a British Government agency, the CCTA or Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency. The "library" consisted of about 20 books which provided guidance (“best practice” they said) on how to organize and manage an IT organization.
During the software demonstration, he showed that in addition to opening a “trouble ticket” record (referred to as an “Incident record”), you could open and link a “Problem record” so someone could investigate why the incident happened, that is, find the “root cause”.
What a concept!
Having recently re-read Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” it dawned on me that this Prolin software and this “ITIL thing” was all about helping IT organizations to “Be Proactive” to better support the business!
Paul suggested I learn more about ITIL, sending me to the booth of a company with a another strange name: Pink Elephant.
A young man named David Ratcliffe enthusiastically explained ITIL and handed me a “pocket guide” which I began reading right away.
As I paged through the little booklet, I recall thinking, “This makes so much sense! This is going to catch on in no time. It’s so important to the business!”
Over the next several years, I saw 20 books condensed to seven, still referred to simply as “ITIL”. Two of those seven books stood out as the stars: a red-covered book named “Service Delivery” and a blue-covered book named “Service Support”.
2007 saw more than an upgrade, as ITIL was completely reconfigured based upon a “Service Lifecycle”, its guidance provided through five books named after each stage of said lifecycle: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement.
Now it was referred to as “ITIL V3”, which was updated and improved in 2011. Still referred to as ITIL V3, but with “2011 edition” tacked on to distinguish it as “new and improved”.
This year, 2019, introduces us to ITIL 4. Not ITIL VERSION 4, mind you. ITIL 4.
But in order to understand what is ITIL 4, it’s important to recall what is ITIL for.
And what is ITIL for?
The purpose of ITIL has never really changed but, curiously, has never fully been understood.
I’ve stressed often over the years that even though the letters “I” and “T” are in ITIL, it is NOT about IT.
ITIL is and always has been about the customers of IT, it is and always has been about the business.
The ever-increasing anachronistic term “Information Technology” is there to support the business in achieving its strategy, outcomes and goals.
Perhaps – and I can only hope - it is that realization which becomes the most important outcome for those who pursue and follow the guidance within ITIL 4.
The first guiding principle espoused by ITIL 4 is “Focus on value” which is, as Tom Peters points out “a blinding flash of the obvious”.
My good friend, Paul Wilkinson, recently shared a story on LinkedIn titled “The largest skills gap managers see in IT workers isn’t technical” (https://qz.com/work/1558326/the-largest-skills-gap-in-it-workers-is-business-acumen/).
In sharing the story, he pointed out that this has been an issue for many years.
I agree. This has been an issue for many, many years! For so long, in fact, that it is almost a cliché!
IT and the people with the IT organization need to understand WHY they are there. If they don’t understand the business, they won’t understand the purpose of IT.
One idea discussed in this article is to “Ditch the IT department entirely, and weave IT into the fabric of a company.” This is essentially what several forward-thinking companies have done. Several years ago, Proctor and Gamble embedded “IT” people into their business units and refer to the organization as "Information and Decision Support” (IDS).
From the P&G website, “IDS isn’t just about technology; it’s about using information and technology to transform the way P&G does business. IDS Professionals create the systems and tools that help P&G gather, analyze and use information to dramatically improve business results and processes.”
It comes down to V*A*L*U*E. For people within the “IT” organization to provide maximum value to the business, they must truly understand the business – its vision, desired outcomes and goals. The value VISION crafted by IT leadership must then support that by the whole of the organization being in ensure ALIGNMENT in support of the IT value vision. In doing so, they must LEVERAGE appropriate technology and capitalizing on their organization's UNIQUENESS and, in turn, must have effective EXECUTION of their plans to realize the strategies, outcomes, and goals of the business they serve.