Round 4: ITIL Fights Back

Round 4: ITIL Fights Back

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When I look around, I see the sadness on people’s faces. Blockchain, machine learning and DevOps enthusiasts everywhere, yearning for the next big thing, the next thing that fires up the IT industry with razzmatazz and zing. The next thing that helps us deliver faster, with better control, and enduring quality. Saving us from software crimes of slow releases, delivered badly, and issue laden post release. We may not have much longer to wait, as the next big thing may be about to arrive. Its name is ITIL, ITIL IV.

Eight long years have gone by. Eight years where we missed the quarterly CAB. Eight years where we were told that service is king, change is queen, but in the streets of agile and DevOps, ITIL was a passenger that added cost, slowed us down, and impeded the process. Where we needed to take more risk, because the rules of the game had changed.

Back in 2011, so long ago: where Hotmail remained the largest email service in the world, Blackberry still felt it had something to offer, and Android was about to become something. How long ago that feels. The UK was looking forward to the Olympics being hosted in London, with a young coalition government led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, it was the year of the Arab Spring, and the year America finally got Osama Bin Laden. Rizzle Kicks had just released Down with the Trumpet, somehow surpassed in the charts by Sexy and I know it. Such a long time ago. ITIL is prehistoric in IT terms. But ITIL has been so good to us.


ITIL T-Shirt, Zazzle Gifts

While I was not in the crowd that wore this T-shirt, I am in the category of people who can talk about ITIL’s halcyon days. I have the requisite 10,000 hours experience in ITIL that makes you an expert in just about anything, as described in this article about Malcolm Gladwell.

Just as Andre Agassi saw the tennis field in a deeper way, I can look at a post incident review form and feel the pain that was felt, smell the depth to which the root cause is truly known, and sense the likelihood that they will learn their lessons and protect the users in the future.

I’ve seen every facet of ITIL. Have seen how it can work well, where it can have issues, how it can best be applied. I spoke on ITIL (“adopting ITIL in a multi-sourced environment”) at the annual itSMF Conference, I was an Accredited Trainer in ITIL Foundation helping people to pass their exam while sharing real stories rather than rote theory. I lived and breathed it in real organisations striving to gain more control and stability in their critical capabilities. ITIL was my friend. If there was a badge saying “I talk ITIL” I would have worn it, indeed an old colleague printed “I talk ITIL 3” paper badges after a bespoke ITIL executive briefing he created. They were in hot demand. More on that later.

In a world of systems so often thrown over the fence, causing chaos for users and chaos for live service teams, ITIL brought an enterprise-grade approach to aligning IT with the businesses they served, designing services in a considered manner, transitioning new services to live in a controlled manner, and IT operational control. There were many other benefits, including common terminology, and the focus on continual service improvement. ITIL was on the money, and for those who adopted the framework well for themselves, improved enterprise organisations no end versus what had gone before.

But like many — I have troubles with ITIL.


ITIL: Love it or hate it ? University of Oxford Blogs

Trouble 1 — Software Vendors — Back when I loved ITIL, I went to another itSMF conference, expectant of the new ideas and insights I’d pick up and bring back to the organisations I worked with. I looked across the atrium of 150 stalls, and saw 149 vendors selling different types of ITSM software. ITIL had been successful. It had created a burgeoning industry of similar looking tools. More and more it felt like an excuse to sell training days and an ITSM software industrial complex. The essence of what was good about best practice sharing with ITIL had passed.

Trouble 2 — It didn’t seem cool any more. Still in my twenties, as time went by I used the ITIL tag less and learn. It silently disappeared from email signatures and business cards (they were still prevalent in a Hotmail dominated world). I noticed, that while bankers were still being fired for unapproved changes to production, ITIL was increasingly seen as bureaucratic and a stifle to change and progress. Sales of ‘I Love ITIL' T-shirts were in decline.

Trouble 3— Agile and DevOps. After a few years in pure consulting and business change roles, mainly away from service management roles, I took a return into service management running a portfolio of services. I and my team noticed early doors that the big thing to take service forward was DevOps, and we’d been working with (predominantly software development only) agile teams for a while, delivering releasable software more frequently and predictably. While service management principles were still relevant, the industry was faster moving and there were newer and better way of doing things. Speed and stability were no longer a trade, they could go together.

The last update (2011) of ITIL is prehistoric in IT software terms. The Agile Manifesto values people and interactions over process, and ITIL 2011 has 26 processes across 5 core books.

In Greg Ferro’s Why I hate ITIL so much,, he wrote:

DevOps is, in large part, a reaction to the failure of ITIL and very much about finding a working solution to ITIL’s unsolvable limitations. It removes silos through cooperative activity where each persons commits to delivering something to their peers. It promotes community and communication where ITIL prevents and restricts.

Damning. Having a soft spot for ITIL, I don’t see it quite as strongly as that, but he has a point.

When ITIL defines ‘a service’ as:

a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve, but without the ownership of specific costs and risks.

Which is strictly true but a bit convoluted (though perhaps I’d struggle to put it better), and has countless more babble in its 5 weighty tomes (I once read these cover to cover) around frameworks, processes, functions, catalogues and configuration management databases, and little on delivering value, and being lean and efficient, at least not in a succinct and accessible way, you start to get cartoons like this.


Dilbert ITIL cartoon,

ITIL remains the number one service management framework out there. When adopted well (not prescriptive or in an ITIL compliant way) it helps organisations manage and control their IT estates. Computers and software are complex, inherently unstable, and under constant change, and in two speed IT environments (new and legacy), the law of entropy says fires happen and service degrades. ITIL brings a measure of control. You can’t argue too much around the common sense of incident management, major incident management, problem management, or agreeing levels of service between the business and IT, and how IT budgets can be best spent on sustain as well as invest. ITIL is not dead yet, Stephen Watts (not my brother).

So what next for ITIL?


There isn’t much being given away on the substance of version four yet, but speaking to some people close to it there are good signs and bad.

The good signs are that this will be a major update, catching up on those eight years, and one that should talk much more to culture and people over process, talk much more to developers and the delivery of value, while retaining the necessary control and service mindset in an agile and DevOps world. ITIL already allowed for small pre-approved changes. So in a world of automation, with CICD and security safeguards, where engineers, delivery leads and consultants increasingly have a global mindset, considering sustainability and long term cost of support alongside capability, we could see an ITIL more comfortable with continual deployments to production, and techniques such as feature toggles and canary deployments that allow for controlled releases to users, smaller and more frequent, pre-approved more often than not. It’s doubtful many of the daily updates to the applications on my phone go through a CAB.

Systems are increasingly resilient in a way that was difficult to achieve with high-risk monolithic releases. We may see an ITIL that refashions it’s guidance around some of the roles and processes to make them more relevant in a faster moving multi-cloud world, full of containers, microservices and serverless delivery. ITIL wasn’t waterfall before (an unfair charge that’s sometimes levied on it). It was iterative across strategy, design, transition, delivery, continual improvement, but to many it came across as sequential and siloed with design to transition to operations, and hand-offs between. The new version will offer a more modern framework along with guidance for delivering and running IT services as we enter 2019 and 2020. While there are a hundred definitions of DevOps and DevOps is still evolving (even Gene Kim at the 2018 DevOps Enterprise Summit in London was compelled to start his talk with a definition of DevOps, years since DevOps has been with us), ITIL may bring some consistency in the guidance around running services at an enterprise level in a DevOps world.

QA say that ITIL 4

builds on the previous guidance by providing a practical and flexible basis to support organisations on their journey to the new world of Digital Transformation. It will provide an end-to-end digital operating model for the delivery and operation of tech-enabled products and services. It will be much more relevant to developers, practitioners and businesses. This latest approach moves away from a traditional process-led approach to value-driven delivery for people and organisations.


Bad signs

The bad signs, are that the main thing advertised so far seems to be training, and it worries me if vendors are trying to sell their courses and certificates before we’ve heard what ITIL 4 brings to the table. The foundation training will even start before we know the full details of what it offers. We are getting on quite well, with our service heritage, and DevOps practices that enable us to deliver change and reduce risk — to have speed and stability together rather than mutually exclusive. We need to see what ITIL adds to the body of knowledge beyond what’s already there. Will it give insights which will take us onto the next level in service and delivery terms, or is it just trying to update itself with the latest practices. The questions on my mind are:

Will it be a vendor’s feast, or a software engineer’s dream?

Will ITIL 4 offer anything additive to the DevOps body of knowledge we already have?

Or is it just ITIL updating itself and seeking to make money through the sale of training and certificates (something understandable since ownership of ITIL passed from the British Government to Axelos).

Unfortunately from what I’ve read and the people I’ve spoken to, it’s not sounding too positive yet. Read the statement from Axelos itself…

ITIL Foundation will be published early in 2019, but that won’t be the whole of ITIL 4. The next level of detail will be available about a year later. This is a different approach to previous releases of ITIL, when all the content was released at once, but it means that you can start to learn about ITIL while in-depth guidance is still being written.


I’m not generally a cynic, but how do people know they want to get into the expense and time of ITIL 4 training, before they know what the proposition of ITIL 4 actually is? There is already a great body of knowledge in DevOps, and we’re getting on quite well, so it would be good to hear what ITIL brings to the table above and beyond this before we get our wallets out. Maybe my existing knowledge of ITIL plus what I’ve learnt in DevOps is enough. It has to be compelling for me, before we start giving the pounds to the vendors.

With only a few months to go before we see the first instalment ITIL 4, we’ll have to wait until then to see what’s in it. But as someone who started their career in ITIL and have seen the benefits it can bring, I’m hopeful it will deliver something interesting and additive to what we already have. My fingers are crossed that it’s not just a training provider party. It may even be time to buy a T-shirt.

Gary Watts


Custom ITIL Sticker, which surprisingly, is as yet un-copyrighted

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You can follow me at,, and here are some more articles from me:

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Mabl taught me how to become DevOps compliant_The moves sweeping the IT industry are fascinating to watch — DevOps, Site Reliability Engineering, Serverless, NoOps — …

DevOops, some common anti-patterns_Failing to bust those

Get in Front with DevOps_Go faster, deliver better value, achieve higher quality, collaborate

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Time to say farewell to Scrum?_Continual Delivery could blow it

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