The latest version of ITIL (v4) was launched on 28 February with an eye on Agilism, along the lines of other historical frameworks like Prince2 Agile – a curious fact in the controversy surrounding post-Agilism. But what is ITIL®?

ITIL® is an umbrella framework for good practices that has crystallized in a convention (standard) in the Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) industry.

It has been adopted in low-volatility fields such as eg public administrations, industrial sectors which are highly structured and/or subjected to strict legal restrictions, such as Defence, and so on, especially as a guarantor of traceability and continuous improvement.

Today on the blog we will see what this new Agilism-focused version brings to the table.

ITIL® helped many large corporations (Procter & Gamble, Boeing, Barclays) to modernize by encouraging them to standardize their processes and to make their shared policies and objectives explicit from a Lean perspective.

This framework clarifies and supports each project phase through concrete practices that solve recurring issues in the provision of technology services.

For its part, Agilism, its frameworks and its tools (Scrum, XP, Crystal, Kanban...) are intended for highly changing environments, particularly software development, where quick adaptation and response to the market are essential.

They assume certain premises and horizontal collaborative principles are inherent to implementation, which speeds up the decision-making process and cuts down costs by working in short bursts (iterations) in which the output is inspected.

This predilection for change sometimes distances it from the bulk of the world’s industry, which is still rooted in pyramidal cultures with robust but complicated process flows, whose stability over time is necessary but slows down adaptation.

A comparison from the perspective of the values in the Agile Manifesto provides some insight into the different approaches to ITSM:

  1. Individuals and interactions with processes and tools. ITIL is a winning framework that focuses on improving formal, standardized processes. However, it did not deal with the topic of people and their relationships until 2019, something which has clearly been detrimental in the eyes of the new generations.
  2. Product running on comprehensive documentation. In this case, due to the requirements associated with the sectors in which it traditionally operates, ITIL also opts for organized, detailed documentation (which in many cases becomes legally valid and must therefore meet specific requirements).

One of the reasons this framework was adopted by many companies is the ‘feeling of security’ it instilled in them.

  1. Collaboration with clients based on contractual relationships. For the first time, the new version talks about co-creation by the different players in the value chain, but SLAs are still part of the ITIL contract and are now the main objectives of and criteria for validating results and expectations.
  2. Response to changes based on plans. The essence of the fourth update is forecasting and hence planning. Planning has become the main argument against the application of ITIL in disruptive areas, where it is considered an obstacle to innovation.

The launch of ITIL v4 by Axelos

In November 2017, Axelos (the joint initiative between the British Government and Capita PLC, which claims to be the custodian of the Portfolio of ITSM Best Practices) announced it was preparing a new version of ITIL.

To this end it created a committee of more than two thousand “significant representatives,” who were supposed to gather information and discuss how to respond to the demands of both the ITSM Community and the market.

On 28 February 2019 Axelos launched the first Guide (Foundation) and the Transitional Certification Framework.

It introduces the Service Value System (SVS), depicted as a concentric, heat map-like diagram representing the importance of the elements along the value chain:

The 7 Guiding Principles

These principles are recommendations with a “universal and lasting” outlook that can be applied in any business circumstance:

At the heart of the Service Value System lie 6 non-sequential Key Activities, which form a flexible chain of operational resources to be provided to customers/users in their daily operations (which replace and break down the old 4-step Service Cycle):

Practices

The most striking change in v4 is the replacement of Processes with Practices, as a set of organizational resources designed for ad hoc implementation regardless of the technology that is used:

The 4 dimensions to Service Management

One of the words that is endlessly repeated throughout the guide is “holistic.” With this they hope to address the shortcomings ITIL has been accused of having in recent times; terms such as “integral,” “humanist,” “sustainable,” “consensual” or “horizontal” are mentioned for the first time…

With respect to IT service management, this vision must affect the description of 4 dimensions to be acted upon:

  1. Organizations and people: Corporate culture must support the goals of the organization at the training and qualification level.
  2. Information and technology: Encouraging all necessary knowledge for handling information, techniques, and technology.
  3. Partners and suppliers: Getting them involved in all phases of the SVS. “Providers” is replaced with “suppliers,” a subtle difference in English that underscores the higher degree of interaction.
  4. Value streams and processes: Coordination and integration of processes and areas in the organization, thereby creating ecosystems intended to deliver value.

Conclusions

Ever since it launched ITIL v4, Axelos has been posting explanatory pills on its blog about both the Practices and the Guiding Principles, which are hugely instructive for those who are new to this framework.

I personally find the portfolio of specific practices, eg those pertaining to areas neglected by other frameworks, such as cyber security and maintenance services, very useful. I also think the DevOps section and the Swarming or Workaround techniques provide good insights.

On the other hand, I think the guide could have benefited from a more detailed approach to the relations between areas and people and a greater focus on general management practices supporting fast decision making, a typical scourge for ITIL practitioners.

In any case, I think the idea of providing several approaches for different environments is a brave representation of the business reality where, for different reasons and regardless of trends, more disruptive systems or frameworks cannot be applied.

This new release of ITIL does not discover anything new or innovate, and questions about whether it will deal with red-hot issues of ITSM – some of which are mentioned in the Introduction to the new manual, like Blockchain, Container Integration, Microservices, Multicloud, ML – or at least solve some ordinary internal problems (atomic watermelon indicators, bimodal visions…) are already being asked.

We are waiting for the deployment of the rest of the certifications and their content before delving into these topics in more detail. They might put ITIL at the forefront of service management frameworks in terms of number of practitioners and help to modernize – by dragging – many public administrations around the world. This alone would be a huge achievement.

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