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27 August 2010 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Criticizing ITIL
This week Aidan looks at the misconceptions on how ITIL is positioned and promoted...

There has been an interesting debate running on one of the Linked-in groups about ITIL and its imperfections.

Lots of the contributions have been very insightful and many show a common theme. It appears that the major issue is not really ITIL per se, but how it is promoted and positioned. If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know that this is my view also. So who is to blame for the misconceptions that exist out there?

Here are my suspects and my verdict on their culpability.

  1. OGC. They own the framework, but don’t really understand what it is. It is some time since there were service management experts working for the OGC and involved in its on-going management and development. They have devolved responsibility to others but don’t seem to have the right governance mechanisms in place. They like the revenue that they derive from owning the brand, but it is debatable as to whether that really fits directly with their prime remit of helping the UK public sector to save money by more effective procurement and solution development. They seem to believe ITIL is the solution, not just an enabler. GUILTY of incompetence.
  2. APMG. Handed another revenue earning opportunity from OGC, but with a strictly limited remit of ITIL qualifications - not service management qualifications which is almost certainly what organizations actually require. Hence we have an ITIL-centric qualification scheme that has a very peculiar structure, some strange titles and encourages a certificate gathering approach rather than the acquisition of meaningful knowledge and skills. This is compounded by the multiple guess exams throughout the scheme which have been introduced for reasons of expediency – management cost and greater ease of translation – rather than any educational purpose. Have produced detailed exam syllabuses that they have muddled up with training requirements. GUILTY of being a successful commercial enterprise, but who may kill the golden goose.
  3. Exam institutes. To an extent handicapped by the contracts that they have with APMG which allow them to participate in the ITIL marketplace. Must abide by rules laid down by APMG, even though they may have been operating for many years with better regulations and processes. Subject to some ill-thought-out plans from APMG that have allowed sub-standard competitors into the marketplace at no cost. Some are starting to realise that their market doesn’t want the APMG offering and are trying to address the issue. GUILTY of timidity.
  4. Accredited training organizations. A mixed bunch – some good; some not so. This applies to the whole organization in some cases, but to individual trainers only in others. Too many simply take the syllabus, cut & paste the relevant diagrams, tables or bullet points from the books into some slides and call it a training course. Much delivery consists of the trainer talking to the slides. Too few develop well-thought out and structured learning events that actively engage the participants in understanding the subject of service management. Their goal is highly focused on passing the test, which means the ITIL words. GUILTY of letting down the customers.
  5. Unaccredited training organizations. The cowboys who don’t understand anything and are just out for a quick buck. GUILTY of greed.
  6. itSMF. Have accepted lots of money from APMG and seem to be compromised. Rather than representing the whole community and protecting their interests, have become too aligned to OGC/APMG. Are vital to the ongoing promotion of service management, but given the volunteer nature and the variable maturity levels of the different countries are sometimes the prime culprit in the misinformation stakes. GUILTY of betraying their independence and being the conscience of the industry.
  7. Software vendors and service providers. Their embracing of ITIL has been patchy. Some saw the light early; others continued to ignore/insult ITIL for years. Even the nay-sayers now seem to find it irresistible. Unfortunately too many of their sales and marketing people barely understand service management and think that “buy my tool” or “outsource your services” is the answer to everyone’s prayers. Here a frightening quote from the discussion (from a training provider). “You can criticize ITIL all you want, because no one is listening....the wheels are in motion with support from all the major software and integration companies so it’s not going away or being replaced”. Are we really going to have yet another expensive, technology-driven fiasco? No wonder the business distrusts IT! GUILTY of unreconstructed product pushing.
  8. The consumers. If they are savvy they will understand the need for a holistic solution that is predicated on business need; that every enterprise must develop its own solution using whichever frameworks, standards, methodologies, etc are appropriate and relevant to their situation and which meet their needs. If they aren’t, they’ll believe the half-truths, myths and fallacies that the snake-oil salesmen feed them or are drip-fed through poor training and finish up trying to “implement ITIL” by rote – and of course wasting huge amounts of money and tarnishing the reputation of the IT industry even further. GUILTY – of naivete.
  9. Industry commentators. Some are so ill-informed as to be beyond belief. Witness this week’s Service 360 offerings from James West, which is based entirely on twisting the words used in a judgment on a very specific legalistic aspect of OGC’s remit to imply they have no remit or interest in ITIL’s future, and another rant from Noel Bruton on the “death of ITIL”, partly based on the same hook, and of course promoting his own view of the world. I don’t begrudge anyone holding views, but it’s a shame that after nearly 20 years, Noel still doesn’t understand what ITIL is and isn’t. GUILTY – of headline seeking and not letting the facts get in the way of a “good story”.

If you work for an organization in one of the above groups and feel that I’ve been unfair to you, then stop for a moment and ask yourself whether you think any of my points apply to others in your group. I bet you would be hard-pushed to deny it.

As always, the views expressed are mine alone and do not represent those of any organization to which I provide services.   

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!!


27th August 2010

Hi Aidan

I agree with many of your points.

I can take the accredited ATO perspective and would suggest that I have seen some training materials which are the less than perfect.  You then have to ask yourself why that is the case given that they have been accredited as suitable by the ATO’s governing accreditation body and their accreditations panel.

•         The materials are hampered by poorly constructed syllabi that seem to be a simple calculation based on what subjects need to be covered and how long there is to cover them.  The structure should have been based on complexity of concepts.   Point in case, Operations Support & Analysis, four hours on Request Fulfilment!!!!  Come on…..

•         Erroneous mock examination questions.  Badly constructed, badly worded, poor grammar, full of mistakes and sometimes answers that are questionable in terms of accuracy!  Take a look at Service Transition Papers 1 or 2 v4.0 for shocking examples.  The sad thing is we are talking about the newer papers so this is not just teething troubles!

The horror of all of this is that ‘Experts’ are paid to prepare these documents.  The poor ATO is responsible for representing the content to their customers.  Where did the accountability go!!!!

I could go on but I think this debate has been laboured far too long and it’s getting tedious reading about it!


Michelle Major-Goldsmith
Head of Service Management Training


30th August 2010

Hi Aidan,

This reply expresses my personal opinions and thoughts, and not those of APMG. That said...

Your blog post is very interesting! After reading it, I feel compelled to point out some misconceptions about ITIL and the components associated with accreditation.

For example, you criticize the syllabuses produced by APMG but you fail to mention that the syllabuses only specify the minimum subject matter and other requirements to be addressed in a course. It is up to the ATO's course materials author to take those minimum requirements and produce a positive training experience of value to the customer. Most ATO's only do the minimum, but I can guarantee that there are many ATO's going much further and delivering outstanding training experiences that fully apply to the use of ITIL within an IT Service Management environment.

My personal opinion is that APMG does what it does bests -- manage accreditation and certification programmes. You seem to think that APMG is hurting ITIL by doing what it does best, within its remit. I fail to see the logic.

You are also quite mistaken in your statement implying that APMG mandates what EI's can or cannot do. That is simply not true. APMG very much limits itself to the accreditation and examination remit and does not tell EI's how to manage their businesses. For example, EI's are free to develop their own certifications and submit them for inclusion within the accreditation scheme. APMG also does not mandate to the EI's how they go about assessing an ATO's quality management systems, course materials and trainers. Each EI is free to develop their own standards and processes to assess their ATO's.

Most of the other issues you mentioned are realities that neither OGC nor APMG can address. How ATO's, "consultants" and trainers present ITIL is subject to much interpretation, and not something either OGC or APMG can control. Simple fact of life. Some organizations swallow the bad advice hook, line and sinker and pay the consequences. Service management certifications will not fix that. The only activity that in my opinion could help correct that would be a forum for organizations to share their good and bad experiences with others in an attempt to improve their ITSM activities.

Juan Jiménez


1st September 2010

Hi Aidan,

Really good read, I think you make some excellent points regarding how many interested parties have conspired to tarnish ITIL.

Obviously, I am going to take exception with your point that my news story about OGC not developing ITIL is 'so ill-informed as to be beyond belief'.  Perhaps my interpretation isn't perfect, as I note in the comment section of the news story, but I stand by my view that OGC is not adequately guiding ITIL and is instead allowing it to be governed by third parties with commercial interests.  Being this is one of the main points that your article makes,  I'm not sure why you felt the need to be so critical in this instance.

James West


1st September 2010

Hi Aidan,

Cracking article that makes some sound points and adds to a timely debate. However, seeing as how you mention me specifically, I must respond. In the nineteen years I've been practicing in IT support, as author, trainer, consultant and Interim Manager, I've worked with a lot of organizations who have implemented the ITIL framework to various extents. I know and use the practicality of ITIL very well, as is my professional duty and as many of my clients can attest. It is unjust and untrue to accuse me personally of not understanding ITIL, and I'm sure that as a professional, you shall withdraw that inaccuracy.

My article didn't use the phrase "death of ITIL"-that's somebody paraphrasing me - but I did call it "banal" and "wobbling like a cheap wardrobe" before declaring myself glad to see the back of it so that we could get on with real management. Nevertheless, there is much that ITIL and I agree on. Take a look at my book 'Managing the IT Services Process', published four years before ITIL V3. You'll find a lot of concepts in there that eventually turned up in ITIL V3.

In advising corporations how to improve their support and I find much the same problems in ITIL shops as non-ITIL shops. The problematic issues these days are not about ITIL - after all, we all know the key processes now – but typically about what is missing from the ITIL framework. ITIL misleads by encouraging people to believe that it is about service 'management'. It is however, plainly not about 'management' as the concept was understood for over a century before ITIL was invented and as professed by everyone from John Stuart Mill to Julian Richer. ITIL deals only with Process -- only one leg of the classic, albeit inadequate management tripod 'People, Process, Technology'. Nor can ITIL routinely substantiate its claim to be 'Best Practice', because it has no intrinsic, scientific means of benchmarking itself against anything else to decide whether it is 'Best' or otherwise.

Yes, I'm guilty of grabbing headlines. That's what the press is for. ITIL has for years used headlines to overstate its own efficacy and set inaccurate expectations of its capabilities. I am using the press to describe in detail and as loudly as I can, what is missing from ITIL and how IT services can benefit from making up for those dangerous gaps. I should have done it years ago.

Noel Bruton


2nd September 2010

Hi Aidan,

You seem to have hit the nail on the head.

The question is who seems to now feel any level of responsibility for changing things?
In the past week I have had meetings with 6 senior CIOs/IT managers. Two in Luxembourg, two in Belgium, 2 in Norway. ALL OF THEM UNANIMOUSLY AGREE ABOUT THE commercial promotion of certificates that add very little value or deliver very little ability to do anything with the ITIL certificate. Two of them almost kicked me out when I even used the word ITIL. Their eyes glazed over and they thought I wanted to convince them to go for a foundation certificate. It seems like all ITSM providers are tarred with the same brush.
Paul Wilkinson


6th September 2010

Hi Aidan

Re: Criticizing ITIL

Guess I might as well hang up my skepticking irons.  Congratulations on a comprehensive demolition of the ITIL movement, much better than my own "Pillars of ITIL".  You nailed all the culprits except one.  The least guilty party but nevertheless carrying a little blame are the authors, who failed to keep a consistent vision of what they were producing with ITIL V3, so that it mixes blue sky conjecture with proven practice, and missed the market need to move from colloquial guidance to formal definition.  What they built is a triumph, but a flawed one and the wrong one.

Maybe I'd move the consumers up the list from number 8.  They are guilty not just of naivety but also laziness: too many want the silver-bullet off-the-shelf solution to cultural behavioral problems.

Love your work
The IT Skeptic


7th September 2010

Hi Aidan
I like your article. I can agree on most of it, although most of your generalizations, I believe, keep you from really touching the heart of the issue: we are all passionate about ITIL and ITSM and we all think that we could do better because we have big egos. It’s nice to see that you are not over it, and that you still dream.
I regret, however, that you seem to miss the point that many good people bring positive contributions every day, and improve the ‘state of IT’ around the world as a result. Because in the end, THAT’s what it’s all about.
Also, ITIL is a tool that we use to mature IT as a practice, and without the opportunities that it provides the companies you mention, it would find only little support from the business community. We would all miss out on a livelihood, a business model, and a great process framework. Let’s not turn the ITIL discussion into the Open Source debate.
Finally, greed and naïveté are two sides of the same coin. By reducing naïveté we can curb greed, and thus I strongly believe in education. Your work is very important for that. Someone needs to point these things out once in a while.
All the best,
Fabien Papleux


(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)


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