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6 October 2010 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Interview with a Vampire
This week Aidan provides you with an amusing interview on the state of ITIL...

  Aidan Lawes

The following is an extract from an interview of Aidan Lawes that was recently conducted by BS Seeker of CommonSense Rocks magazine.

BSS: Aidan, I seem to recall that in multiple presentations over the years you have extolled the virtues of ITIL, but that now you seem to be cynical, if not downright negative about it. Why is this?

AL: Actually, that’s not quite true. In virtually all of the presentations that I gave all around the world, my principal theme was (IT) Service Management and how vitally important it was for enterprises to focus on delivering value to the business through the efficient and effective management of resources. ITIL was merely one of the enablers that I discussed as offering some useful guidance in this field. I never considered it to be perfect and always went to great pains to stress that it was not something that could be implemented, but needed to be adopted and adapted as circumstances required. My stance hasn’t changed. What I find worrying is the fact that significant numbers of people still seem to believe it’s the solution, not a means to an end.

BSS: You recently launched a fairly scathing attack on everyone involved in the ITIL community. Is no one exempt from your criticism?

AL: Not everyone is culpable; there are certainly a large number of individuals and some organizations that truly understand the subject and approach it in the right way. And even some of those whom I think bear some responsibility have a justification for their actions. For example, TSO are the publishers of the material and produce what their client wants; it isn’t really their role to specify or query content – after all they are not subject matter experts.

BSS: You also seem to be antagonistic to Multiple Choice Tests. Why so? They are a commonly used approach in the academic world.

AL: They may well be, but they are coming under increasing fire as a true mechanism for testing knowledge and more particularly its application. In the UK, more and more schools are moving away from the standard GCSE and A-level exams as it is recognized that they do not equip people for either work or university. With their over-prescribed syllabi that reduce everything to bite-sized chunks, and with league tables of exam passes being used as the only measure of success, teachers naturally concentrate on coaching students to pass the test, rather than on giving a holistic understanding of the subject and the skills to be able to explain, use and extrapolate from the core facts. After all, once you’re in a work situation, how frequently are you going be faced with a task to perform where you are presented with 4 choices and have to choose the “right” one? Life isn’t like that. So schools are moving to qualifications which require a broader knowledge span and exams where candidates have to construct logical arguments for explaining their case. There is a place for MCQ testing for some aspects of basic knowledge, but once you have moved beyond the foundation level, something more rigorous and challenging is required.

BSS: But aren’t the complex MCQs in the Intermediate exams more challenging?

AL: Yes, but in a completely different way. You are given 4 choices, of which you know one is definitely wrong and one is right (according to book theory anyway), while the others fit in between these extremes. Many of the questions can be resolved by common sense and some analysis techniques, which doesn’t really prove anything with regard to a true grasp or mastery of the subject. At the Managing across the Lifecycle level it is laughable. Apart from the bizarre syllabus which seems to consist of odds and ends not covered elsewhere, how can 8 MCQ questions be considered as evaluating anything to do with management?

BSS: So what do you think is the solution?

AL: To what? To making ITIL better, it is obvious that it is not possible to define something with which everyone will agree absolutely, so the best that can be done is to produce something that is internally self-consistent (which isn’t the current case), has clearly defined boundaries and interfaces for integrating other methods, frameworks and standards, and is written in an unambiguous, coherent style. For making it better understood, the focus needs to be on the management of services to deliver value, not on the holy grail of ITIL. If I’m encouraged at one turn to embrace ITIL, but adapt it for my own organization’s needs, how do I reconcile the official endorsement of products as being “ITIL compliant”? We need to move away from viewing ITIL as the centre of the universe and positioning it correctly as a tool – valuable but limited - to assist organizations in evolving the right solution.

BSS: So what would you say are the 5 biggest bugbears you encounter?

AL:  “We have implemented (or are about to implement) ITIL”.  If they mean it, the road to disaster.

“ I’m ITIL certified or we’ve got n ITIL certified staff”. When they have merely passed the multiple guess foundation exam.

“ITIL Expert”. So what? An ITIL-centric obsession that has little relevance to roles that people perform.

“How many processes are there in ITIL?” A regular in forums, but who cares? What ITIL so preciously claims are processes are just as likely to be functions as well or instead.

“How does ITIL compare to COBIT, CCMI, ISO/IEC2000, etc and which one should we use?” It isn’t either-or; most of these are complementary.

“The business isn’t interested in ITIL, should we just go ahead?” Of course they’re not interested in ITIL! They are interested in value to the business. They should be interested in any plans to improve the quality of what’s delivered; indeed they should be defining what they want and what they’re prepared to pay for it. It is crucial to sell the right thing and get the correct engagement.

BSS: That’s actually 6 and our time’s up. Thanks for your thoughts.

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!!


Computer Weekly have announced the IT Blog Awards 2010 in their quest to find the best blogs in the UK IT industry.

If you have enjoyed reading any of the ITP blogs then please nominate your favourite blogger by clicking on the link below.  




15th October 2010

Hi Aidan

I fear that you haven’t realised (or, actually, you have realised but are loathe to say) that the days of ITIL being seen and used as one of the enablers offering some useful guidance in this (ITSM) field, through adoption and adaption as circumstances required, have GONE. Today, more than ever and for the majority of those delivering ITIL-related products and services, it is a deliverer of various coloured currencies.

Sure there are some organisations and people who still CARE about what it is and how it is used, but I see more and more of the “We don’t care what they do with it once they’ve got it, we just want to sell as many as possible”. I used to say “I don’t understand why they don’t understand”, but now I do understand – they understand perfectly well but choose to follow the money rather than the desire to deliver better value through improved managed services.

But hey – I’m just an old Grumpy.
As always,
John Groom


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


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