ITIL Set for a Facelift

By Rob Garretson  |  Posted 02-20-2007

Not since the beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 43 years ago has a British cultural phenomenon had such an impact in the States. But unlike its classic-rock counterpart, the aging IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is slated to get a major facelift later this year, only its second update in as many decades.

ITIL was developed by the British government in the 1980s and first implemented in 1992 by its Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (since absorbed into the U.K.'s Office of Government Commerce, or OGC). It is a collection of best practices for managing IT operations that have been widely adopted throughout Europe for years, and that have recently caught on among large U.S. companies.

The guidelines, last updated in 2000, currently specify ten key IT service management functions that are grouped into two books: the Service Support "blue book" that covers service desk, incident management, problem management, configuration management, change management and release management functions; and the Service Delivery "red book" with chapters on capacity management, financial management, availability management, service level management and IT service continuity management.

These original two, plus a library of additional books such as Software Asset Management, Infrastructure Management, Application Management, Security Management and The Business Perspective (aimed at lineof- business execs) are available from OGC in print or on CD-ROM. There are also multiple levels of ITIL training and certification, starting with the Foundation Certificate, which provides a basic understanding of the terminology and philosophy and is the prerequisite for the Practitioner Certificate and the Manager's Certificate. Yet all that will likely change with the forthcoming revision of ITIL, Version 3, previously slated for publication in late 2006, now due later this spring. The update, led by OGC's chief ITIL architect, Sharon Taylor, is reportedly going to reorganize the recommendations into a more lifecycle- oriented approach to IT systems, starting with their initial design and deployment, operation, support and maintenance. The update will expand and reorganize the collection of best practices into the following five core topics: IT service design, IT service introduction, IT service operations, IT service improvement and IT service strategies.

"I don't think it affects any of the core processes," says Tracey Torble, an IT service management consultant and ITIL practitioner at T2 Consulting in Berkshire, England. "It's just a different way of presenting it to make it a bit easier to follow."

Some ITIL critics say the framework does a good job of describing the steps IT shops should take in providing services, but doesn't provide enough advice on how to implement its recommendations. ITIL enthusiasts, however, praise the methodology's generic quality, saying it's what makes ITIL applicable to most IT shops and easily customized to a specific environment.

"The current flavor of the ITIL documentation is basically descriptive rather than prescriptive," notes Forrester Research Inc.'s Chip Gliedman. "It says 'incident management is . . .' but leaves a lot of wiggle room on how one actually implements incident management." The forthcoming V3 "is likely to be far more prescriptive," he fears. "Now that, in fact, may be good for some people, but it could be bad for other people. If ITIL gets too formal, we may see a backlash against it."