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In 2018, Great IT Service Delivery Will Require ITSM Alchemy

By | December 5, 2017 in ITSM

ITIL, the popular IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework, is no longer the de facto approach for ITSM.  Not only are there valid alternative approaches, so much has changed in the world since the last version – ITIL 2011 – was released, with more and more organizations now potentially requiring guidance and help from a mix of different ITSM approaches.

ITSM Alchemy

There’s currently a lot of talk about how DevOps and ITIL are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. That DevOps helps to improve the traditional ITIL best practice approach for change and release management, along with incident and problem management, and continual service improvement (CSI). And some ITIL practices can help with DevOps.

From my point of view, this makes sense, as:

  1. DevOps doesn’t replace the entirety of ITIL (with its 26 processes and four functions)
  2. ITIL isn’t dead yet (thankfully we have yet to see “the baby being thrown out with the bathwater,” and
  3. Using a blended approach allows organizations to choose a way that works best for them – which was always the meaning of ITIL’s mantra of “adapt and adopt.”

Plus, this blending of approaches is nothing new – there have been “ITIL-complementary” approaches to ITSM and IT management for decades. With something called “ITIL Plus,” the use of ITIL and one or more other approaches, in vogue circa ten years ago.

It’s something that still happens, we just haven’t talked about it as much as we could have – that is until the potential tension between DevOps and ITIL brought talk of complementary approaches front-and-center again.

ITIL Still Has Much to Offer

Over the last three decades, ITIL has helped tens (potentially hundreds) of thousands of internal IT teams to improve their IT service delivery and support. Plus, of course, the business operations and financial results of their parent companies.

And in 2017, savvy organizations are now blending a variety of approaches – in particular ITIL, Lean, Agile, and DevOps – and enabling technologies (including ITSM, software development, and collaboration tools plus machine learning) to optimize both IT service delivery and the value that IT ultimately provides to the business. (For ease, “approaches” is used here as a single term to represent methodologies, frameworks, and standards.)

So, what was previously thought of as “pick a card, any card” (albeit usually ITIL) to create an organization’s ITSM operating model and management system is now somewhat of a jigsaw. But not a single jigsaw, more like the fitting together of various pieces from multiple jigsaws to create an entirely new jigsaw puzzle.

Clear as mud? What I’m trying to articulate is that solving a single jigsaw puzzle is hard. Then solving multiple jigsaws, all with similar pictures and where their pieces have been mixed up, is even harder. And finally, trying to create the “perfect picture” from the best individual jigsaw pieces is harder still. It’s what organizations currently face, and have previously faced, if they want and need to deviate from using purely ITIL to use the best of the available approaches.

The solution is out there, which I cover in a generic way below, and is already used by some organizations. However, the use of multiple approaches is not necessarily as easy as organizations would like it to be – please read on to find out more.

(Editorial note: this blog was written before the 2018 ITIL update was announced.)

The Need for “ITSM Alchemy”

In many ways, what ITSM pros need is “ITSM alchemy” – with alchemy the mixing, or blending, of various ingredients to “purify, mature, and perfect” something; in this case, IT service strategy through service operation, and continual service improvement.

What #ITSM pros need is “ITSM alchemy” – with alchemy the mixing, or blending, of various ingredients to “purify, mature, and perfect” something - @StephenMann Click To Tweet

It’s not easy to blend approaches though – it takes time and money, thought, and trial and error. It’s also potentially very complex without access to guidance on where to source different good practices – for different ITSM and business needs – from the available approaches. But don’t despair, there’s a lot of knowledge out there, the ITSM industry just needs to get better at making it available to all.

Examples of Possible Approaches

Sidelining the currently hot Lean, Agile, and DevOps for a moment, ITSM professionals have traditionally opted for ITIL (industry surveys usually have ITIL at circa 50% adoption) over alternatives (each with 10% adoption or less) such as:

  • COBIT – a good-practice framework for IT management and governance
  • ISO/IEC 20000 – the international standard for ITSM
  • Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF)
  • IT4IT – a more recent addition to this list – a reference architecture that provides prescriptive guidance for the implementation of IT management capabilities.

However, the use of multiple approaches is probably more prevalent than industry research suggests. And, as we stand talking about the blending of ITIL and DevOps, are we not ignoring many other sources of guidance, inspiration, or good practice?

(Editorial note: this blog was written before the new VeriSM approach was announced.) 

Other “Ingredients” to Consider

While this might already seem overly complicated (with ITIL, Lean, Agile, DevOps, and the four bulleted approaches above), there are also additional, niche, approaches that can be employed to help with more-specific ITSM needs, including:

  • HDI Support Center Standard and Service Desk Institute standards – for service desk operations
  • Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) – for knowledge management
  • Kepner-Tregoe – for problem management

Plus, there are various “improvement” approaches to add into the mix, such as:

  • Capability Maturity Model (CMMI)
  • ISO 9000 – the international quality management standard
  • Kaizen – an approach to continuous improvement
  • Process Maturity Framework (PMF)
  • Total Quality Management (TQM)
  • European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Excellence Model

And finally, we have:

  • The various, often discrete, technologies that can be employed to support IT operations, and
  • How best to organize, motivate, lead, and manage the people involved.

The Options for Creating the Perfect ITSM Blend

Of course, your organization could opt for solely blending ITIL and DevOps (plus the associated enabling technologies). But surely DevOps’ third way of “continual experimentation, taking risks and learning” opens up the organization to the consideration of other approaches and how best to choose and blend the right ingredients (certain elements from these additional approaches) to achieve better IT and better business results?

Let’s consider the premise that finding the right ingredients from multiple approaches is both viable (we know that it is based on exemplar organizations, it’s just not that easy) and is in the best interest of your organization. So, what can you do?

  1. Go it alone. You and other organizations could “reinvent the wheel” as you separately try to create the ideal ITSM operating model and management system. There will of course be pockets of good practice available – there are “How X and Y are complementary” white papers plus the intellectual property (IP) of ITSM consultants and tool vendors. However, after years of being spoon-fed best practice via ITIL, going it alone might be too difficult a challenge for some.
  2. Try a variant of what used to be called “ITIL Plus. Or it could be “COBIT Plus,” or even “ITIL Plus Plus…” As to whether this is a real blending of approaches is debatable though – with one approach the dominant party – and the danger that it’s less a combination of two important ingredients, and more of adding a “pinch of seasoning” with the second and any later elements potentially never achieving the status of true ingredients in the ITSM mix.
  3. Take a “plug and play” strategy across different approaches. It sounds great – just taking bits from different approaches and “plugging” them all together as though you are creating complex molecules from the simplest of atoms. The issue with this option though is: how ready are all these complementary approaches to be “plugged” into each other? The word “complementary” often means that they can live and work together, not that they are automatically interoperable at standard points across all approaches. Despite this, this is still a valid option for those organizations with the resources to invest time and effort in understanding the pros and cons of different approaches and how to leverage the best (or most appropriate) of each.
  4. Wait for the IT industry to create something “totally new. It would save you the trouble of reinventing the wheel. Sadly though, this would never work because parts of this new ITSM “tome” would be out of date before it’s even published.
  5. Push the industry to use the successes of exemplar organizations to create new guidance. Sound familiar? This time though it’s a loose-fitting set of guidance that details how different challenges and opportunities have been addressed by different types of organizations – highlighting the art of the possible and, importantly, recognizing that “one size doesn’t fit all.” Taking its lead from the ITIL Practitioner guidance, it also focuses more on the practice than the theory, and starts with the desired “end” rather than the available “”

For me, the industry, and all who work within it, deserve option number five – but who is going to participate (and invest) in its creation? The IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) country chapters, the ITSM tool vendors, AXELOS (the custodian of ITIL), or maybe another profit-making entity that would then license the IP?

Who would take the risk? And who would be trusted to act as a broker?

This article was never intended to have all, or even most, of the answers. Instead it was written to get you thinking about how you can use different approaches to optimize your ITSM capabilities and outcomes, and how the ITSM industry could create a workable solution for its participants. So, what do you think about the need for, and viability of, ITSM alchemy?

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Stephen Mann

About Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann is an independent IT and IT service management content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals. In his career, he’s held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and most recently product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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