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ITIL 4 – A Personal View

Barry Corless
  • Date: 24 September, 2018

The digital transformation of our world means different things to different people. 

One fact they all agree on is that the capability needed to manage this new paradigm will lead to new ways of working, new skills, new technology and embracing more collaborative ways of co-creating value. That challenge has been the driving force for the latest iteration of ITIL. 

In all honesty ITIL 4 is probably three or four years overdue.  The ITIL Practitioner was a very attractive and immensely useful sticking plaster but still a process obsessed gaping wound festered underneath. With other movements and frameworks such as DevOps, SAFe and VeriSM appearing and evolving, ITIL’s position at the top table of ‘Digital’ couldn’t be guaranteed.  To me it has never been about who’s framework is the best.  I’ve always argued that those organisations that can create something right for them by embracing and understanding all the options are the ones who will succeed.  I see that DevOps et al rather than being a dagger in ITIL’s heart may have served to make it stronger, more robust and more inclusive.

I’ve been privileged enough to join other outstanding people in contributing to the guidance in a process lasting c. 18 months. For understandable commercial reasons much of the content is still embargoed so I need to be careful here! I’d guess that you will be able to predict where most of the new guidance is heading. Here I’m going to focus on three areas that ITIL 4 WILL address and to my mind have been crying out for attention.

People – Historically, ITIL has never been good at the people side of things. In fairness to many great previous authors it hasn’t been a focus. The view of the ITIL elite has always been that other frameworks do it better so let them get on with it. ITIL’s problem was that it did a great job of hiding the need for other capabilities in the middle of a paragraph talking about another topic! Worse still it sometimes perceived as trying to reinvent a wheel. For example, Transition Planning and Support was seen by many as a half-hearted attempt at re-creating project management at ITIL V3. The ITIL Practitioner started to repair the damage by focusing on Organisational Change Management (OCM) without attempting to reinvent Kotter or Prosci’s ADKAR. ITIL 4 will move that journey on from OCM by specifically highlighting the need to deliver in other areas such as Workforce and Talent Management, Project Management and Relationship Management.

Process – The bare facts were that ITIL, at its 2011 sub-iteration, told us that there were 20-something processes. Scared witless by that revelation many just quietly put the books down and carried on in their world where just getting 2 or 3 processes to work would have been a bonus. Added to this was the compartmentalising of processes into Lifecycle phases. This created a (false) impression of there being no value of said process outside of its ITIL straight jacket. For example, Capacity Management (never a single process) always had uses outside of Service Design by contributing to Demand (Strategy), Deployment (Transition) and Problem (Operation). ITIL 4 will address this by looking more holistically at the systems you are trying to build. A key change that the community wanted to see was that ITSM capability should be used ANYWHERE it adds value not just in a particular phases. It was always there in V3 but the structure didn’t emphasise that enough. Secondly, the holistic view gets away from the pure process to a place where people, processes, objectives, technology, skills, etc. form a broader ITSM capability. These two changes of emphasis should nail the outdated view that ITIL is a process heavy behemoth and bring the “adopt and adapt” mantra front and centre in delivering best practice.

Technology – ITIL has been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place with technology. It has gleaned great success from having a technology agnostic stance but has perhaps suffered because it didn’t address technology trends. After all ITIL has lived through mainframe, distributed systems, client computing, cloud and serverless revolutions. The need to update is obvious as in 2006 when ITIL v3 arrived Docker was something that unloaded ships, Chef cooked meals and Kubernetes played centre forward for Real Madrid!! ITIL 4 will address integration of technology practices and automation not just in the best practices but it is also rumoured as part of the qualification scheme. Better integration of ITIL with the Enterprise Architecture and Development Lifecycle arenas comes as an equally welcome addition.

Of course, there’s way more to ITIL 4 than I’ve outlined here. I believe ITIL 4 will not have all the answers (it would be preposterous to suggest anything else) but I believe it is a positive evolution for what is still the global de facto standard for IT Service Management. Training organisations have just received the syllabus for the ITIL4 foundation qualification so I’m off to sit in a darkened room to contemplate it. Catch up with me chairing the DevOps and Agile track at itSMF USA, Fusion18 in St Louis next week or on one of my Global Knowledge webinars later in the Autumn / Fall.


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Barry Corless

Global Product Director for DevOps and IT Service Management

As a Global Product Director for leading IT and business skills training specialist Global Knowledge, Barry Corless is responsible for helping organisations enhance organisational capability through application of best practice frameworks.  His role incorporates the development and delivery of service management, DevOps, programme and project management, enterprise architecture and business analysis learning and development solutions.  An experienced consultant and IT specialist, Barry undertook additional voluntary roles Director of itSMF International from 2017-2019, and Chair of itSMF UK from 2009-2011.  

An industry champion for ITIL, Barry credits its common-sense approach to endemic IT issues as the reason for his long-term track record with this international service management practice.  He has trained and consulted on ITIL in over 20 countries. Barry continues to act as an ITIL examiner and has been part of the author team that inputs into the ever-adapting ITIL guidelines.  

Barry’s attraction to analytical problem solving began early and his first ambition was to be a weather man.  He became an Assistant Scientific Officer for The Meteorological Office after leaving school in Cheshire.  Barry recognises that passion for the topic is a key attribute for success as a trainer, as well as the ability to bring a subject to life.  He thinks open-mindedness is vital.  “Lifelong learning has taught me that we all have to prepare to unlearn what we previously accepted as best practice,” he says. 

Having spent over 20 years training he has seen many changes in an industry that has embraced virtual classroom and digital learning.  He advocates the teaching of project management and service management skills early.  “In an economy that is 80% service based, we should be teaching these key management skills in schools,” he says.   

As Best Practice department head, Barry enjoys the variety that his role brings him, and he continues to work with consultancy and education clients to ‘keep it real’.  Barry’s ability to identify with learners makes him a sought-after trainer and his passion and detailed understanding of ITIL meant that Global Knowledge was able to develop the world’s first bridging course for professionals going from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4.  Global Knowledge remains the world’s leading provider of ITIL certification and exams.  

A popular commentator on ITIL and a frequent blogger, Barry doesn’t like to think of himself as ‘one track minded’.  “ITIL skills are transferable outside the IT hinterland and lesson learned in other environments should be used in optimising technology solutions” he promises.  “ITIL4 is more focussed on people, agility and collaboration.  With the pressure on IT teams to provide a lightning-fast route to market, it’s vital that all stakeholders across an organisation and throughout the supply chain are working well together.”  

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