Part 1: ITIL is being challenged by Dev/Ops and Agile Practices


If you were to start a technology company today, and your candidate for Development Manager explained that he wanted to use Waterfall as the development methodology, it would likely be a short interview. So, why are we still using a process framework that was developed 30 years ago to manage the IT environment?

That was part of a discussion I had a couple of weeks ago with my good friend Robert E. Stroud from Forrester Research, who spends his days and nights helping enterprises finding innovative approaches to next generation datacenter and software-defined architectures. We have both spent significant time in the IT Operations space and concluded from our exchange that ITIL as we know it needs to change to accommodate today’s fast-moving business requirements.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m ITIL certified and recognize its value as the only true standard for IT Management — but the world of IT has changed since it was first conceived 30 years ago — and especially in the last 3-5 years. At that time, ITIL was designed to enforce order on humans performing manual tasks. It provided a common vocabulary, consistent processes for managing IT environments and compliance with key regulations and quality standards.

Today, however, our environment is very different. We have a vast and increasing amount of automation and fewer manual tasks for day to day operations. We have a Dev/Ops approach rightfully increasing in popularity as it closes the gap between a Development organization and IT Operations to deliver much faster and more streamlined results.

Most of ITIL’s processes are out of step with this change. Service Strategy, Service Design and to some extent Service Transition have become bloated, focusing on structured Planning and Documentation rather than an Agile development approach, which favors collaboration, communication, frequent feedback and experimentation. It’s time to revisit the fundamental principles, paring everything down to the “skeleton” of ITIL before selectively adding processes that are written with a more up to date Dev/Ops and Agile mindset.

In my view a new “leaner” ITIL will be better able to absorb Dev/Ops principles while keeping the valuable aspects of the compliance and conformance. The goal of this change is to remove any manual and mundane task through integration and automation. Going a step further, I propose that the ultimate goal is to remove the human element from most of the operational processes such as incident, problem and change management.

Now, before you start doubting me, this change is already under way with the adoption of autonomics, advanced algorithms, cognitive computing and smart machines driving a re-invention of how we manage operations. These technologies are the building blocks for a fundamentally new approach to IT service and operations management. There will be nothing incremental about this change. It is going to be disruptive, and it will require humans to understand where we are slowing things down and get out of the way.

So where does that leave ITIL — and the millions of certified practitioners? In my next post, I will examine the impact of digital change in more detail and describe how humans will work side-by-side with smart machines in this exciting new world.