Where is the confusion?

Where is the confusionThere is a multitude of practitioner-led papers on implementing ITIL. Some are written such that they appear to be version dependent; others not. Key themes emerge, evidenced by the number of IT service management support organizations producing white papers and guides. Many describe those processes which might be important in a common set of circumstances. Historically they have focused on service catalogue, service level agreements, service desk, change management and configuration management. These were always important in V2 and well understood by IT service management practitioners. It is essential to understand that they are still core to V3. Latterly, papers have emerged on knowledge management, service portfolio management and service transition, which are new and topical in V3.

From a practical perspective, whilst these topics are newly acquired and described in ITIL V3, their roots are from a variety of sources going back over many generations and have their origins elsewhere.

So where is the evidence for their inclusion? In order to answer this question it is important to explore the vexed issue of organizational dynamics and the role that information systems play.

Organizations are dynamic in nature and supported by a range of systems and subsystems. The importance of the role of information systems and technology for modern businesses is undisputed. Their development within an organization is akin to a subset of organizational dynamics with particular themes relevant to them.

High-quality (academic) research into the social theories surrounding information systems development is still a niche area. In their landmark work Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, Mingers and Willcocks (2005) explored (using various authors’ work) the combined effects of social, philosophical and systems approaches in order to understand how information systems are used and developed.

Evidence supports the argument that the social constructs of organizations play an important part in how the IT estate develops. Conversely, similarities can be identified in the development of information systems and their effects on the organization. This is important because IT and business systems are evolving, dynamic organisms in their own right, so managing them is bound to be fraught with inherent difficulties.

Nonaka (1996) describes forms of knowledge key to ‘the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage’ for an organization. In fact knowledge management has been embedded in business theories and texts for many years. Research shows that the impact of new and changed technology solutions on an organization can be positive or negative depending on how they are delivered. It is important to note that change is strategic, tactical and operational and an organizational concern. It is subject to a wide range of influences such as culture, organizational dynamics, the pace of change, the forces for change, resistance to change, perceptions of change, responses to change and organizational and individual behaviours and their impact on change. With the evidence of the dynamic nature of IT and business systems it is therefore important to use transitional logic to develop both. Hence the theme of transitioning services.

Having a business-supported customer self-serve portal is a common approach to customer engagement and the portal plays its part in customer relationship management. Many IT strategists have long seen  the benefits of so-called ‘soft systems’ approaches. A classic is Senge’s work of the 1960s, updated in 2006, on creating a learning organization built on knowledge transfer. Proactive learning organizations  are intrinsically knowledge-based and evidence shows that considering these issues is important. Soft Systems Methods, discussed by Checkland and Scholes (1999), argue that there are many ways to reach ‘desired’ end goals that require non-linear approaches. These concepts are firmly embedded in ITIL philosophy and provide flexibility for IT professionals as they offer opportunities for them to be creative in their approaches to IT management.

Similarly the concepts of portfolios, value chains and marketing (described in IT terminology in Service Strategy) are long-standing business development techniques taught notably on master of business administration courses in universities and used extensively by business executives. There can be no doubt that they are valuable tools and methods in the debate about strategic business management and are relevant also to IT.

Is ITIL V3 therefore just a blend of V2 which has been updated, evolved constructively and progressed sufficiently to include workable scenarios and examples? Not really; it is, at its heart, a logical living framework for managing IT which works in a variety of circumstances. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is confusion about its theme, direction and applicability. So how can this be unpicked and explored? What might be a key sticking point is the use of the term ‘strategy’ and it will therefore be essential to explore it in greater detail.