Thursday, 18 March 2010

Is ITSM a Profession?

A profession lives or dies by the quality of its training.

The training that qualifies someone to be a member of a profession must not only prepare the new professional for their role, but must also provide others with confidence that they are capable of fulfilling their professional obligations.

The question we must honestly ask ourselves is whether the current state of ITIL based training  provides a sound basis for a claim that  ITSM can be considered a profession.

This is a subject I, and others, feel very strongly about. I have been prevaricating  about publishing this post for some time. I have drafted and abandoned several blog posts on the subject out of concern that my comments here should be balanced and fair.  The catalyst for doing so  has been yet another request  from someone who has suffered the consequences of an ill thought out approach to ITIL training.

Before I go further let me say that I think Aidan Lawes, amongst others, has done an excellent job of raising his concerns about ITIL training with both passion and conviction.

Those who have read previous posts here will know that my original profession was as an Internal Audit. Like ITSM Internal Audit faced the challenge of becoming established as a profession in its own right.

There is an extensive literature on what constitutes a profession. Let me very quickly prĂ©cis it.

  • There should be a distinct body of knowledge
  • The body of knowledge should be enshrined in a regulative code
  • Members are bound by a code of ethics
  • The governing body should be composed of qualified members
  • Qualification to practice is based on a combination of practical work experience and examinations.that evaluate professional competence
  • Exclusion of those who do not meet the required standard.
If we look at Internal Audit we can see it passes all those tests. There is a distinct body of knowledge, that is only directly relevant to internal auditors. The IIA, amongst others, has a set of audit standards and a code of ethics. Full membership of the IIA is restricted to fully qualified individuals, and to be qualified you need to pass both a challenging series of exams and log sufficient hours work across a range of  areas of expertise. As for the exclusion aspect, the exams are deliberately challenging and competitive with a "good" exam paper designed to pass a certain proportion of students. This is a key point that I will return to in my next post.

Let me briefly look at how ITSM compares to the overall criteria. Superficially it does not look too good.

Whilst we have grown used to the size of the ITIL books increasing with every new version this is largely the result of ITIL embracing ideas from other distinct disciplines. Far from having a regulative code that enshrines our knowledge it seems that the dominant message amongst ITSM 'experts' is actually that you can do pretty much what you want and still call it ITIL thanks to the mantra of "adopt and adapt".

Meanwhile what many mistake for our professional body is no such thing, and nor does it claim to be. Membership is purely down to the payment of a fee, and corporate membership and sponsorship is actively encouraged.

In theory there are requirements for exam delegates to have an amount of practical experience before being entered for the exams, though I have to say I am not aware of this ever being queried or independently verified. As for the exclusivity, apart from the point already made that membership is open to anyone with a credit card it has to be said that the pass rates for ITIL exams are well above those you would  expect to see for most professional exams.

If that sounds pretty damning it isn't meant to be.

ITSM does not have to be a profession to be valuable. There is nothing wrong with looking for best practice in other disciplines. A well known barrister specialising in IT cases once said "Of course I have principles. But if you don't like them I can change them." There are many highly respectable and successful trade associations and there is nothing wrong in my eyes with a training course that is designed to provide the delegates with everything they need to ensure they pass the exam at the end of it.

It just doesn't make it a profession.

The trouble is deep down in my heart I believe ITSM can be and should be a profession.

Tomorrow: A Professional Training Scheme


  1. ITSM is in huge demand in my office, to that extent I run ITSM Operations on a day to day basis, finding the right kind of people to fit into ITSM role is a huge challenge, Paper based qualification does not really meet the expectatoin of the role.

  2. Laz, I would have to agree with you. It works both ways as well, I suspect some very good people out there are being rejected at an early stage because they haven't yet converted to v3.

  3. PART I:
    The problem with ITIL based ITSM is the qualification scheme is not yet at a ‘profession’(al) level. It is more akin to vocational training. It doesn’t really breed ITSM professionals.

    The original attempt back in the early 90s (Managers) was a good start - giving someone a pen and paper and taxing them on a number of questions for six hours. The need to bring in people at a lower level, to induct them into ITIL was the next solid move (Foundation, course and exam) – this is the route I took back in 1998 – a course, by the way, that got me so enthused about best practice Service Management I haven’t looked back.

    So, we now had a course and an exam that was aimed at IT Managers, giving them an overview of what ITSM was all about and a solid Foundation course and exam to whet the appetite and help win the hearts and minds of all. What we were missing was any ‘real’ practical training.

    The problem facing companies that wanted to implement a program based around ITIL was the lack of skills and education around actually carrying out this task; where do we begin, how to we assess where we are etc etc. The books at the time gave some indication but there was no real ‘hands-on’ help – unless of course you were willing to pay $1500 a day to hire an ITIL consultant.

    The addition of the Practitioner level was the first disappointment as it gave students little in the way of ‘practical’ experience. In fact, following a Practitioner course run by a colleague, one of my former Foundation students asked me how she was supposed to go and create a service catalog – she didn’t learn these skills on the course and yet her boss was expecting back a ‘practitioner’ in ITIL. Other professions (be it health care, military, accounting, or taxation) all have a ‘practitioner’ level of training (I know, I took that route for my accountancy qualifications). This level of training actually provides the student with the necessary hands-on skills to carry out the tasks required of them. The exams they are given actually test the student on carrying out these tasks. I remember the blind panic I had trying to create a balance sheet from pieces of financial information dispersed throughout a report.

    So, after 17+ years of ITIL based training and ITSM gaining traction across the world most companies are still seeking the help of ITSM consultants to help implement their program. It seemed to me that it was the ITSM consultant that had cornered the ‘profession’.

    And so to ITIL V3. I was at the world-wide launch in London. At the time I was ITIL course director for one of the UK’s leading IT training companies and had been privy to the early drafts of the books and qualification schemes. I was quite excited by the prospect of a higher level of ITSM qualification – higher than the Managers. This, I felt was the right move. Again, in order to be at the pinnacle of many other professions you have to not only pass a series of exams but also demonstrate you have the practical experience in your chosen field and it then be up to a ‘Board’ to verify you truly have reached a level of competence.

  4. PART II:
    I felt the Managers was a good course but it really wasn’t at the strategic level that it needed to be to truly mark ITSM as a profession. I was hoping this new level would encompass several aspects, maybe
    •a two week course:
    o exploring the real dynamics within an organization and how to build and put forward a strategic case for ITSM,

    o exploring case histories of companies that achieved or failed to achieve success with their ITSM program and explore/discuss reasons,

    o how to build a remediation RoadMap to deliver success to all stakeholders

    o managing a Service Portfolio based on current benefits/costs/assumptions and business integration/strategic fit/marketplace

    o exploring some of the other best practices required to support an ITSM program (after all, many of them are mentioned in the books),

    • a couple of intense, written exams that allow the student to think up solutions (rather that repeat verbatim, paragraphs from the books)

    • a 5,000 word dissertation on a subject area that is ‘lite’ in the books or not yet covered that will further enhance ITSM – surely this is a good way to get ITSM professionals to contribute to the ITSM ‘library’ and keep ITIL not only current but future proof.

    • A short interview with an ITSM Board and a review of your (verified) ITSM industry experience – you could even have your V3 Master level qualification, well… qualified, to show the areas of expertise you have – this is a bone of current contention where contractors are being employed to carry out areas such as ITSCM just because they have a general ‘Red Badge’ in ITIL.

    • Get the qualification scheme accredited with University standards so that it earns points towards an MBA. This will attract more senior managers to take the course i.e. future program sponsors.

    If this kind of approach were to be adopted we could truly say we have a qualification scheme that can put ITSM professionals into companies at senior levels and if we have a ‘practitioner’ level that actually teaches skills like creating service catalogues, carrying out assessments, reviewing processes and coming up with ways to improve them etc we would be putting the ‘can do’ers’ back into companies.
    So imagine my disappointment when I put these questions to the panel regarding the nature of these courses.
    It’s now been almost three years since that launch in London. Three years and the new, higher level qualification is still not available, nor is there any indication of what it will entail. I think one of the main problems facing this qualification will be would can teach it – at this level. The vast majority of ITIL trainers (and I have met some really fantastic trainers in my time) are not at this level. Could this be the stumbling block?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Phil,

    I've deleted what I presumed was your duplicate comment.

    You've added in quite a few points I meant to make myself.

    I've wondered in the past about the gulf between the ITSM consultant and the ITSM practitioner, not only in terms of training needs but also in terms of career path and accreditation.

    The last point you make is interesting as well. I suspect you are right that there is an issue about the availability of trainers with the skill set to teach a a higher level.

    There are possible ways around it: More use could be made of higher education institutions as a training channel, we could make use of specialists from other areas - why not have accountants teach ITIL financial management - and we could develop really good distance learning material.



  7. That would be a good idea. We now have several MBA level courses out there supposedly centered around ITSM - a friend of mine was taking one such two year course in the UK but found that a large part covered topics around TQM etc and the level of practical discussion, in depth, on specific ITSM topics to be limited.