Thursday, 23 January 2014

ITIL: Now the Truth can be Told

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this guest blog from Ivor Macfarlane

A lot of time has gone by since ITIL was born, and a lot of ITIL's history has either been forgotten, willfully misrepresented, or simply not ever been in the public domain. Ivor was there at the birth and remains an active member of the ITSM community As such he is in a position to give a genuinely unique perspective to the story of ITIL's conception and early faltering steps.


How did we get here? Twenty five years of ITIL and ITSM

I’ve seen a lot of things start, happen and fade in our industry over my time here. I can’t quite look back on memories as grand as ‘Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion …’ but I realise I was there when things we take for ‘ITIL granted’ were being made.
  • I’ve seen some right things done for the wrong reasons, 
  • I’ve seen many wrong things done with the best of intentions. 
  • I’ve seen ideas and reputations driven by vast egos and a desire for power, 
 I’ve also seen consummate political skills used to solve disputes, by people behind the scenes in their own time and taking no glory for themselves.

Mostly though I have seen so much happen that I realise many do not know how we got here, and that has limited our ability to see where we are going. So I was grateful to James Finister’s invitation to document some of those things before my aging brain succumbs.

How did it all start?

It’s hard to believe that ITIL was to be just one more in a successful line of proven methods. GITTIM (Government IT Infrastructure Management Method) as the embryonic idea was first known as, would follow SSADM2 and PROMPT3 as an equivalent method covering IT Operations, as SSADM addressed System Analysis and PROMPT did Project management. Once started, it clearly wasn’t a method, but a library of books. So the name changed to IT Infrastructure Library. One thing was different though: ITIL was launching into an empty space, unlike SSADM and PROMPT where there were alternative products available.

In those days, the1980s, IT Operations was the opposite of glamorous. Good people in IT Ops got promoted out of it.  In the UK Civil Service aptitude test, those with high marks could be Systems Analysts, those with less went to IT Operations. One of ITIL’s aims was to rescue these IT Cinderellas from the Ops sculleries.

Like most new initiatives, it was welcomed by some and distanced by others. As with all successes in new spaces, we saw bandwagonning as early doubters and naysayers lined up behind it when success appeared assured. That success has been attributed  to various fathers, grandfathers, godfathers and more of ITIL. Some were involved at the start, others only came on board on later.

And the word was ITIL (not ITSM … not yet)

Initially ITIL was the only game in town, the first time Operations practices had been seriously documented. The supplier community supported it because it helped commercial companies sell their products. ITIL’s initial justification was to improve UK Government IT, by documenting what the best organisations (presumably private sector) did and encouraging government IT to copy it. While UK government IT was, indeed, abysmal at times it was soon clear that private sector IT was not much better and sometimes worse.and the books started selling well to private sector customers too.

Once that happened, suppliers of both consultancy and tools saw the take up of ITIL as building a sustainable market. This is really what kick-started ITIL into the world outside UK. Pink Elephant in Western Europe, then Prolin in Asia and Ultracomp in South Africa and Australia. They all sold ITIL first and then their own products to facilitate the benefits. Those benefits came from formalising IT Service Management, but before that term existed and with ITIL the only articulation of it, then people just said ‘ITIL’, the way they might say ‘hoover’ for vacuum cleaner in the UK or ‘band aid’ for plaster in the US.
For a while there was this tacit assumption that we all worked together to grow the cake and everyone got bigger slices, even if it meant lots more slices. Then we got, if not exactly competition to ITIL, alternative ways to write down good ideas in the ITSM space. We saw BSI first with their PD0005 product that used much of the same terms as ITIL but didn’t acknowledge it, then COBIT and MOF who did both acknowledge ITIL as influences in their first editions. BSI later committed to a concordat of cooperation with ITIL, with much the same team developing ITIL v2 and BS15000 – so alignment there was no great surprise!

More than books

ITIL was just a set of books. Commercial companies had started selling things to deliver/support ITIL. Consultancy advice that had always been there, on things like Capacity, Help Desk and the rest, suddenly became ‘ITIL consultancy’. Tools that supported Help Desks and fault fixing took on the ITIL jargon.
The money potential of software and consultancy was clear enough for providers to appear and latch on to ITIL, but some things needed encouragement: seed corn had to be bought, planted and nurtured. Two of those initiatives were crucial to the position ITIL achieved: qualifications and a user group. Both owe their start to UK government money and involvement.

ITIL Examinations – a clue, an idea and a success story

Awareness and adoption of ITIL (or anything else) is clearly encouraged by people learning about it. CCTA wanted something to focus training in the ITSM space on: ITIL. ITIL was following in the tradition of SSADM, for which an exam was available from ISEB (Information System Examination Board) owned by the British Computer Society. ISEB were "encouraged" to have a good idea: an exam based on ITIL. Some UK government money funded the pilot scheme and the first exams were in March 1991. These exams were in ‘IT Infrastructure Management: Service Management’. The syllabus was ITIL but initially the exam was not!

To get people ready for that exam, training was needed and again CCTA funded things.  The Civil Service College won a tender to create training materials and the College got a period of exclusivity to deliver that training before competition arrived. When that competition was free to run, the CSC material was sold to prospective trainers by CCTA; cheaply enough to encourage take up, but expensive enough to make them take it seriously. CCTA support generally extended to some hands-on support for new trainers, or at least a ‘guest speaker’ slot on their first course. (Eventually UK government decided the CSC should stop providing ITIL training because a sustainable competitive private sector market for ITIL training existed.)

ISEB alone delivered those ‘managers exams’. There was considerable take up of ITIL in the Netherlands, the Dutch IT Exam Institute (EXIN) were interested and worked with ISEB to deliver managers exams in Dutch. EXIN saw space for a foundation level exam, developed this and licensed ISEB to deliver it in English. A neat reciprocity that lasted a few years until ISEB decided they didn’t need to pay anymore. In the 2000s, CCTA managed to retrospectively take ownership of – and receive royalty payments for – ITIL based exams.

A User Forum that grew beyond original ideas

In parallel with the education initiative, CCTA also felt the need for some kind of user group. A few initiatives had been mooted across the community, inconsistent and with some vested interest on show. So a group of sympathetic people was assembled, with direct CCTA input and a company called the IT Infrastructure Management Forum was created. CCTA offered a free room – in the Treasury building off Whitehall – for the initial meeting in 1991. That meeting was well attended, and a viable group was born. Although the initial idea was a User Group, in fact it was always a combination of user group and trade association. Without the suppliers encouraging their employees’ involvement, funding through sponsorship etc then it simply would not have been feasible.

That model of tacit user group/trade association stayed as ITIMF evolved from a one country (UK) operation through to some 50 chapters across the world. Although suppliers have traditionally been looked down on within itSMF, without them itSMF would have died an early death.

As the community spread, first to Netherlands, then South Africa, Australia and North America, so some coordination of the chapters was necessary. ITIMF International was first formed around 1995, and they took a seat on the ITIL steering committee when ITIL was first outsourced in 1996. That international withered away but was replaced by informal gatherings, then a 2 day workshop in Montreal in 2003 set up a constitution.

itSMF conferences grew in size and scope and range, itSMF was healthy and booming on every continent, but it suffered in the 2008 recession, and has suffered from some inevitable politics as, especially when times get hard, those with power try to hang on to it.

So what?

Actually, in strictest terms it doesn't matter how we got here, we know where we are and we should perhaps worry about where we are going. But ask anyone in capacity management and they will tell you that extrapolation form historical use is the obvious starting point for predicting the future.
So history might be useful, and if anyone liked this, then next I can look at those trends and suggest where they might be taking us.


  1. Good to know about history behind creating ITIL. Whatever, may be the reason but today I am definitely getting benefited with the concept and best practices devices by ITIL v3. Thanks. Divya

  2. I am not a historian. I do read Charles Betz, who has claimed to be interested in the history of IT and so has done quite a bit of research on the subject. His views on the history of ITSM are not quite as ITIL centric as what you have described here (you claim that ITIL was "launching into empty space"). You may have described ITIL's history (more or less) but you have neglected the contributions of others that predate ITIL (or GITTIM).

    Here is a link to your friend Rob England's blog with additional information:

    There is also this

    Or perhaps this is better:

    Anyway, if you look hard enough you can find out that Peregrine launched a Service Desk tool in 1981 (the foundation to today's HP Service Manager), CMM predates and certainly overlaps with parts of ITIL, IBM obviously has had some (debatable how much) influence over the orgins of ITIL, and probably countless other thoughts, papers, books, products all available prior to ITIL.

    To say it was "launching into empty space" is inaccurate. Perhaps it was launching into cluttered space, or disorganized space, or disparate space (which sounds funny), or something that would acknowledge that there were "things" out there just maybe not as well put together, consolidated or perhaps with the same breadth or overall intention of ITIL.

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  7. The new version of ITIL views the IT Service Management domain by primarily describing the phases of the service lifecycle. Within this perspective it uses processes that detail parts of one or more phases. Alongside processes, descriptions of organizational functions and activities are also used to provide guidance. ASL is primarily a process model, focusing on Application Management and the maintenance part of Application Development but with clear interfaces to the adjoining IT management domains Business Information Management and Infrastructure Management.