Sharon Taylor worked on earlier versions of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library in the 1990s and has now accepted the key role in creating version 3 released in May of 2007. She is also the author of the recently-released book, "The Official Introduction of the ITIL Service Lifecycle," and president of Aspect Group, an ITSM education and consulting firm based in Ontario, Canada. She was a special guest along with other ITIL contributors at the landmark itSMF-Fusion event in September.
In her work on the "Refresh" of ITIL, also known as version 3, Sharon has taken on a challenge that leaves the original six-month agreement she made with the British Office of Government Commerce in the proverbial dust. I talked with her recently and got her answers to questions about her work on the newest version, her vision for the ITIL of the future, ROI, and the changing culture. Here's a summary of my conversation with Sharon:1. Did the OGC come to you, or did you put your name in the hat, or how did you come to be involved with the development of ITIL? Taylor: Well, I've been involved with ITIL for many years, both in the public sector in Canada and in private practice. So when the opportunity to lead the refresh came along in early 2004, it was a competitive recruitment by the OGC in the open marketplace. They were looking for people at that time to develop the scope for what should be in version 3 and the development planning work. I put my name in, and through a process of elimination they came up with a short list of candidates. So I came on board initially planning to spend only six months to scope out the work and put in place the development plan, and when that was finished they asked me to stay around and lead the development work. 2. So that was for the Refresh project, but you had been involved with the development of ITIL before that, right? Taylor: Yes, back in the version 2 days of ITIL, the authoring was done mostly by invitation. They would put out a public call into the industry looking for people who were interested in contributing to the best practices and then made their selections based on that. We would submit sample chapters for example, and then they would select based on who was most competent to write that content. So I was contributing to a number of version two publications and for a number of years as an examiner - writing qualification exams and marking exams. In some ways it's a small community; there may be thousands of us but the community of expert practitioners is relatively small, especially going back ten years ago. 3. The mutual benefit then is that the OGC gets version 3 developed and you gain the recognition to make the Aspect Group more notable among ITSM consultants? Taylor: Well, I suppose that's probably a side benefit. Anyone who is in this is not in it for the money. You do it mostly for the opportunity to influence shape the industry, and on behalf of many of us who have been involved over the last twenty years or so, most of the motivation comes from a desire to move the industry forward and that's why we do it. Since the last version was created it's become such a globally accepted practice that the byproduct has been exposure for anyone who's been involved in the work. But that wasn't really the motivation as much as it was to influence the direction of service management for most of us - certainly it wasn't for me. 4. OK, so for the "refresh" — which I take it is synonymous with version 3 — what was the primary motivation for making an update? Taylor: Yes, it is. Well, a few things - first the age of version 2. Some of the books in the version 2 library were well over ten years old and fairly dated in terms of some of the technologies we talked about. So the first motivation was to update them with the challenges service providers have today.The next impetus was to bring some clarity in terms of the convergence of things like IT governance methodologies and external practices all of which have connections to and synergies to practices like ITIL. So it was to clarify the positioning of ITIL in the marketplace as the service management set of best practices alongside of all the other methodologies like COBIT that were emerging. Those were the primary two objectives. 5. So in light of that and the rate of change that's still going on, do you expect that there will be a need for another version in less time than ten years?
Taylor: Oh, yes. We expect that the shelf life of this version will be three to five years, but the new structure that we've taken on for version 3 helps to eliminate the need for massive overhauls of the work. There's a core practice and then there's a complimentary portfolio that will be a living library that never stops being added to and that's where a lot of the updating will occur.6. And in the second purpose you mentioned - the bringing clarity, you mentioned COBIT was one thing that came about after the introduction of version 2. Was that the major update in the linkage that needed to be made? Taylor:Well, the linkage to the other methods in the industry was more of a peripheral and ancillary issue in terms of the upgrade. We did a very broad public consultation exercise in the beginning of this project that lasted six months where we took all the comments from the stakeholder community to determine what they felt would be improvements to ITIL. The linkages to other practices was just one of those issues. The predominant factor was to update the guidance to reflect the current state of play in service management as a profession and as a practice. 7. So both in terms of creating the version itself and also in terms of the dynamics of the people involved and the different ideas about how this would work and what changes needed be made, what were the main roadblocks to be overcome in creating Refresh? Taylor: Well, there are the typical ones you see in any major project, but the biggest one was cultural, because this introduces transformational thinking as a community of service management professionals. It's not always easy or comfortable to get people to change, and so the biggest barrier, which ironically you might see in an ITIL implementation itself, is changing the culture of the service practitioners in the organization and in the community at large.
An industry has been built around version 2 and the reluctance to change can be very significant and our philosophy was to have a very open and collaborative development platform and involving all the key players in the industry. That was a great deal in our favor in terms of helping garner adoption and foster acceptance of some fairly radical changes being introduced. The most significant barrier we faced was trying to break down the walls of resistance to change.8. And what was the biggest change that came about in this version? Taylor: The entire structure of ITIL was changed. The way ITIL has evolved, in some cases organically, the version 2 library consisted of ten books, only two of which gained mainstream adoption in a large-scale way. The focus was very operational in nature — the process-based framework of version 2 had its basis in an operational environment more than holistically as a service practice at all levels in the organization. So the big challenge to take ITIL outside of just an operational exposure into the boardrooms is the major shift in version 3. Moving to the lifecycle focus is a major change for ITIL from the very first version in the 80's - that's the biggest change. 9. Were there things that, because of the enormity of that change, were either not included or were put aside for a later date? Taylor: Well, it was a matter of how far forward we could push the industry without reaching the tipping point. Because of the massive investment already involved in this billion-dollar industry, too much change too quickly would have put the market in a very imbalanced position. An example might be that we could have added practices within the core set that would have meant massive overhaul for the technology that supports service management in the industry. While some people will see this as a massive shift, it's actually not as far as we may have gone. Some of that will be held off to subsequent publications that will come into the market over the next two to three years. 10. ITIL is something that you've intentionally kept at arms-length from influence by private enterprise from the beginning - how would you see it being different if it had been undertaken by a commercial organization or a group of businesses? Taylor: I don't think it would ever have grown to become one of the world's most widely-adopted practices. By far, that's one of the most successful elements of ITIL over its twenty-year history is the fact that it is non-proprietary. It's free to anyone who wishes to adopt it, and it's owned by public-sector government, and so it's not influenced by any commercial interest. It opens the marketplace up for anyone. You don't have to be tied to any particular vendor in order to use ITIL and that's been part of its success story over its history. 11. With ITIL itself being a sort of open-source best practices, has it taken into consideration the potential for open-source software becoming more prevalent in some of the organizations that use ITIL? Taylor: Well, there's actually a good deal of work going on in this industry and there is a consortium of commercial partnerships between the major vendors in this industry to work on things like open-source standards for things like configuration management database development. So a number of the vendors are looking at the supporting technologies and how they can be enabled in an open-source way so that it's easy to use and integrate for the consumer. 12. So version 3 is more focused on getting a specific value and ROI out of implementing ITIL? Taylor: The big shift in version 3 is measuring things for business outcomes as opposed to service performance indicators. Those are still there but the big thrust is about business outcomes and how you demonstrate that you are providing that value to the business. Part of that practice is how to formally measure a return on investment. Now the CEO's and CIO's are paying attention to this because we now have practices in place which allow organizations to demonstrate how they are providing value and where the ROI is.
Jeff Cerny is the Director of Marketing at generationE Technologies (www.generationEtechnologies.com), a professional services firm in the IT service management space, and also serves as marketing committee chairman for the board of directors at i.c. stars (www.icstars.org), a grassroots IT training organization in Chicago, Illinois.