The Elephant in the ITIL Adoption Living Room?

At the Annual itSMF UK Conference on 9-10 November, I attended a presentation from PA Consulting called ‘Re-energising ITIL – what to do after the project has gone’. I listened to the presenters with interest but couldn’t help thinking more deeply on a theory I’ve had for a while: that organisations can’t, or won’t, continue to adopt ITIL after the project-employed third parties have left.

Interestingly, the thinking on what Ovum terms ‘internal ITIL inertia’ came about not from the fact that so many organisations say they ‘do’ ITIL but in reality only ‘do’ a small number of the processes, but rather from vendors finding traction in selling additional functionality (modules) as part of the upgrade process. The hypothesis is that many organisations are buying into these additional modules and associated services because they hadn’t got any further along the ITIL journey on their own and just don’t have the time and resources to continue with ITIL adoption after the initial project once the vendors and consultants have left, with the situation relevant to both ITIL v2 and v3 adoption scenarios.

While the PA Consulting presentation was valuable it didn’t really touch on or acknowledge this hypothesis. The re-energising activities suggested were sensible but didn’t consider the possibility that an organisation would have neither the impetus nor the momentum to continue to push its ITIL adoption forward on its own. Ovum, however, considers this to be an extremely important issue that continues to be conveniently ‘ignored’ by the itSMF, IT vendors, and ITIL-adopting organisations, with a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality that fails an organisation post-project.

After the presentation, PA, some other attendees, and I discussed potential causes that included: ‘ITIL snow blindness’, that project closure is deemed to equate to ITIL adoption, that the newly adopted ITIL processes max out the IT function, and many others. Ultimately, however, Ovum believes it is because IT functions are simply organisationally incapable of pushing ‘ITIL Phase 2’ forward by themselves, whether because of a lack of internal resources, or the need for external vindication of the need for change (and assistance in the setting of direction and delivery), that IT just cannot stop the fire-fighting to step back, or a raft of other possible reasons. It is also naïve to assume that the ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process is actively being used by organisations to take forward their adoption of ITIL after the initial project.

Many people, including IT analysts, offer advice as to why ITIL projects fail but this is almost always with respect to potential barriers to the success of the initial project rather than the activities beyond. It raises a lot of questions. How should, and can, organisations ensure that ITIL continues to grow post-project? Having a second project seems sensible but so many organisations are sitting there thinking they have ‘done ITIL’, so why would they need another project? How do we fix this mindset?

Ovum believes that the oft-quoted ‘ITIL is a journey’ mantra, while sexy, is something that is perhaps too difficult for organisations to accomplish themselves. Something like ‘ITIL adoption is a series of externally supported change projects that cumulatively improve IT and business operation and culture’ would be a more accurate and effective way to describe it.

Many will say ‘just adopt CSI early’ but Ovum does not see this happening. Ovum would prefer that collective time and resources be spent understanding the generic causes of and potential solutions to this ‘internal ITIL inertia’ for the benefit of all.

Originally published on


2 thoughts on “The Elephant in the ITIL Adoption Living Room?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Elephant in the ITIL Adoption Living Room? « Stephen Mann's Non-Blog --

  2. Stephen – My colleague Mike Harman and I from PA Consulting Group gave the presentation at the itSMF conference you refer to – so thanks for the mention in your ‘non-blog’.
    In our presentation we explained – with some ‘real life’ examples – how organisations can ‘release’ the value from IT service management by implementing an appropriate and proven change framework to ensure the desired culture becomes embedded in the organisation. A summary can be found at the link below or use the contact us button on the site to receive a copy of the presentation.

    As you mention, ITIL adoption is usually undertaken as a series of implementation projects or programmes, and we agree that the value of these projects is best realised when organisations manage to adopt the right behaviours which then become part of their ‘business as usual” activities – what PA Consulting Group calls “making change stick”.

    Our experience tells us that without applying different types of carefully thought through interventions attempts to implement ITSM best practice often meet with limited success.

    We believe that more effort should be focussed on encouraging staff involvement in the change and creating the right motivation for everyone to make continuous improvement a part of their day-to-day business activities.

    With over 20 years experience of implementing best practice and delivering change across several hundred businesses PA appreciates the need to drive these required changes using proven tools and techniques.

    In our presentation we aimed to support this message with examples of the types of intervention that will encourage organisations to keep ITIL best practice on the agenda and to drive service improvement from it, especially when the appetite and funding for project-led activities may have diminished.

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