ITIL® and Me

In the trenches with ITIL and ITSM.

During the past few days I had the fun and privilege of spending time at two ServiceNow user groups here in Ohio (I recommend not visiting Cleveland in July – the hail is brutal).  After the time of learning about ServiceNow, seeing cool features planned in future releases, and generally talking with my fellow fans and cohorts of the product (along with enjoying the fine beverages served during happy hour), I was talking to a friend and colleague about the future of ITSM tools and I had a chance to brainstorm what the next five to ten years may look like.  I certainly won’t make the claim as being someone that can successfully predict the future, but I came to the conclusion that the next “big” thing isn’t just a new tool or technology, and it’s not even automating our tools or technology, but rather what I’m waiting to see is some intelligence in a tool.  And not only intelligence, but something that can actually improve itself over time.

I’d like to take a step back and give a picture of where we are today.  IT is going through some fantastic changes and in the ITSM industry, there’s a player called ServiceNow that is currently the 800 pound gorilla in the market.  The tool came from humble beginnings in the mid-2000’s in which no one had a product in the market that was using web 2.0 technologies.  Sure, Remedy, CA and HP were all big players, but their tools were built on proprietary languages and still had to be hosted onsite.  So when ServiceNow hit the market and not only was a cloud-based solution, but was also easy to develop for as a platform, it’s no wonder the product has grown so quickly and by so much.  Getting back to today, ServiceNow is now (that’s a lot of “nows”) positioning itself to be an enterprise platform for applications used by people outside of IT.  In other words, it’s going away from just being another ITSM tool and the recent marketing material suggests that’s where Fred and Frank want to take the product.

Moving ahead slightly into the future, I’m going to guess that we’ll eventually see another product come out that, like ServiceNow, will start small, be built on the recent common technologies, will have the potential to be a platform as well as be something that has an ease of development, will incorporate best practice ITSM processes, and will be inexpensive for IT departments to not only purchase, but also to implement.  If such a tool also includes a social media and mobile platform, then it’s sure to disrupt ServiceNow’s market in ITSM.  But such a product will only disrupt, not dethrone.  And there is where the conversation over dinner turned into answering the question….what will dethrone ServiceNow in ITSM?  And please keep in mind, I specifically put “in ITSM” for the very good reason that ServiceNow is looking to be an enterprise platform and competing on such a level will probably take a force of nature.  But change the scope to only IT and the core processes, and the field of competition will change as well.

In the IT world we’ve had a few interesting themes that I’d like to bring to attention.  First, analytics.  How to take data (and probably a lot of it) and find meaningful patterns, preferably to help make intelligent decisions.  Second, artificial intelligence.  With AI, we want to essentially automate finding the patterns and making the decisions.  I think the best quote I’ve heard in the context of this blog posting is “Artificial intelligence is common sense wrapped around an algorithm.” – Christopher Dancy.  With that in mind I hope you know where I’m going with the “evolution” in ITSM tools…automated intelligence.

I describe the idea (and I’m sure other people want this and have stated it, so I won’t say I’m the first to think of it) of automated intelligence as that of an IT product that can take in vast amounts of data, or inputs, and over time start to identify patterns to the inputs that leads to high probably of correct outputs.  In other words, it’s something that just learns how people in an organization operate and eventually starts to learn what they want.  Of course, there would need to be some kind of algorithm that needs to rank the probably of outputs, and human intervention is a necessity to ensure people have input into the process.

Now, does any of this sound familiar to you?  I hope so, because Google is already providing such a service on their webpage.  The Google search takes input, and based on several pieces of data (your location, search history, page ranking, etc.) it gives results based on what you want to find.  In the ITSM world it wouldn’t be as simple as displaying web pages, but in our IT world each request really only provides one of a small handful of results; someone needs something fixed, someone needs information, or someone needs something new.  Those three items can be translated to creation of an incident ticket, direction to a knowledge article, or creation of a service request.  Could it get more complex?  Absolutely, but for purposes of this blog post I’d rather keep it simple.

And this is where Google has the lead; they already have the experience and technology for being able to take input and provide a ranking of outputs.  Not only do they have the experience, but they have the experience based on the human practice of typing searches into a free-text format.  When it comes to the ITSM world, they would even have an easier time with providing correct results as several pieces of data would be in a structured environment and easy for an algorithm to search.

So Google has the advantage, but why even try to go with automated intelligence?  My thinking is simple:  The goal is to have a way to have an IT tool improve itself, and with improvement based on the patterns and behaviors of the environment.  As an example of how such a system could work, let me lay out a scenario of a high priority incident.  It has information such as the location, CI, key words in the description, etc., etc.  Eventually that information provided on the incident form creates the actual P1 incident and during its life it gets passed around between groups, until something major goes wrong and the (hopefully they have one) incident manager opens a bridge to resolve the incident.  Fast forward to weeks or months into the future and another incidents gets created matching most of the input from the previous incident.  The person created the incident saves it with a P1 and assigns it to some group as the previous ticket.  At this point, an intelligent system would match that inputs are similar, and immediately prompt the incident manager that a similar ticket was created that required a bridge to be opened for resolution.  In this case, a previous experience matched to an outcome would help automate matching a similar experience to the same outcome.  Ironically, it’s the exact same way that humans work where experience influences our behavior.

When you consider how Google works, it just takes input and matches it to output based on previous experience, and often by using the search experience of others.  Us humans work the same way, so why can’t our tools do it?  Sure, the algorithms will be complex and will always need tweaking, and it’s something that will build value over time, but why can’t it work?  We’re simply dealing with inputs and outputs and matching them from previous experience.  If Google can become a multibillion dollar company from the concept, certainly the ITSM industry is ready for a tool that does it as well.

I’ve been noticing a few things on Twitter lately regarding getting IT aligned with the business and the importance of understanding what the business side actually does to provide value.  Usually my eyes just pass by this kind of knowledge with a minor thought in my head of “duh,” but it’s starting to bother me that we, as an ITSM community, need to keep reminding the rest of the IT world that IT needs to understand the business and get on board with providing value instead of sucking away precious budget dollars.

In a recent conversation with my friend and colleague Jake Dunmoyer (, I had a chance to hear Jake’s view that in the (probably not so) distant future everyone will be a part of IT and the successful people will be those that are good at business.  I tend to agree with his views and I look forward to the day when the phrase “IT Department” is only muttered when I tell my grandchildren stories of the “early days of technology.”

So, if the trend is towards IT and business merging, and the voices of ITSM have been constantly loud and proud about making sure IT understands the business and has the goal of providing value, why isn’t “IT” listening?  Or to be more specific, why isn’t every CIO, VP, director, manager, supervisor, analyst, engineer, developer, etc., listening and starting their day with the agenda of providing value to their employer of choice.  I don’t mean to sound like Lumbergh from the movie Office Space, but there is truth into the saying “is this good for the company?”

To offer my own thoughts for an answer on this rant, I’d like to point out that in ITSM we’re not just dealing with process, and we aren’t only dealing with technology (even though it’s the most fun), but we’re dealing with people.  Now, I don’t have the greatest experience in dealing with people as I gave up my psychiatrist dream years ago, but my wife’s a behavioral therapist and from her daily rantings I can confidently tell you that changing a person is hard, let alone changing the mindset of a group of people.  It’s true that we can use incentives (pay raises/money/gamification) to help drive change, and fear is another tactic (job firings/Death Star blowing up your planet), which isn’t as effective given how Star Wars went down, but it can still work.  But the greatest way to make the change is the culture, since culture will influence the entire organization down to the individual employee.  Considering changing culture takes a lot of time and energy in its own right, it’s yet another thing that’s going to take time to complete, especially if it’s at an organization that has been around for several years and makes only conservative changes.

So is there hope that people will be blinded by the light of IT + Business?  Of course.  As always, it will take time and constant prodding to convert the conservative population over to the realization that the IT landscape is changing, and I’m sure there will never be an end to the reminders to IT to get to know the business (I recommend taking the business out to dinner, maybe someplace romantic where you both can talk and get to know each other without any outside pressures).  I do promise that when I see the obvious Tweets and posts about the need for alignment, I’ll try to ignore making snarky remarks of “duh” and “obviously” and will try to keep in mind that the constant reminders are needed to help push the culture in the right direction.  Until the day of reckoning comes about, here’s a video that pretty much describes my feelings on the topic….

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I originally started this blog with something akin to “People Sell Out, so Why Can’t Process?” with the goal of giving a (minor) criticism to the fact that the Capita JV really is the sellout of ITIL.  Instead of being so negative about the joint venture, and with it being the Fourth of July tomorrow, I really sat back for a minute and considered; what’s the best thing that can come out of the JV?

I’ll be honest that when I heard the news of the name for the new JV, Axelos (or is it AXELOS?), I felt a little betrayed by the UK Government (they may have intended the betrayal to get me back for losing the war in 1776, but that’s a personal conspiracy theory).  A big part of the betrayal came from the fact that with a change in ownership comes a change in management, and the change is apparently starting with a rebranding of the venture.  While Capita spent millions of dollars and has the right to rebrand the management of ITIL anyway they want, it’s a solid reminder that the “best practice” framework that I love so much is now in a major state of flux.  In alignment with what The IT Skeptic posted ( regarding his thoughts on the venture, I’m not feeling like this privatization is a good thing.  I do agree that we won’t know the full extent of the fallout until 2014, but I’m neurotic and I hate waiting for any length of time (despite agreeing that “Slow IT” is a good idea).  Needless to say, it’s evident to me that ITIL is on its way down into the “Trough of Disillusionment” in the hype cycle and this sell-out of the intellectual property is only pushing the trough down to lower depths.

In the spirit of July 4th, and being American which means I generally like rebellion, I’m pushing the agenda that the only answer to truly improving the IT Service Management framework known as ITIL is to toss it out the window and start over.  Yup, you heard me correctly; get rid of the thing.  And not because the content is outdated or corrupt (even though it’s probably outdated), but because it’s now owned by a private organization and at a time in technological history where successful IT endeavors are coming from open source projects, and oftentimes these newer platforms are cheap or free.  So why is process any different?  Why is it that as Android starts to take over the mobile space, Linux gains desktop share, and Chrome is the #1 browser, one of the most widely known process frameworks is being sold-out to a private company that may possibly deter anyone from the ITSM community from actively contributing to the material?

Besides, ITIL is only a framework.  By definition it’s only a skeletal reference and doesn’t have a lot of substance to it anyway.  Don’t believe me?  Read over Release & Deployment Management in Service Transition and draw me up the defined process from the knowledge contained in that specific ITIL V3 volume.  So the lack of material contributed from active practical experience is already any issue, let alone compounding the problem from privatization.

So maybe it’s time we take some lessons from the 21st century and apply it to a process framework of the future.  Why can’t we create a crowdsourced, open source framework for process that has active contributions from the ITSM community, but unlike ITIL, not be stashed away in a castle (thanks to The IT Skeptic for the analogy) hidden by expensive training and certifications.  We certainly have the tools, and there are a lot of brilliant people out there in ITSM.  And since it’s almost July 4th, I could certainly go for a little rebellion against the British.

By the way, an open source process is not my idea.  I simply own a blog  and have the opinion that the privatization of ITIL is pushing the ITSM community towards this solution.  I’m sure on July 5th I’ll be feeling less rebellious.

I’ll admit it, this is an IT/ITSM blog, so why would I post something that could be analysed as bordering on obsessive behavior for the love of doughnuts?  Simple.  I own this domain and blog and I can write anything I want.  Another, not quite as simple, answer is that I like to keep my blog personal and for anyone that knows me, it’s a very well known fact that I absolutely love doughnuts and I can’t help but be overjoyed that there’s a national day ( devoted to the fried tasty dough of delight that I’ll soon be enjoying.

Without further adieu, I’d like to present a nice little poem I wrote last night during my intoxicating dreams of jelly filled pastries:

’twas the night before National Doughnut Day and it was as quiet as can be, except for the bakers readying to make the tasty fried morsels for me. The flour and eggs and powdered sugar to mix, will soon delight hundreds and thousands wanting to get their morning breakfast fix.  Oh, how thankful I am to Hanson Gregory for his simple quick wit, because a doughnut without a hole isn’t the same…not one bit.  And if you live in England, Australia or Peru…well, it’s an American holiday I’m sorry to tell you.