The IT Skeptic reviews ITIL V3 book "Service Strategy"

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[Updated: My review of ITIL V3 "Service Strategy" is no longer available at the original website so I am reposting it here.] If V2 taught us how to walk, V3 teaches us to run. Trouble is, many organizations are still sitting down.

The first of the five books in the ITIL Version 3 core suite, Service Strategy is ITIL’s bid for credibility outside the back-room. Well actually, much of Version 3 is a cry for acceptance at higher levels in the organisation (or a power grab for more of the business depending on your perspective). But Service Strategy leads the charge, making an effective case for delivery of IT as a service, and for a strategic, analytical and theoretical approach to such delivery.

One group of readers will consider this book an excellent solution to address some fundamental problems with ITIL versions 1 and 2: the lack of a theoretical and philosophical vision; the relegation of business considerations to a backwater book seldom referenced; and, frankly, an inadequate emphasis on IT as a service despite all the claims in the introductions to the ITIL books (count the references to service catalogue in the Version 2 books). Whether they agree with Service Strategy or not, the academics, theorists, pontificators and philosophers of ITSM will consider this book one of the most interesting things to happen to the sector in a decade.

Another group of readers will reject Service Strategy as an upstart attempt to give some white collar credibility to a blue collar framework. ITIL comes from the wrong side of the tracks. Operations people wouldn’t know a strategy if it stood up in their porridge. Their grasp of architecture stops at Visio diagrams of a physical network. Previous attempts to extend ITIL’s tentacles into solutions development, procurement and other aspects of the IT business have been seen off with the contempt they deserved, but this book returns with a land-grab at a whole new level of presumptuousness.

And a third group will discard it in bemusement or frustration. Service Strategy reads like a university textbook.

Heck, it is a university textbook. The first seventy-plus pages are a systematic and comprehensive documentation of the body of theory behind modern business analysis based on value networks and dynamic systems, with a particular focus on how these apply to the delivery of operational services within the organisation or to customers of the organisation.

Then we return to planet Earth with a second seventy-odd pages of more execution-oriented approach to the processes that live in this book: Service Portfolio Management, Demand Management and Financial Management. However, the heavily theoretical tone remains, and many practitioners will find this a burden. They will want to cut to the chase. I predict that more pragmatic theory-stripped versions of this part of the book will be highly successful publications for those who can get through the copyright minefield OGC are busily laying (this means probably only itSMF and a few chosen others).

Finally there is a third seventy pages of theory and strategy for the organisation and operation of an IT operations business unit. It seems very good, but will again spawn an industry simplifying and explaining it for those who have a job to do.

The book claims to be targeted at “IT organisations” (p10). I don’t see this happening. Even in the largest organisations, one person at most will have the will, interest, time and priorities to study hundreds of pages of densely packed theory.

The target audience for this book is ITIL consultants who can pre-digest it and deliver only the essential conclusions to users. Consultants can study it as one module of their master’s certification, though heaven knows what many will make of it, what exactly can be distilled into a short course, or how much will be assimilated over a few days. This book would be a suitable foundation for a semester’s full-time university paper. Lucky for me that I have a background in electrical engineering systems theory, a graduate degree in operations research, and a lifetime’s reading of scientific literature, or I’m not sure how I would have otherwise survived my first encounter with it.

I predict the book will only really come into its own (a) at the Advanced ITIL certification level, the new level introduced in Version 3 which is yet to be defined and (b) at tertiary institutions offering qualifications in ITSM. Actually (a) and (b) may well prove to be the same thing, i.e. OGC/APMG will look to more substantial institutions to deliver Level 3 certification than the comparatively light-weight operators that constitute current ITIL trainers.

As a result this book presents the same conundrum that all five books in the suite do: ITIL has been taken to another level of maturity and sophistication. That is all well and good for those who are (a) already on the journey and (b) have a business need to grow beyond Version 2’s simpler view of the ITSM world. It is more problematic for those just starting to look at ITIL.

Regardless of what anyone may try to tell you, ITIL V3 is more complex than V2. ITSM is a deeper and more advanced discipline than a decade ago. Not only are some of the processes more advanced – and Financial Management in this Service Strategy book is an excellent example of that – but many areas that could be quietly neglected in simpler V2 installations are now more tightly integrated and brought back into prominence: the “lost processes” have been re-discovered. Examples are Service Catalogue Management, Information Security Management, and Supplier Management.

So the problem is that there is not – as yet – an ITIL Lite for those who don’t need the rocket science. This is subtly different to ITIL for Small Scale Implementations. What we need is ITIL for Beginners Big or Small, for those making the first steps which may or may not later grow into what we have now with V3: ITIL for ITSM Geniuses. V3 tells us how to run, V2 told us how to walk, and many organisations are still sitting down.

The fact that we don’t have ITIL for Beginners leads me to my second prediction: Version 2 will prove much more resilient than OGC hopes. Their plans were to kill it off in 2008, but I think there will remain a strong demand for training, consulting and books long after that - unless OGC move quickly to get a red-book-plus-blue-book beginners’ subset out as part of the complementary publications.

Please don’t look to this review for detailed criticism of the content of the Service Strategy book. I have had a year of exploration to absorb it and I am barely starting. Once I assimilate it I'll need another year to really understand it especially in a practical context, and more time still to prioritise the insights.

The whole ITSM community will be chewing on Service Strategy for years to come. Quite a few will find it indigestible. Others will find it full of long-term nourishment.


Excellent review. I found

Excellent review. I found the Strategy book took about 30 attempts and I still haven't read, digested let alone tried to apply it all.
For the V3 Expert bridge multiguess exam all you need to do is read the 70 pages on the handful of processes.

PS: just bought your Owning ITIL book - will let you know how I go.

Service Strategy

Just finished teaching the Service Strategy Lifecycle class for one of the light-weight trainers. The audience was a group of consultants who are expecting to become ITIL experts in 5 weeks.

Yes, the SS book is written like a university text, but not a well-written one. As one of the candidates pointed out, one paragraph will be written in double-speak and the next will be written in short cryptic sentences which assume you have assimilated every concept that preceeded it in the book.

In my opinion this is not really acceptable for material intended to be used as a reference work.

Remember - you are being certified in ITIL....

Dear Visitor

First - my sympathies. I have taught ITIL since @1997 and it has traditionally required substantial input from the instructor, especially at the 'practitioner' and now capability and lifecycle levels - to operationalize the concepts - make them seem real.

Unfortunately, much of Strategy seems to be an effort to discover the New World of service management based upon a predominantly outsourcer and IT perspective. Its content is generally in conflict with pre-existing concepts and proven methods used within the mature non-IT service management industry and as used to develop business strategies.

It is critical that an IT organization uses methods to develop a service strategy that is consistent in its language and compatible in its methods with that used by the enterprise - period. ITIL Service Strategy does not - so tread cautiously.

Take a moment to check out other great sources such as Marketing Management (Philip Kotler), Service Management and Marketing (Gronroos) and Service Management and Operations (Haksever, render, Russell, Murdick) - all largely ignored by Strategy. Note - all these sources are IT agnostic. Add in poorly positioned references to Porter's value chain and a complete lack of customer relationship management, market research, and requirements management and you have the recipe for a a painful instructor experience.

Remember - this is ITIL's view of the fundamentals of a Service Strategy. If you wish to be certified in ITIL's view - please realize you will have to add a ton of stuff from external sources to be able to actually build, or help build a strategy, often part of a responsibility to manage an IT budget in the millions of dollars....

Once you have gained the ITIL view - also note - you need to understand how the business builds their strategy and its your responsibility to show you can decipher this, and develop an integrated service strategy.

Try Reading the 12 hour MBA

Great resource and could also go under favorite books.

the 12 hour MBA is a summary of the topics you would cover in an MBA. Each chapter has exercises to help drive the points home. I found it really beneficial to re read after I got the Expert certification. Its a practicial application of the concepts in the Service Strategy book. And..biggest benefit helps you understand the General's Point of View and language.

Misunderstood strategy

I see the SS book as a major misunderstanding. Yes, it describes a lot of modern business theory. The recent events on Wall Street should have opened our eyes to be a bit more skeptical on these theories. I wonder how useful are the V3 based IT strategies that were created before last summer.

The misunderstanding is in the nature of strategies the SS book explains. These models are for the generals who are playing with armies. In most cases IT people are the support staff in charge of supply. IT strategy is not done on based on market spaces but under the limitations of corporate strategy. The SS book is not tied to the rest of books. There are some strategic elements in itil but the SS books ignores those.

Aale Roos

Your mess for less

I spent today immersed in a strategy workshop with the CIO and his captains. The topics of interest were only those from Service Strategy: portfolio management, product management, relationship management, service lifecycle, customer portfolios, utility and warranty, and so on.

I knew what we were in for when the CIO walked in with a copy of the book. He is using the economic climate as a call for action, to make dramatic changes to how IT is positioned in the organization; from passive-order-taker to business partner. Of course, embedded in the plan were cost reduction opportunities such as the rationalization of his portfolio of services.

Clearly we live on different planets.

"...IT people are the support staff in charge of supply."

I think this "strategy" is a sure fire way to extinction in today's climate. In fact, there's been a dramatic uptick in the outsourcing of organizations who cling, along with religion and guns, even tighter to this model. IBM is doing a nice business taking over these moribund organizations with the mantra "your mess for less."

Maybe just at the different sides of the planet

It would be good if IT could be a business partner, nothing wrong with that. I do not think that the a few days study of the SS book is a good guide to it.

In my world the CIO's are not very interested in studying ITIL. They tend to leave it to the lower levels like the IT Infrastructure managers, Service Desk managers etc. It is not unusual that the CIO is an MBA so the theory is already familiar.


Interesting Review

An interesting review, Skeptic. It caused me to step back and reflect upon other professions.

What is to be thought of doctors, for example, whose annual reading is at best made up of two or three formulaic thrillers? Who, by virtue of their profession's class system, are increasingly rewarded as their knowledge of medicine narrows.

Or what do we make of the banker, called upon to make real decisions in a time of instability and inflation, who has never heard of John Law or has endeavored to forget who he was or what he did?

Or the economist who thinks even less of railway bubbles and the crash of 1880. What does it mean when he talks seriously of the catastrophe which awaits if debts are forgiven, given he doesn't know that the entire civilation of Athens - upon which we still model western civilization - was created through Solon's wiping out of all crippling loans. Or indeed that America's economic strength in the 20th century was in part the result of constant financial defaultings during the 19th century.

What do we think of the professor of English who views fiction as an exercise separate from society? Rendering literature inaccessible except to the most intimately initiated. And in the process, who becomes himself incapable of understanding the movements of the outer world?

I'd say therein lies the tragedy.

Voltaire used to ridicule the elite of his day by pointing out -- through well-placed scepticism, of course -- they were pitifully ignorant. They simply bought knowledge and advice. The elite's ignorance was so profound that it made them incapable of leading.

Voltaire was not arguing that in order to lead you must be a Renaissance man. But there was a need for general and in-depth knowledge in some direction. And on that foundation there was a need to be interested in the ideas and creations of one's time. To read, to think, to ask questions, and to talk in wide circles, well beyond any particular competence.

The technocrats of our day make the old seem profound and civilized by comparison.

Warm regards,


Dool, this is not ITIL specific but your comments/comparison using doctors is very ill informed. In order for a Doctor to remain a specialist he/she is required to attend conferences, read publications, publish etc. Also while specialising in a specific field they do narrow the scope of their knowledge but are increasing the depth of it in their chosen field. To specialise means to get very good in a certain area because it is impossible in a working lifetime of a person to be good at everything. I don't understand why the public loves to criticise doctors - Doctors are probably paid less than you while actually doing something useful - like helping sick people feel better.

Voltaire's Bastards

Coming from a family of doctors, perhaps I presume to know at least a little about doctors and the medical profession - and some context. For example and to my earlier point:

Doctors were once at the centre of political, social and cultural change. Today, a doctor tends to reach his summit when his view of the human body consciously limits itself to a single organ. They've become technocrats. His is an abstract profession involving narrower and narrower bands of knowledge.

This is precisely what John Saul called "Voltaire's Bastards." Those who hold the absolute belief that the solution to our problems must be a more determined application of rationally organized expertise - ignoring or even disdaining the greater context.

The reality is, as Voltaire pointed out, is that our problems are largely the product of that application.

I hold no derision towards doctors. This is not a commentary on the profession as it is an observation to what Saul described as, "the West's love affair with the ideology of pure reason has made us crippingly dependent on process-minded experts who rational systems are bereft of both meaning and morality."

We are way off topic so I'll move on.

off topic on this blog?

Pardon? "the West's love affair with the ideology of pure reason has made us crippingly dependent on process-minded experts who rational systems are bereft of both meaning and morality" is off topic on this blog? Bang on target I'd say and nicely complementary to Shelley Gare's quote "Anything that can't be put into numerical form is somehow regarded as immaterial or ephemeral, even though we should all know that the most important things in life can never be measured."

Its lawyers not doctors


Your comments make about as much sense to an ignoramus such as me as the Service Strategy book will make to the ITIl fanzine. thank you once again for endorsing the Skeptics point - while trying to shoot it down. Sometimes a degree of ignorance is worth a pound of sense when trying to get to the nub of an issue. The 5 whys are proof of that concept.

Oops I forgot to make the lawyer point....

I was distracted ... its lawyers that draw the ire of mere mortals not doctors. Lawyers will adopt any perspective to make a buck - for or against the point being discussed. they 'interpret' the law as it best suits their side of the case. Doctors have a professional code "preserve life". Lawyers have a variable code that they can adapt to the current situation. ITIL V3 has turned us all into lawyers - it lacks the specific promised guidance touted by many of those who are close to the core and loud during the may 30 launch. Now they, like all of us, need to turn to our doctor code to help folks diagnose the problem and find a remedy that is in the best interest of the customer.

Just a few Voltairisms to even your quote up:

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

What do we say of the service management professional who know nothing but ITIL.....

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