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.