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DevOps And ITIL: Friends or Enemies?

It is ironical but true that on several occasions, any IT companies take up certain counterproductive measures even while applying a formal approach to ITSM (IT Services Management) called ITIL.

Formerly Information Technology Infrastructure Library, it is now simply called ITIL and is a collection of IT Services Management procedures and best practices for various core IT processes such as Incident Management, Service-Level Management, Change Management and many others.

The fact is that ITIL is not a new approach and has been there since the eighties. With the passing time, ITIL has evolved substantially and matured significantly. The approach is now owned by AXELOS, which is a joint venture between Capita plc. and the British Government. However, despite several decades of advancements, the Agile DevOps technology for IT has made the prevailing ITIL version 2011 appear to some as the recipe for lots of work and severe roadblocks.

Is ITIL really part of this problem?

There are some skeptics of ITIL who feel that the ITIL framework can create an illusion of too much control leading to an impression that IT is manageable and efficient. In fact, the co-founder of Packet Pushers Interactive and a long-time consultant thinks so. Skeptics also feel that ITIL suffers from one big problem of creating an attitude of not owning up the problems.

One such compartment is the CAB (Change Advisory Board). It is a team, which has the accountability for giving approvals and rejections on decisions related to various activities in an IT organization. AXELOS Head of ITSM, Kaimar Karu opines hat it is hardly efficient to have a review done by the CAB for each change request. He also feels it is not a common sense as the costs for such an activity can lead to several thousands of deployments at every hour in some companies.

An organization that has literally faced troubles while transforming their ITIL process when it migrated to the DevOps model is ING, a financial services firm. They felt that CAB was responsible for their struggle to some extent. ING’s IT specialist mark Heistek mentioned that they were simply similar to an insurer rejecting the first claim always. Later on, customers could come back if they had good arguments as a backup.

However, ING discovered that it was possible to update ITIL in order to work within the new approach of DevOps. Jan-Joost Bouwman, ING’s process owner recommends not to strictly follow all the things mentioned in the ITIL book. At the same time, adhering to practices of ITIL such as Incident Management is still the finest way to do it as everyone is aware of what to do and people are hardly confused and baffled about the rules.

So, is ITIL part of a solution?

While there are skepticisms from some quarters, the numbers of people who advocate the use of ITIL along with DevOps are far more. Gene Kim, who is one of the authors of the book “The Phoenix Project” and a renowned thought leader feels that the DevOps technique is in perfect sync with the IT Services Management. According to him, both ITSM, as well as, ITIL are the finest codifications of the processes in a business that support IT operations and describe several capabilities required for the IT operations to be supportive of the DevOps movement.

At the same time Kim has also stressed more on the capabilities of the human beings rather than only on the ITIL procedures and processes. He added that practitioners of ITSM are well-equipped to assist in the DevOps initiatives, thus adding more value for a business. He feels the ITSMM skills re more crucial in a sphere where the business tempo is always so fast.

Ensuring the adaptation of ITIL so that it is in perfect harmony with DevOps and not slowing it down is now the latest subject of discussion. According to the CEO and the principal of Digital Management Academy LLC, ITIL has never been opposed to the DevOps and Agile movement. However, he feels that the overall narrative of ITIL is still deterministic, plan-centric, and sequential.

Processes required improving processes

The continuous feedback loops for service improvement of ITIL ideally work at a longer timeframe as compared to Agile iterations. ITIL offers feedback loops covering a broader software lifecycle system. These also include certain improvements on the basis of how the software operates. The explanation was given by the principal consultant and co-founder of Skelton Thatcher Consulting, Matthew Skelton. He believes that the DevOps technique of continual improvement is possible when organizations find means of using the feedback from prevailing ITIL and Agile practices, as well as ensuring that those feedback loop are quicker and tighter.

However, there is a lack of clarity on of a majority of the IT companies are capable to implement the processes in order to enhance their own processes. The Chief Executive Officer of Chef Software Barry Crist said that they are asked several times to offer a framework for DevOps for the ITIL initiative in big organizations. He feel while ITIL was extremely relevant during the earlier compute era, it is not so relevant in the high velocity IT space of today.

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