ITIL: Weighing the Pros and Cons (Part 2 of 2)

In the second article in our two-part series, we explain why adopting the IT Information Library may not be right for your organization.

by Rob Addy

Last we looked at nearly a dozen benefits to using ITIL in an enterprise. This week we look at 15 reasons why adopting ITIL may be ill-advised for your IT organization.

1. Stifles creativity and/or innovation: The very fact that ITIL lays down a framework of business processes means that those implementing it do not have to go through the process development phase for themselves. While this undoubtedly saves time, it also means that those adopting the standard are locked into the overall direction of the ITIL model and will find it hard to do anything innovative or novel.

2. Food for consultants: Just as the ISO 9000 phenomena created an industry of its very own, ITIL looks certain to do the same, with countless companies already offering certification, compliance audits, business process re-engineering, process consultancy, and the like.

3. Diverts attention from real objectives or becomes a goal in itself: Implementing ITIL has become a job in itself for some IT executives. This misdirection of resources means that the improvement of services, reliability, and user satisfaction can take a back seat.

4. Allows senior management to pay lip service to real issues (“We’re ITIL so we’re alright”): Being ITIL-certified or implementing an ITIL-certified system does not guarantee any level of system performance or achievement. It is dangerous to suggest that ITIL will fix all, or any, of the ills of your IT infrastructure. Only hard work and a systematic approach to problem resolution and subsequent prevention will do this.

5. Seen as a “Magic Pill” or “Silver bullet”: Adding ITIL processes on top of a chaotic IT infrastructure will likely make matters worse instead of better. The added burden of ITIL procedural requirements can make an overstretched IT operation lose its way and cause it to fail under the load.

6. Creates inertia or can be used as an excuse for inactivity: Formal procedures always bring some level of inertia into an organization. The need for everyone to be trained and the need for everyone to buy in to the new way of working is only one example of how ITIL could impact your operation. If you then throw into the mix the need for a procedural review body to oversee and approve any changes, it is easy to see how you can spend more time on the paperwork than on what you're actually supposed to be doing.

7. Lacks credible research into its effectiveness and value: To date there has been no study into the implementation of ITIL on a large scale to identify and prove the benefits that its supporters claim. After more than eighteen years, it is surprising that someone somewhere hasn’t collected this data.

8. Doesn’t promote a continuous improvement culture: ISO 9000 was initially slated by many quality professional for its “consistency rules” approach. In subsequent revisions this was rectified somewhat with the addition of clauses relating to preventive action etc. Regrettably, ITIL hasn’t yet learned from its quality-focused relative and has very little to do with the systematic prevention of problems and incidents at this time. Even such areas of error control do not truly address what is required to prevent something happening. Instead, they focus solely on root-cause analysis with somewhat morbid fascination.

9. “Best practices” by definition mean that you are only average: If everyone accepts something to be the best and adopts it wholeheartedly, then everyone has the best and the best then becomes only average. Unless organization continually review their processes and change them to achieve greater efficiencies, gain a greater level of service, or reduce costs, they will soon fall behind the marketplace and become less than average.

10. Devised by bureaucrats for bureaucrats: ITIL was originally developed by government officials to allow government officials to manage IT projects more effectively than they had done previously. While ITIL probably did do great things to improve the effectiveness of these institutions, it should be remembered that government is not (and is not likely to become) the performance standard against which modern business measures itself.

11. Creates arbitrary boundaries between functional groups: The distinctions between problems and incidents highlighted within the ITIL framework do little to encourage cross-departmental liaisons and cooperation. There is a real danger that front-line organizations will only focus on incident management and will not dedicate sufficient time and resources to problem resolution. Equally, second-line organizations may feel justified in passing their customers to the first line rather than dealing with them directly with obvious detriment to customer service.

12. Blind faith on the part of some managers that ITIL processes are the best way of working: The trade media has spent so much time extolling the virtues of ITIL that many IT executives have forgotten their usual scepticism. Managers that would never take the word of a vendor on its own are blindly following the pronouncements of a few industry luminaries as gospel.

13. Lack of detail in some areas and over prescriptive in others: The ITIL framework adds value in areas where it brings clarity to the unclear and definition to the chaotic. Unfortunately, some subject areas are covered in more detail and with more thought than others. This is the price to be paid by any document that has multiple authors contributing standalone chapters without a strong overriding editorial direction.

14. Fails to tie the provision of IT services back into the overall business goals and objectives: ITIL was born in government where the usual business rules don’t always hold true. Cost control is important as is efficiency, but all government departments are constantly looking to increase their size and remit because with size and influence comes power.

15. Increased administrative burden: Additional process steps and increasingly data-hungry support systems can significantly increase the amount of reporting required of your employees. Don’t be surprised if some of your staff resent this additional element to their duties and claim to have two jobs rather than one—the second being to write about what they do!

It is not the intention of this series to answer the question “Is ITIL right for you?” This is something that only you can answer, and even then only after you have conducted a careful review of the pros and cons as they apply to your organization.

The following points are intended to act as a guide when your enterprise decides on whether to take the ITIL route.

  • Make your own assessment
  • Don’t believe the hype; healthy scepticism is a good thing!
  • Use the framework as a starting point or foundation on which to build
  • Don’t change for the sake of change; know why you are changing and what you want to achieve from the change
  • Measure before, during and after any process change
  • Keep it simple, please!
  • Don’t be afraid to question the validity of the framework. Always ask "Why?"
  • To be better than average you will have to go beyond ITIL!

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Rob Addy is an ITSM professional with over a decade of hands-on experience in the field with both enterprise and mid-size organizations. Rob’s 360-degree view of the market balances real-life scenarios, customer requirements, best-practice processes, and technical capabilities and limitations for insight into improving IT services. For more information about Effective IT Service Management: To ITIL and Beyond!, visit You can contact the author at

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