Focus on the Business Service—Not the ITIL Processes

During my recent travels throughout the world, I recently held a number of round table discussions on service management implementations, challenges and successes. Interestingly, many organizations that successfully implement incident, problem and change management start to run out of steam and then find it incrementally harder to move to the next level. In the round tables, we’ve been discussing the reasons for this and some of the successful practices that support effective execution of service management initiatives.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some the successes and failures based on these discussions. Today’s post focuses on the importance of business services vs. ITIL processes.

Recently, a CIO of a large global manufacturer told me that effective service management is “table stakes and not negotiable.” His organization’s implementation focuses on the effective delivery of service and not the service management processes. But it wasn’t always like that. Unfortunately, like many organizations they implemented their service management solution twice to obtain the desired results. 

In their first implementation, the service management team reorganized according to ITIL practices, trained nearly the entire IT organization and set metrics according to detailed ITIL processes.  After a journey of nearly two years, the team had implemented a service desk with excellent incident management, followed by problem, change and even a CMDB.  One of the first signs that things were going wrong, however, was when CAB meetings were taking two-three hours each week, and CABs were discussing business-as-usual changes that should have needed only minimal intervention.

The CIO called their first service management implementation the “ITIL Compliance Journey.” After two years, their results included significant improvements in service availability based on the team’s ability to recover from outages faster. The business clearly appreciated those improvements, but was concerned by the overly rigid processes that were stifling innovation. They felt they could more easily get services from the cloud without going through the IT organization.

The movement to business services delivered with or without internal IT is becoming hybrid in nature. Typically, with some components of the service delivered internally and other components partially delivered through an outsourced arrangement or more recently in conjunction with a cloud provider. Think about the mortgage application process, most organizations use the services provided by a third party credit bureau.  In the case of the global manufacturer their focus is transitioning to measuring the end user service experience, which forms the basis of service levels agreements. The organization realized they needed to take a broader view on the holistic service, removing the current egocentric and siloed view on measuring individual components of the service. This also required an approach where all the components of the service value chain were required to be known and as the team didn’t control many of the components the team needed to understand the partners involved and the interface points.

From an execution perspective this required a radical change in their service management implementation as they transitioned their focus from simply the maturity of ITIL processes to the maturity of their business service. This new perspective was based on the business service and the agreed service delivery contract with the business, whether documented or perceived and its linkage to the various stakeholders delivering the components of the service.

During the second implementation of service management, the term ITIL was removed from their vocabulary, although it is still used as a guide. The organization now focuses on business service using SLAs and the risk of impacting it as the guide to the journey.  This change has proved to be extremely successful.

The team responsible for the implementation emphasized that the critical aspect of their success was a combination of top management support, with IT and non-IT singing from the same song sheet. Oh, and by the way, IT no longer just delivers services-they are a critical component in the delivery of business products.


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Robert Stroud

Vice President Strategy & Innovation IT Business Management at CA Technologies
Robert Stroud is vice president of innovation and strategy for IT Business Management at CA Technologies. Rob is dedicated to the development of industry trends, strategy and communication of industry best practices. Rob is a strong advocate for the governance, security, risk and assurance communities working closely with the community to author, develop and communicate standards and best practices. Rob also advises organizations on their implementations to ensure they drive maximum business value from their investments in IT-enabled business governance. Following a four-year term as an ISACA International vice president, Rob served on the ISACA Strategic Advisory Council, and is currently serving as ISACA ISO Liaison sub-committee. Earlier, Rob served on the itSMF International Board as Treasurer and Director Audit, Standards and Compliance, the itSMF ISO liaisons to multiple working groups and spent multiple years on the board of the itSMF USA. An accomplished author and blogger, Rob is widely recognized for perspectives on industry trends. He also has contributed to multiple standards publications including COBIT 4.0, 4.1 and COBIT 5, Guidance for Basel II and several ISO standards. Rob served as an active member of the ITIL Update Project Board for ITIL 2011 and in various roles in the development of ITIL v3 including the Advisory Group, mentor and reviewer. Prior to joining CA Technologies, Rob spent more than 15 years in the finance industry successfully managing multiple initiatives in both IT and retail banking sectors related to security, service management and process governance. Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobertEStroud

This article has 9 comments

  1. Randal Locke - The ITIL Texas Ranger
    Wednesday 1 May 2013, 7:05 pm


    You discussed that this company did ITIL well, except for the fact that in Change Management they didn’t. Standard changes evidentially went through the CAB and shouldn’t have, and probably low risk Normal changes went to them as well. With that change, the CAB issue wouldn’t exist. However, your thoughts around Business Service is absolutely correct, and should be the same focus even in an ITIL centric world. The problem with most organizations is trying to be too pure in anything they do, and they forget to use things like ITIL as a guideline for improvements. The most important part in ITIL in my opinion is that of “Continual Service Improvement”. Ensuring that I am a little bit better off tomorrow than I am today. This specifically means driving my business should be better tomorrow than it is today. If IT does their job properly, we are only an enabler for the business do what they do best, make money….. Great discussion points.

  2. Rob: Thanks for penning this insightful article. As the ITSM Program Manager in my organization, I have been alluding to this very message, while trying to mitigate the risk of sounding like a traitor to ITIL. It’s NOT about whether one can quote the ITIL books; it’s all about understanding best practices and using them as a guidline to deliver high quality products and services that meet or exceed business needs. Now I am forwarding your article to my IT department to reinforce the message.

  3. Robbin,
    Great to hear from you, your note is useful and thanks for forwarding the note to the team. Should you get the chance, I would appreciate you sharing any real life experiences.

  4. As per usual, I hear people discussing how ITIL was unsuccessful, only to see how the IMPLEMENTATION was flawed and not undertaken properly.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />< ?xml:namespace prefix = u5 />Like anything, if it is not done correctly IT WON’T WORK. I can also state how I have travelled extensively and assisted organisations to implement in a CONTROLLED and BUSINESS ALIGNED fashion and these non-sensible issues DON’T ARISE.PLEASE STOP BAGGING ITIL WHEN THE ISSUE IS POOR IMPLEMENTATION, by consultants who most likely don’t have any certifications to start with


  5. David,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply and your passion for the topic. There are indeed organizations getting value from the framework and these are those that focus on the business and not maturity of individual processes. The fundamental point here is that we do need to focus on the business drivers and outcomes and not the framework and the maturity of individual processes. ITIL is a framework, collective good guidance, not perfect but a good start. Too many focus on the framework as a panacea and it is not.

    I will write more on this is the next few weeks.

  6. Great Article Robert. Sure would love to hear more about your journey and also how did the above company made their second attempt at transformation. It should be a good story to tell and of course learn from it . I will share this one and wait to hear from you .

  7. Great comments. I agree, it’s not about the framework but business value and business outcomes. Many in IT get too focused on the framework, or methodology and loss focus that our primary purpose is to help the business succeed in their objectives and mission which is to provide a product or service to their end customers. I’ve seen many time people forget that ITIL is a series of best practices, and ultimately it’s the responsiiblity of the organization to adopt those practices which add value to the organization.

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  9. Rob,

    This has been up for a few months now. Focusing on services and service deliverables – organizing around services – is a significantly different view from the ITIL view of focusing on and organizing around processes.

    I’ve found that the discussion creates considerable cognitive dissonance in IT, particularly among those that are very committed to ITIL. Particularly when combined with a discussion around re-organizing IT around a prime contractor (services) / subcontractor model so that the organization can more easily (agility) exploit the possibilities of cloud.
    I was wondering what kind of responses you’ve had to this idea?

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