The Spectacular History of ITIL

You might ask me – why bother about history? It’s the future that we plan for and look forward to. Right?

It’s true that we jump into future technologies but in the area of management, history gives us pointers and provides the complete horizon of evolution. Unless we know where we started, we cannot accurately determine where we will end up.

ITIL History Snapshot

ITIL’s beginning has roots in the UK government’s aspiration to bring the best practices in the information technology industry under a single umbrella. In the eighties, the Central Computer Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) was tasked by the British government to reach out to IT companies and identify and collate the best practices. The thought process was not to develop a commercial framework that looks like what it is today. The exercise was done to seek out and initiate collaboration between the IT companies. The result was about 30 books published during this period. All the books did not come out at the same time. As and when they were collated, the books were published. Majority of the best practices can be attributed to IBM, from their publication called A Management of Information Systems.

While the exercise’s intent was noble and well intended, the volume of 30 books was just too humongous to be of practical use. It needed to be abridged and usable. So there was an exercise undertaken to make this compilation usable. The original set was condensed in 2001 to 7 books – each of the book focusing on a different aspect of management. This version was referred to as ITIL V2. The most popular books of ITIL V2 were service delivery and service support. It consisted of 10 processes, 5 each in service delivery and service support. And 1 function.

ITIL V2 gained momentum and became a healthy framework that was employed in a number of organizations. It brought a sense of orientation to services and a community soon developed around it. In 2005, ITIL’s best practices were formalized into the ISO/IEC 20000 standard for managing services. This was the first time a standard was developed for service management.

ITIL was developed with an intention of collating the best practices in IT industry. ITIL V2 served the purpose well and it was just that. The practices were like satellites, each with its own set of activities and disjointed from one another. The individual processes were brilliant by themselves and the integrations and origins were somewhat blur.

In 2007, ITIL V3 was released. It’s major objective was to construct a story around the processes, bring in the lifecycle of services and make the guidance practical and implementable. Seeing the complete service management story through the eyes of ITIL processes brought in the aha moment. Service architects such as me felt that we were handed a secret weapon that powered our imagination.

ITIL V3 was broken down into 5 logical phases consisting of 26 processes and 5 functions.

The IT industry embraced ITIL V3 with open arms. It became a norm for all organizations to transform their services into ITIL ways of working. I can tell you from my experience that ITIL simply swept through and since then, it became a de-facto standard for IT service management. Except for Microsoft. They had their own framework called Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) which is now defunct and they too have adapted to ITIL ways of working.

In 2011, a minor update to ITIL V3 was released. This version was referred to as ITIL 2011.

In 2013, ITIL was sold to Axelos, a joint venture between the Cabinet Office and Capita. Still, if an organization wished to implement ITIL internally, they can do so freely. No license had to be procured. However, if a businesses wanted to use ITIL’s intellectual property or to conduct certification examinations, then they had to buy the necessary licenses from Axelos.

While ITIL V3 was great, with the advent of the digital age, services were no longer seen as a distinct entity. As the gap between build and support reduced, the relevance of ITIL V3 started to dip. There was a need to run services in the age of digital, in the age of DevOps. The answer was a new version of ITIL – ITIL 4.

The announcement for ITIL 4 came in 2017 but the new version did not come out for 2 long years. In February 2019, a phase-wise release of ITIL 4 started. It started with the ITIL Foundation publication and the announcement of the ITIL Foundation examination, and through the next few months, individual modules were announced. The entire set of 4 ITIL modules came out in 2020. More info on this in the ITIL certifications video.

In my view, ITIL 4 should have come out at around 2015 which was the prime time when DevOps had taken shape and several eulogies for ITIL V3 were sung. Several experts from all areas of IT predicted ITIL’s doom. They felt that ITIL V3 was quite archaic and did not fit the needs of the digital age. They are right about it, unless and until ITIL V3 was adapted to work in DevOps projects, it was not going to work.

Well, I hope in this post, you have got a feel for how we landed up with ITIL 4 and how we started from nothingness.

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