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ITIL vs. DevOps

The conflict between ITIL and DevOps is huge in the service management industry. There are arguments that make a valid case for the two being irreconcilable. There are just as many that are speculative or misinformed. This blog entry will dig deep into rhetoric from both sides of the debate. Some arguments will be legitimate. Others will show who may need to revise their understanding of either ITIL or DevOps.

Is it Time to Move On?

ITIL was first introduced in the late 1980s to support the British private sector. Technology is defined by rapid evolution. It’s understandable why some view a 30-year old managing method as irrelevant today. In fact, some believe that one of the main reasons behind DevOps was to make up for ITIL’s inadequacies. Gareth Daine sums up this perspective, ‘while ITIL® has given much to the world of IT, it's time to move on and work faster and smarter.’

One of DevOps’ biggest criticisms of ITIL is that it is not agile enough. The idea is that ITIL’s Service Lifecycle acts as one feedback loop. The feedback enables continual service to be improved. However, this is viewed by some as too slow and inefficient. In an article for Forbes titled ‘DevOps and ITIL: Friends or Enemies?’ Matthew Skelton says that by making ‘feedback loops tighter and more rapid, we move towards a DevOps model of continual improvement.’ However, is this something that can be done with ITIL, without eliminating it entirely?

Is it Too Soon to Write ITIL Off?

For as long as ITIL has been around, it has been misunderstood. Critics call ITIL’s processes unyielding and outdated. However, these are likely to be the same people who believed in following every iota of the ITIL framework religiously.

These people have misunderstood ITIL on a fundamental level. ITIL is a tailorable framework, helping companies integrate business and IT efficiently. If a part of ITIL isn’t relevant, it will only hinder a successful integration. Companies should either cut it out, or try and make it work.

Are We Looking for Differences at the Expense of Similarities?

Gareth Daine comments on a ‘stark contrast to the key tenants and terminology’ used in both ITIL and DevOps. He cites ITIL’s ‘documented’ to DevOps ‘experimental’ approach. Another example is ITIL’s waterfall workflow versus DevOps’ agility. These differences aren’t without their legitimacy. However, if we focus a bit less on semantics, and a bit more on principles, we can see that there are real similarities.

Compare the 3 Ways of DevOps with the 9 Guiding Principles of ITIL Practitioner. The first way of DevOps is ‘Systems Thinking’. This promotes the evaluation of a system’s performance as a whole, as opposed to a team or a department. This is practically identical to the ITIL Guiding Principle ‘Working Holistically.’ AXELOS’s describes how: ‘The results delivered to the organization or customer will suffer unless the service provider works on the whole, not just on the parts.’ Another example is the second way of DevOps, ‘Amplifying Feedback Loops’. This emphasises the clear dispersal of knowledge across a team. This same description applies to the seventh and eighth guiding principle of ITIL, ‘Be Transparent’ and ‘Collaborate’.

Are People Only as Good as Their Processes?

A lot of the written work on DevOps goes to great lengths to emphasise how it is not a software, or a tool. The general consensus is that DevOps is a “culture”, and at the heart of culture is people.

This is a sentiment echoed in discussions of ITIL. In his article ‘Are People the Forgotten Part of ITIL within BSM?’ Peter Doherty writes ‘turning to ITL without truly changing the organizational culture can lead to failure. They need to pay more attention to the “people” part of the people, process and technology elements found in ITIL guidelines.’

Considering both of these points, “people” remain as the last, and perhaps most significant, means to evaluate whether ITIL and DevOps are total opposites. After all, we must consider what personal skills are valued in the ITIL framework: efficiency, responsibility, empathy. Are those who believe ITIL is in opposition to DevOps saying that these skills are not welcome in a DevOps environment?

Hopefully, those who are preoccupied with the differences between ITIL and DevOps will start to see a clear common goal: improving services and delivering value. We need to create a culture that values a thorough, well-rounded knowledge of best practice. Want to take that first step towards attaining such knowledge? Click here to take a look at our ITIL training courses.