ITIL is designed to maximize business value, so why is it so often viewed as a process-improvement effort?

IT Service Management can be polarizing, almost a religious experience –  it’s many things to many people; understood by few, misunderstood by most, and ultimately, is just kind of annoying to everyone else.

I remember going to an ITIL conference back in the late ’90s. Excellent speakers, incredible energy. There was a lot of focus on process standardization, forming a consistent, inter-working framework for excellence. Oh, it was a thing of beauty, and clearly a desirable goal for any organization. Efficiency. Effective. Streamlined. Somewhere in all of it, there was, I suppose, brief mention of why we do what we do in Service Management, but it was either overlooked, or ignored. We just knew that we were making things better by being better IT organizations.

The problem? It focused more on IT than customers. Did our customers want us to be efficient and effective? Well, that’s a dumb question, of course they did; no need asking them. They get more of what they want, and less of what they don’t. Yes, we reasoned in our own IT-vory towers, they must want efficient and effective. So for years, we set about re-engineering processes, consistent with The Guidance, and I’m convinced that we did, indeed, become more efficient and effective, but somehow in the process we lost connection with The Goal – what the organization is trying to accomplish ~why the organization exists~ . We lost touch with our customers, our reason for being. We lost our way, we Service Management folks, and both we and our customers suffered for it.

Here’s a secret seldom heard by IT folks – most organizations don’t exist for IT. I mean, obviously if that’s the business one’s in, but beyond that, most organizations exist to make profit for it’s stakeholders, by selling products and services that fulfill customers’ needs. Success brings profits, failure brings decline and fall. (Yes, some organizations are public sector or non profit, but these too exist for a purpose that generally has little to do with IT.) All organizations struggle with delivering the best products and services, while minimizing costs, to deliver maximum value.

In the same way, IT organizations must focus first and foremost on this simple business fundamental – deliver value to your customers, or face decline and fall.

Thankfully Service Management is more than up to the task.  Every process, every function has explicit value to the business. Know what the value is, stay razor-focused on it, and ITIL won’t let you down, because That is what IT is all about.

How do you keep focused on value to the business?