ITIL Adjusts to Accommodate Rising Popularity of DevOps

Despite differences, ITIL and DevOps practitioners share one belief in common: IT must be aligned with the goals of the business.

IT process philosophy is almost always a controversial topic, and defenders of any one camp tend to boost its ideology to the exclusion of every other — or at least they used to. Recently (and refreshingly), many IT operators have come to realize that most process frameworks ultimately have the same goal: to align IT with the business, improving its ability to nimbly respond to market changes.  

As a result, changes are being made to the ITIL framework to accommodate the rapid deployment and release that occurs under a more ascendent framework, DevOps. While there’s little agreement as to whether they’re truly compatible, IT experts acknowledge that most organizations — each with unique needs and challenges — should pick and choose whichever processes work best, whether they come from ITIL, DevOps, or both.

In other words, it’s irrelevant whether philosophies are compatible with each other, so long as organizations leverage them to create business value — compatibility is the same as profitability.

Meeting of the Minds

Of course, there are significant differences between ITIL and DevOps, but the importance of those differences largely depends on your perspective. There’s no denying that ITIL focuses heavily on planned, phase-based, and even waterfall-style processing, while DevOps values rapid deployment, fast-failing, and customer-centricity above all.

However, AXELOS, the joint venture that maintains ITIL, has now introduced Practitioner, a new ITIL certification program that helps companies benefit from the structure of ITIL while remaining open to the influence of other ideas. As AXELOS head of ITIL Kaimar Karu, told TechTarget, “Practitioner shows that Agile, Lean, DevOps — they’re all more aligned with ITIL than previously thought.”

At its worst, Karu believes that strict ITIL implementation can actually become “draconian,” as process-obsessed change advisory boards (CABs) begin to actually stifle critical thinking. Karu believes that the supplementary use of DevOps (or some other strategy) will round out the overall approach and add some needed flexibility to enterprise IT operations.

Not every expert believes that the two happily cohabitate, of course. Jason Bloomberg, writing in Forbes, argues that organizations will inevitably use DevOps to work around the outdated limitations of ITIL, eventually eroding the core program itself. As Bloomberg notes, “It’s not clear… whether most IT organizations are up to the task of implementing processes for improving their own processes.” This mindset holds that the ITIL legacy is redundant and destined to fade, in other words.

Your Business Needs What It Needs

But need these ideologies even compete? As InfoQ observes, some IT experts see ITIL and DevOps as the two sides of Gartner’s bimodal IT coin: the former maintaining legacy IT processes while the latter constantly innovates. The larger point to keep in mind, however, is that organizations need use what works for them. Individual businesses will always carve out their own tailormade strategies, rather than institute a copy-and-paste version of any one particular ideology.

In building out processes, practical considerations are actually often more valuable than philosophical ones. For instance, it’s critically important that organizations are able to closely manage the performance and capacity usage of their applications. 

This isn’t to say that debate surrounding DevOps and ITIL isn’t productive or valuable. Rather, it’s to point out that that argument will ultimately be won on the balance sheet.

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