ITIL 4 is Axelos empire building

Axelos empire building banner image.

February’s updates to Axelos’s proprietary ITIL framework, taking it from version 3 to version 4, strike me as largely cosmetic, and overly ambitious.

Andrea and Stefan Kempter of IT Process Maps and YaSM have done a good job summarizing the differences between ITIL versions 3 and 4.

But from my perspective, as someone who sees ITIL methods as a strength, it seems that while the diagrams have changed, the core ITIL processes haven’t, and the grab at incorporating agile methods, business process management, enterprise architecture, knowledge management, and security management, strike me as overreach.

Each of those disciplines is a separate domain of professional practice in its own right.  While it’s certainly true that ITIL practitioners should know about these practices, it strikes me that Axelos is aiming at re-thinking itself as owning all these methods.

The Axelos joint venture between the British government and global outsourcing corporation Capita has always had high ambitions to turn its intellectual capital into expensive global standards.

That capital started out to be the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) practices for IT service management (ITSM) and the PRINCE2 project management process methodology.  These were standards and methods developed by many professionals, but collated and commercialized, initially by the British Office of Government Commerce, and now by Axelos.

Unfortunately, Axelos’s strategy is solely based on profit, exploiting the ‘credentials’ market.  Meaning Axelos-certified practitioners are given a vested interest in overstating the benefits of those methods as bestowing magical skills not accessible to others.  That’s just nonsense.

You can see the direction the corporation is aiming for in its latest iteration.  Axelos chose to use a fictitious American-based company as a recurring example to illustrate ITIL version 4 methods.  A transparent marketing ploy to gain American market share, but also deeply flawed as a vision for business.  The examples put into the mouths of cartoon ‘Axle’ employees demonstrate such a shallow, buzzword-driven understanding of business it undermines the credibility of ITIL itself.  Not to speak of deep reservations we should all have about American casino-economy business models.

It’s not that ITIL and PRINCE2 methods are useless. There is value in knowing both, but not quite the staggering value Axelos would have us believe. The ITIL Foundation course costs around (AUD) $1300. About the same for ITIL Managing Professional and ITIL Strategic Leader. It’s hard to tell, but I think the ostentatiously named ‘ITIL Master’ certification comes as a special offer to surrender yet more money after having completed all other ITIL certifications. So, that’s about $4000, plus whatever the Master certification will cost.

My personal assessment is that the training and certifications already licensed by Axelos are not worth the prices being charged by training houses, who kick back handsome licensing fees to Axelos, and have mostly churned out drones who know nothing but process and method, not how to customize these to meet specific business needs.

The ITIL version upgrade doesn’t really look like it offers much but the marketing pressure on former clients for re-certification; a proposition that profits Axelos, but may not hold much value for customers of the Axelos training gravy train.

I sat through an Axelos-licensed ITIL course and accreditation exam, and took a semester of PRINCE2 at university.  It seemed to me there was a low-brow focus on rote learning and strict literalism when using these methods the Axelos way, contradicting the advice in the ITIL and PRINCE2 documentation that these methods and practices are to be flexible, and adapted to specific circumstances.  No advice, however, is ever offered on what constitutes such flexibility before it’s no longer Axelos method.  Instead, we get the impression that both methodologies can only be applied in one true way.  That’s religion, or ideology, not professionalism.

There’s no secret about the animosity between older project managers and the newly minted PRINCE2 practitioners.  The older project managers, some of whom have Axelos certifications too, have some right to grumble that the shiny new ones seem to have no understanding of project-related disciplines like financial planning and benefits analysis, negotiation and stakeholder management, and the soft skills necessary to succeed in organizational environments.  Essentially, Axelos addresses nothing that cannot be reduced solely to mindless process and deadening bureaucratic paperwork.

Similar critiques can be made about ITIL by veteran IT operations managers, whose skill-set is not tied to a single knowledge source, but acquired through diverse training and, especially, experience.

So, when looking at ITIL version 4, it’s easy to commend Axelos for pointing its acolytes to the wider knowledge base an IT professional should possess, but it’s also easy to take a cynical view of the corporation’s apparent attempt to dumb down these knowledge domains in order to compress them into commercially lucrative certification training courses.

Agile methods, business process management, information and knowledge management, and IT security management are practices that anyone can learn without paying Axelos to do so, and should remain independent of Axelos’s ‘codification’, which makes method rigid and, often, unresponsive to business needs.

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