Axelos empire building with ITIL 4

ITIL 4 book cover

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

Although 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 creating proprietary ownership for the subject matter and certification rights.

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

That capital is the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) practices for IT service management (ITSM) and the PRINCE2 project management process methodology.

Unfortunately Axelos’s strategy is solely based on profit, and exploits the fanaticism of monomaniacs whose entire careers are based on the proprietary training and certification business.  Meaning such practitioners have a vested interest in overstating the benefits of the methods and practices, and in trying to develop and maintain the illusion that Axelos certifications (actually usually by third parties) bestow magical skills not accessible to others.  That’s just nonsense.

Personally I was also annoyed that Axelos chose to use a fictitious American-based company as a recurring example to illustrate ITIL version 4 method.  It was a transparent marketing ploy to gain American market share, and 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.

It’s not that ITIL and PRINCE2 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 $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 acolytes with fanatical devotion to process by numbers, not flexible and insightful professionals.

The ITIL version upgrade seems to me little more than a justification to invalidate existing certifications, thereby forcing practitioners to spend more money to be re-trained and re-certified.  Unfortunately, the kind of endless training and certification cycle doesn’t really deliver value to employers unless the practitioners have a more solid training or education background with which to contextualise the Axelos material.

I sat through an ITIL course and accreditation exam, and took a semester of PRINCE2 at university.  The rather dopey insistence on strict literalism when interpreting and applying Axelos methods strikes me as just silly.  That approach seems to contradict advice in the ITIL and PRINCE2 documentation that these methods and practices are to be flexible, and adapted to specific circumstances.  Moreover, it creates the harmful 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 organisational political environments.  Essentially all the skills you cannot really reduce solely to mindless process and deadening bureaucratic paperwork.

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

So, when looking at ITIL version 4, it’s easy to commend Axelos for pointing its acolytes to a 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 ITIL.  If that perspective plays out true, it is just greedy and unworkable.

Agile methods, business process management, information and knowledge management, and IT security management should remain separate and independent disciplines to guarantee they are not tainted by ‘ideologising’ them to support only the Axelos vision rather than flexible, professional practice independent from cultism and certification profit motive.

Postscript: Andrea and Stefan Kempter of IT Process Maps and YaSM have done a great job summarising the differences between ITIL versions 3 and 4.

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