How ITIL started

How ITIL started

There are many stories circulating about ITIL’s origins. As the person who started ITIL, I’m offering my recollections and perspectives in this blog. I’d welcome comments from anyone who was involved in the early days.

If you think the past is irrelevant, think again: learn nothing from this blog and you may be missing something!

Dependence on IT: some pre-history
As a research student, I needed to spend the occasional Saturday with sole use of a commandeered mainframe; not funny then when something went wrong (usually my program!) after 8 hours at 16.45 and the only option was to come back again the following Saturday! Lesson 1 on the link between dependency and quality.

A few years later, I was struck by the contrast between one employer’s excellent Michigan Terminal System and a subsequent employer’s rather unreliable and slow system: not very good for productivity or patience! Lesson 2 on the link between dependency and quality, this time bringing in responsiveness at the desktop.

The seeds had been sown for a life long interest in IT quality generally and operational service quality in particular. So I was pleased in 1987 to be offered a job in the UK government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in a section concerned with supplier management and operational infrastructure.

Quality and repeatability
Stung by application development project problems, CCTA had adopted the idea of codifying good practice in System Analysis and Design and project management and thus were created the methods SSADM and PRINCE (a government development based on PROMPT). The intention was to encourage government organisations to use these standardised approaches in preference to reinventing their own wheels.

With these developments having paved the way, my boss the late Pete Skinner and I came up with the idea of a standardised approach to IT infrastructure management. We felt sure the CCTA Board would give us their blessing, as government dependency (and expenditure) on IT was growing and set to grow a lot more. We had no idea just how dependent government and everybody else was going to become! This was a long time before there was a computer on every desk, let alone in most homes!

Our basic philosophy was simple: a standardised approach could be tailored by individual organisations as a basis for their own, repeatable processes. No longer would every unit be on its own doing its own thing and no longer would every project setting up IT management risk being a voyage of discovery. Best practice would be there for the taking.

We took our own medicine on quality through repeatability and became one of the first UK government bodies to obtain certification to the quality management standard ISO9001 for our work developing ITIL.

You don’t have to be crazy
Not everybody on the CCTA Board was convinced of our no-brainer. When I finally got to present to the Board (my elder daughter decided to be born the day originally scheduled) one of the members suggested we might be crazy; I’m not sure it was intended as a compliment.

Nevertheless we were given the go-ahead for the initial development and thus was ITIL conceived.
Getting help
We asked four companies to provide us with advice based on short consultancy assignments: PA Consulting, CSC, IBM and ICL, then a leading UK hardware vendor. The most immediately useful material was from IBM, which provided us with IT service management checklists that they allowed us to freely reuse. From memory, we published these quickly as the first deliverables of what we were going to call the government IT infrastructure management methodology (G I T I M M). To safeguard our position, we issued them on paper that could not be photocopied, rather odd for an organisation intent on promulgating best practice!

But we weren’t going to stop at checklists; Pete wanted to implement the original idea of codified good (best) practice. In terms of coverage, it was clear to me that it had to be about IT service management and not just management of the infrastructure. Mostly under IBM influence, we came up with a set of titles: change management, problem management, capacity management, availability management etc. CSC were keen advocates of service level management as a basis for managing outsourced IT service provision, a subject to which we devoted a special ITIL book with the now-strange title Managing Facilities Management. The service level management thinking in ITIL found its way into government contracts when outsourcing of IT later took off in a big way.

Not just books
When Roy Dibble took Board-level responsibility for our area, he instigated a name-change. Out went the ‘Government’ in the title as being potentially off-putting to non-government users; out went ‘methodology’ as it wasn’t one; and in came ‘IT Infrastructure Library’ , a collection of best-practice books.

I always saw the books as the foundations, not the edifice as a whole. What we were trying to do was to bring about a new, more standard way of doing things. Ultimately that would be down to the competence and actions of IT mangers, professionals and practitioners. By analogy, the manual on how to fly doesn’t make an airline pilot. So a qualifications scheme with training syllabuses supported by effective quality controls would be needed to complement the ITIL publications. There was also an opportunity to develop software support tools.

Open, competitive supply market
We always intended that the publications should be available to the widest possible audience, in the private sector as well as the public sector and internationally, not just in the UK.

We also wanted there to be an open, competitive supply market in services (including training) and products supporting ITIL.

That way, the businesses that would grow by supporting ITIL would act as the main proponents of the ITL message – an important consideration for a small government unit whose purpose was to facilitate better value-for-money from the UK government’s expenditure on IT. We were in no position to go out and act as our own salesforce!

I had a meeting in a Norwich pub, facilitated by ITIL team member Neil Croft, with 2 Pink Elephant employees Alan Nance and Martin van Kesteren, which heralded the start of Dutch interest in ITIL. Dutch companies more than any other fostered ITIL internationalisation, to the point that it’s now in use on every continent on earth.

Strong team
I was blessed with a team of highly motivated, competent people from within CCTA and other government departments. Some are still working in support of ITIL. Of one potential recruit, my boss asked ‘would he fit in?‘ I thought not, so we recruited him!

We supplemented the team with bought-in expertise, some of it excellent but none of it cheap!

Strong user voice
We always had a certain humility; we had a position at the centre enabling us to create ITIL but most of the relevant experience and expertise lay outside CCTA.

We particularly wanted a user group that would champion the cause of the user community. From that desire emerged itIMF. The I for infrastructure was subsequently change to S for service. itSMF now has chapters in many countries. It is to be hoped that itSMF will continue to provide a strong user voice that the owners of ITIL need to hear.

25 years on
We developed ITIL with a modestly sized team. We had a reasonable budget for the task. We tried to focus on quality; we weren’t very good at setting or meeting deadlines and happily weren’t under much pressure to do so!

As a government body, we couldn’t devote resources to sales or support outside UK government. So we worked through others, who acted as our salesforce in the interests of their own businesses.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since that early Board meeting in 1987. That’s for another blog another day, if there’s interest.

I’m pretty confident the government will have more than recouped its expenditure on ITIL.

More exciting, though, is the beneficial impact of ITIL on IT providers, clients, users and supporting businesses.

There’s a lot more to do. That’s definitely a subject for another day!


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