ITIL & DevOps: Friend or Foe?

An inevitable tension arises in organizations which have found themselves relying on both ITIL and DevOps. Both structures are designed to deliver quality service, but they can compete with one another in the same IT environment.

The pressure for a reconciliation came to a head, and ITIL owner AXELOS, published a white paper (you must have an account to view the report) in August of 2014 extolling the potential synergies of these two often disparate systems.

A case study featuring ING Retail Banking (see this slide share for an overview) has attracted a lot of attention too, chronicling the story of ING’s ITIL-reliant IT department recoiling in horror as their development department underwent an Agile revolution.

ING was able to find a way to blend together the defined process-heavy ITIL approach with the more mercurial Agile methods, but not without a dose of high-flying project management acrobatics and some unlikely tides of good fortune.

DevOps is the committed, ongoing integration of the development and operation wings of a product creation and/or service delivery endeavor.

Alien Vault’s Lean Systems Manager, Ernest Mueller, defines DevOps as follows:

The practice of operations and development engineers participating together in the entire service lifecycle, from design through the development process to production support.

Agile, Scrum, and Lean methodologies are often synonymous with DevOps. This is no surprise, as they all emphasize the close collaboration between development, operation, and testing (QA) agents.

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Are ITIL® and DevOps Natural enemies?

In the many discussions that arise regarding the difficulty of ITIL and DevOps coexisting, a common source of concern is the tendency for the various practitioners of either methodology to “silo” themselves off.

This tendency is perhaps the most dangerous threat to an organization experiencing concurrent influence from both ITIL and DevOps.

ITIL in particular has many rabbit holes that can swallow up man hours, hinder communication, and distract from the bigger picture.

Many a CTO has lamented the breakdown of team spirit at the hands of silos run amok. Nevertheless, if a strong and responsive overlaying architecture exists, then work silos (once moderated) can prove productive and functional.

The introduction of DevOps can be a shock to those who’ve gotten used to doing things according to the ITIL descriptive framework. When attempting to facilitate an environment where DevOps and ITIL coexist, ITIL practitioners must be open to deviations from (not full abandonment of) ITIL practices.

Gene Kim, author of The Phoenix Project, argues that ITIL can not only coexist with DevOps but may also be essential to its optimization:

ITIL and ITSM still are best codifications of the business processes that underpin IT Operations, and actually describe many of the capabilities needed in order for IT Operations to support a DevOps-style work stream.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the widespread use of ITIL has done much to standardize IT practices—a huge contribution to the IT ecosystem—even if those practices aren’t perfect.

That’s why it’s important to recognize the value of ITIL and not let the know-how of the many IT professionals who are ITIL-proficient go to waste.

Instead, we should look for opportunities to leverage DevOps as a refinement and customization tool, ideally suited for shoring up ITIL’s shortcomings on a situational basis.

This case-by-case approach can result in a high level of scrutiny and involvement in otherwise autonomous teams. The trade off, however, is the breaking down of the silos and the commingling of agile-minded quick delivery with the robust stability and prescriptive nature of ITIL.

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