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The Evolution of ITIL

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ITIL From Humble Beginnings to Worldwide Adoption

Unless you’re a current, aspiring, or former IT professional, you probably don’t know exactly what ITIL is. Then again, you’re reading this blog right now, so chances are, you're familiar with IT service to some degree. Even if you don't know exactly why or how, your work has most definitely been heavily impacted by the ITIL phenomenon. In simple terms, it represents the creation and widespread adoption of a set of guidelines, a framework for IT efficacy and efficiency that has its origins in the somewhat distant (in digital terms) past. That framework is the IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL. In this post, we will examine a bit of the evolution of ITIL, and specifically how it went from being a conservative idea to being the most widely-used framework in IT service management. ITIL history is worth examining, if only for what it can teach us about the underpinnings of much of the work that we all do on a regular basis, and some of us without ever questioning why.

The Origins of ITIL and Early ITIL History

First, let’s look at ITIL history starting way back in the digital dark ages in 1972 when IBM started research on ISMA. In 1980, Edward A. Van Schaik and IBM published the first of several volumes of information they had compiled while constructing its first Information Systems Management Architecture (ISMA) from 1972 onwards. For its part, ISMA was the first systems-based approach to defining and managing IT services. ITIL was a similar project pioneered by the government of the UK in the early 1980’s. Having determined that the IT service levels they were experiencing (both internally and from outside contractors) were insufficient, the government set about creating the framework that would eventually become ITIL. To those ends, the British Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency defined the financially responsible and most efficient use of IT processes and resources, both within the government itself and in the private sector.

The Widespread Adoption of ITIL Throughout the 1990s

The first version ITIL, which was called the Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management (GITIM), was similar to the ITIL we all know conceptually, but it was focused primarily on support and delivery. Because of the influence of the British Government, the new framework spread rapidly throughout the private sector in the UK, then to Europe, and eventually to the remainder of the world throughout the 1990s. Not long thereafter, Microsoft got into the framework game by building a framework of their own (MOF) – and one based almost entirely on the ITIL. Eventually, a second and a third version of the ITIL were released, and currently, the framework is the most widely used ITSM framework in the world.

The Present Adoption and Ongoing Evolution of ITIL

With a fourth version on its way – ITIL 4 is expected in the first quarter of 2019 – and several complementary and competing frameworks in adoption as well, it’s safe to say that ITIL has been a success. Furthermore, adoption of the framework (or a competitor version) is roundly considered to be an indicator of the IT maturity of any organization. The evolution of ITIL over the course of the last three or four decades of ITIL history has truly been a story of ongoing success. Whereas the framework was first developed as a way to efficiently and effectively provide IT services, it has since gone on to become the gold standard for best practices across much of what falls under the IT umbrella, contemporarily speaking.

ITIL Into the Future

Will ITIL remain the ITSM framework standard for decades to come? That is ultimately for the IT professionals of the future to decide. There are current IT experts and consultants claiming that it is best suited for more narrow application than it currently enjoys and that there are better frameworks, frameworks more suitable for driving certain outcomes. But, others would quickly point out, most of the alternatives to ITIL are either based on the framework itself, or were built to partner with it or enhance it in certain ways. And, as they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.
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Jason Yeary
Jason Yeary is a technical expert for SolarWinds Service Desk customers and a former service desk manager in the healthcare industry. He is ITIL 4…
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