Nobody is Perfect: ITIL Limitations You Should Know About

Discussing the pitfalls of ITIL, and why it’s worth nevertheless.

a picture metaphorically depicting the situation when an IT manager chooses between using or not using ITIL

In IT world, frameworks and standards are the foundation of efficient and reliable operations. Among them, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is one of the most recognized sets of practices for IT service management (ITSM). It has been hailed for its robust approach to managing IT services and ability to align IT actions with business needs.

However, is the ITIL framework always the right choice for every organization? What disadvantages does it have? What potential pitfalls should an IT manager evaluate when deciding whether to implement ITIL, which is typically both costly and time-consuming? In the following article, we’re discussing ITIL challenges with the experts from Alloy Software, a leading provider of IT Service Management, IT Asset Management, and Network Inventory software.

What is ITIL, again?

ITIL is a framework describing the best practices and detailed processes on how to deliver IT services in an organization most efficiently. ITIL’s primary goal is establishing a baseline for IT service delivery and measuring performance. Organizations can apply these best practices based on their specific IT requirements.

ITIL started in the 1980s as a project of the British government aimed at improving operations in its IT departments. Over time, it developed into a de-facto standard framework for running teams like IT support, IT services, customer support, and help desks. In 2023, ITIL Foundation Level Certification is one of the 15 most sought-after certifications in IT. To learn more about ITIL, read our articles on ITIL and how to understand the difference between ITIL and ITSM.

While ITIL enjoys widespread popularity, it’s important to be aware of its limitations before rolling out the framework onto your IT operations. Let’s look at these limitations in more detail to determine whether ITIL is good for you.

ITIL drawbacks: why it might not be your best bet

Steep learning curve

Diving into ITIL is not a casual endeavor as there is much to learn. The framework encompasses various sub-disciplines, including incident management, problem management, change management, and knowledge management, to name a few. Each of these disciplines operates through a complex mechanism. For those new to IT service management or IT asset management, this steep learning curve can be a challenge.

Insufficient flexibility

While ITIL emphasizes adaptability, its sheer depth can make rapid changes challenging, or even impossible. Modern IT environments, especially the ones that are reliant on DevOps or agile approaches, might find ITIL less than optimal. Here are a few examples:

  1. ITIL’s service management processes often prioritize tasks based on agreed-upon criteria and business value. Agile methodologies prioritize assignments based on customer needs and evolving requirements.
  2. ITIL defines specific roles and responsibilities within its processes, which can differ from what the self-organizing, cross-functional teams typically rely on in Agile methodologies.
  3. ITIL is focused on ensuring service continuity and stability. Agile, especially in its purest form, may involve frequent changes and experimentation, which can pose challenges in maintaining stability of services.

All these challenges make it hard to maintain a flexible attitude while implementing ITIL.

Does ITIL prioritize processes over business value?

One of the essential aspects of ITIL is improving the alignment of information technology with business goals. Paradoxically, although the very objective of implementing these workflows is optimization, some companies might still encounter challenges stemming from the processes they’ve put in place. For example, this Reddit post with 1000 karma points talks about the Change Advisory Board (CAB) that rejected change request tickets without even reading them. These change requests used the wording “There isn’t an impact” instead of “There is no impact,” while only the latter was procedurally approved. Although the typo was minor, these changes still couldn’t obtain initial approval from the Change Advisory Board (CAB), causing the subsequent process to stall. Due to such biases, some specialists may feel that ITIL is too stiff, “dry, and boring” and lose motivation to learn and implement it. While this is not a problem of ITIL itself, it’s still important to remember this widespread bias when starting your ITIL journey.

Limited efficiency for smaller companies

ITIL’s framework is expansive. While this makes it a fantastic tool for large enterprises with intricate IT infrastructures, smaller businesses or startups might find it overwhelming. The granularity of processes in ITIL can result in additional overhead and a low benefit-to-effort ratio. For small businesses, we recommend assessing the implementation effort against the possible outcomes before adopting ITIL processes.

Ivan Samoylov, CTO of Alloy Software: ITIL is often unnecessary for small companies. Imagine a company where there is one person making changes that communicates via meetings to the other two people who need to know. Why do they need something so formal and planned out for Change Management? It’s like having a giant toolbox when you only need a screwdriver and a hammer.

ITIL is expensive with a long ROI period

The costs of implementing ITIL, which typically include personnel training and new certified software, may be very high. Keep in mind, that personnel training accounts for the majority of integration costs for the following reasons:

  • ITIL principles need customization to align with the organization’s specific requirements. This customization involves analyzing current processes, identifying gaps, and adjusting ITIL practices accordingly.
  • Another time-consuming task is developing the documentation describing the new ITIL-based processes and practices.
  • Then, employees at all levels must be educated about ITIL principles and how to apply them in their roles.
  • ITIL is an ongoing journey. After the initial implementation, organizations must continuously improve and refine their ITIL practices, further extending human capital investment.

All in all, ITIL represents a substantial investment, primarily in terms of human capital expenditures.

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What makes ITIL worth considering nonetheless?

ITIL may not be suitable for small companies and startups because it’s too costly and complex. Instead, SMBs can refer to modern workflow management solutions, such as Trello, Monday, Asana, or Notion. You can also consider Alloy Software’s product for small companies: Alloy Navigator Express.

Nevertheless, here’s why it’s worth becoming acquainted with ITIL:

  1. It enables you to get a holistic view of your IT infrastructure. Acquiring knowledge of ITIL enables you to form a comprehensive opinion of IT service management operations. Eventually, it’s the best practices framework. Isn’t it beneficial to be aware of the best practices in your industry, even if you can’t use all of them right away?
  2. You can implement the “simplest” parts of ITIL. ITIL isn’t a strict set of rules and prescriptions. Instead, it offers recommendations that you can tailor to your organization’s needs. This means you don’t have to implement all the processes outlined in ITIL literature. You can select and apply specific techniques that address the weaknesses within your IT organization.

Benefits of ITIL

Despite the imperfections that may reduce the effectiveness of ITIL, it remains the most well-known and widely used methodology for IT services within organizations. Its application yields the following benefits:

Improved service quality: ITIL promotes a structured approach to managing IT services.

Practical evidence: minimized service disruptions, faster issue resolution, enhanced reputation of the IT team in the company, and reduced complaints.

Enhanced efficiency: By standardizing processes and optimizing resource allocation, ITIL helps IT departments operate more efficiently.

Practical evidence: reduced downtime and fewer resource bottlenecks.

Better cost management: ITIL encourages resource optimization, potentially saving costs. Thanks to automation, the IT team has time for more sophisticated problems.

Practical evidence: lower operational costs and better resource utilization.

Change management: In ITIL, changes are any modifications affecting the IT infrastructure, like plugging in a new data server or updating an employee permission access level. ITIL’s change management process helps organizations implement changes with minimal disruption. The challenge here is to launch changes while maintaining stable operations.

Practical evidence: reduced failed changes, fewer unauthorized changes, and transparency into important updates.

Knowledge management: ITIL promotes knowledge sharing within the organization. This includes creating a knowledge base and a known errors database and introducing them into the operations of the IT team. This approach enables support staff to troubleshoot issues based on the knowledge collected over time.

Practical evidence: faster issue resolution, fewer repeated incidents, and faster onboarding of the new employees in support.

Key takeaways

  • ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a well-recognized framework for IT service management, aiming to deliver IT services efficiently and align them with business needs. 
  • While ITIL offers numerous benefits, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. ITIL can present challenges, including a steep learning curve, limited flexibility, and a process-focused approach, which may not suit all organizations, particularly those with Agile or DevOps environments. 
  • ITIL is often unnecessary for smaller companies, as the implementation costs outweigh the potential benefits. For large enterprises, ITIL is optimal because a large headcount requires complex and documented processes. 
  • Still, no matter how new you are to IT service management, ITIL can help you develop an expert-level understanding of your company’s IT infrastructure.

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