ITIL Alternatives: Why is There so Little Uptake of ITSM Industry Frameworks?

If you attend IT service management (ITSM) industry conferences – such as FUSION in the US or itSMF UK in the UK – or read a lot of ITSM-related blogs on the Internet, then you’ll be forgiven for thinking that certain ITSM standards, methodologies, and frameworks are popular (and becoming even more popular).


Of course some will always be more popular than others, and there has always been a hierarchy, with ITIL, the ITSM best practice framework, sat at the top. But what about the other ITSM standards, methodologies, and frameworks that are often mentioned in the same breath as ITIL (in particular by consultants), such as COBIT and ISO 2000? Or, for that matter, starting at the top of the tree, how prevalent is ITIL?

ITIL is not the only one, so what about other ITSM frameworks?

US adoption levels for ITSM standards, methodologies, and frameworks

The 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report by HDI – a professional association for the technical support industry – provided an interesting insight into the adoption levels for certain ITSM standards, methodologies, and frameworks.

As you can see from the diagram below, ITIL is by far the most commonly adopted standard, methodology, or framework among HDI members (it’s a framework BTW). With 51% of respondents stating that their organization uses it and another 17% stating that they plan to use it. But this is still only one in every two organizations currently using it; despite many of us, including myself, talking and writing about it as though it’s a lot more prevalent. Especially when you think that the US, like the UK and the Netherlands, is probably one of the highest users of ITIL globally, with the global adoption level likely to be lower.

ITIL alternatives
ITSM Frameworks adopted by HDI members (Source: HDI, 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report (Q4, 2015)

Looking beyond ITIL adoption

In the above diagram, ITIL is head and shoulders ahead of every other ITSM standard, methodology, and framework – with HDI’s own HDI Support Center Standard in second place at 26% of respondents. Most likely a not so surprising sample bias, as this is after all a survey of HDI members; and how this impacts their adoption of other standards, methodologies, and frameworks is unknown.

Adoption of Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) is relatively high at 18% as expected, but what is very interesting is Lean (IT) at 15%. However, whether this is a staunch belief in the power of Lean thinking, or just a short-term approach to dealing with the need to save money, is not known.

At the other end of the spectrum, COBIT adoption is surprisingly low at 7%. Which makes it even less adopted than ISO/EC 20000 – the ITSM standard – which is renowned for the effort (and cost) involved in gaining the certification.

Considering the validity of these statistics

One might think that these results are a little on the low side – whether it’s ITIL adoption at 51% or COBIT at 7%. They could, of course, just as equally be on the high side. For instance, using the 2015 EMA report, “What is the Future of IT Service Management?” as an alternative source of ITSM statistics, only 43% of organizations currently use ITIL best practice.

There are of course a number of potential factors that will have affected HDI’s survey results. For instance, the relative sizes of the respondent’s organizations – with smaller organizations less likely to be adopting standards, methodologies, and frameworks versus larger organizations. The aforementioned geographical preferences and differences also come into play. Something that I was personally reminded of during a presentation in Italy a few years back – when I asked a room of over 100 IT pros if they had heard of ITIL you could have heard a pin drop as no one replied that they had. Thus these HDI statistics, while potentially a good snapshot of the US, will probably bear little relation to the situations in certain other parts of the world.

Let’s also not forget that these answers are not mutually exclusive. So the 7% of respondents currently using COBIT, say, might also all be using ITIL, i.e. it might not be a different 7% of organizations; with at worst 49% of organizations not using any of these standards, methodologies, or frameworks. Obviously this worst case scenario is highly unlikely but it does make you wonder if it’s 10%, 20%, or even 30% of organizations that don’t use any industry standard, methodology, or framework to help improve their IT department’s professionalism, operations, services, and customer experience.

As to why there’s so little adoption of industry standards, methodologies, and frameworks (at least in the US but most likely elsewhere too), your guess is as good as mine. Without a survey that specifically asks why organizations haven’t adopted the lower scoring things, I can only assume that people haven’t been convinced of their value. You might say “Well maybe organizations don’t have the time or money?” But if the value was easy to see, then why wouldn’t organizations find the time and/or money?