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Are DevOps and ITIL Mutually Exclusive?

Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffe
Principal Consultant, Advisory

One of the most common barriers to organizations adopting an agile infrastructure is their investment in an ITIL framework. But is an agile DevOps approach always mutually exclusive from ITIL?

DevOps and ITIL—what’s the difference?

DevOps is less a framework than a movement that emphasizes communication and collaboration between development and operations. ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a framework for IT service management that aligns IT with business needs. Essentially, DevOps is a philosophy that uses change as a primary driver, whereas ITIL views change as a necessary evil.

Although DevOps and ITIL can be diametrically opposed in some instances, they often can, and should, work in collaboration. DevOps is pitched as a mechanism to bring operations teams into the agile fold, but that doesn’t signal the end of ITIL. In fact, abandoning ITIL would be a serious mistake for most organizations attempting to adopt DevOps. By implementing appropriate changes, DevOps can deliver ITIL processes more effectively.

DevOps as philosophy, ITIL as structure

Perhaps the two best examples of a DevOps philosophy influencing an ITIL structure are change management and incident management.

Change management

One of the most contentious areas in many IT organizations is change management. The change management process, usually governed by a change advisory board (CAB), is one of the biggest bottlenecks in an IT organization. Change, or the lack of it, was a catalyst for the creation of the DevOps movement—development wanted a greater number of changes implemented faster, and operations wanted to minimize change to keep systems running.

How do we reconcile these two views? The most effective approach is to retain the current change process and institute additional changes such as holding more frequent CAB meetings in person to drive big changes in behavior. Some organizations remove the option to reject a change altogether, requiring more information to make the change owner consult with the CAB. DevOps also espouses the use of as many standard changes as possible to remove the need for CAB involvement.

The main goal of the change in philosophy is to improve collaboration and communication between stakeholders, and to create a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to consultations.

Incident management

The other ITIL discipline that has often suffered from lack of communication between different IT groups is incident management. DevOps makes some simple changes, perhaps the most notable of which is putting developers on call. This bolsters confidence in the operations team, as they see their colleagues putting themselves onto the front line. This approach also has a beneficial impact on developers, as they can see first-hand the impact of their coding and how supportable it is.

ITIL can be modernized and enhanced with the adoption of a more agile DevOps philosophy, and DevOps can benefit from the adoption of a structured framework to manage its activities and bring rigorous service delivery.

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