ITIL, ITSM, and Benefits Realization

by Glen Purdy
Date Published May 25, 2012 - Last Updated May 11, 2016


Before we get started, let me just say that having read with interest the full HDI and Global Knowledge report on the state of ITIL implementation and the benefits companies have actually realized (as well as the overview featured in the January/February edition of SupportWorld), I found that I agreed with many of the findings. Like all good research, though, the report raised as many questions as it answered. With all due respect to the analysts at HDI and Global Knowledge who conducted the research and published, I’d like to get up on my soap box.

As I reviewed the findings about the top realized benefits, I began to wonder if the researchers’ definition of “benefits” wasn’t a little short-sighted. They appeared to be equating IT accomplishments with business benefits. More specifically, they equated doing the right things, the right way, with the realization of benefits that are of direct value to the business. While these actions may be linked, in my experience, they need to be considered separately.

With the rapid adoption of the ITIL framework, a growing number of organizations are now doing the right things, the right way, when it comes to IT service delivery and support processes. If you belong to one of those organizations, you’ve probably established your service desk as the single point of contact for your internal and/or external business customers. You’ve probably also designed and implemented a collection of well-integrated processes that enable you to do a much better job of planning, designing, implementing, operating, supporting, and continually improving the products or services your organization provides.

Based on the results of their ITIL benefits survey (to which I was a respondent), HDI and Global Knowledge concluded that “ITIL indeed delivers measurable business benefits.” The resulting report went on to identify the eleven highest-ranking benefits:

  1. Improving IT service responsiveness. 
  2. Increasing end-user satisfaction. 
  3. Improving IT workload. 
  4. Reducing the cost of IT service delivery. 
  5. Reducing the number of service incidents. 
  6. Decreasing service variability. 
  7. Measuring demand for IT services. 
  8. Improving the IT project success ratio. 
  9. Increasing use of the IT service catalog. 
  10. Increasing the accuracy of IT forecasts. 
  11. Increasing business profitability or revenue.

While I wholeheartedly agree that the items above are achievable through the adoption and adaptation of the ITIL framework (in conjunction, of course, with some other best practice frameworks, such as COBIT, Lean/Six Sigma, etc.), I am not convinced that all of the benefits listed are truly benefits to the business.

You will notice that many of the benefits listed contain the acronym “IT.” They do not specifically state what the benefit/value is to the business. Instead, the reader is left to make the necessary leap in logic (or leap of faith) that completes the equation: if there is a benefit to IT, then (hopefully) IT will be able to translate that benefit into a result or outcome that actually provides some value to the business. And, remember, the concept of “value” is one of the underlying principles of ITIL v3. Overall, I would submit that the only ones that provide direct, measurable value to the business are “reducing the cost of IT service delivery” and “increasing business profitability or revenue.”

To the researchers’ credit, they acknowledged the differences between direct and indirect benefits. For example, when referring to the difference between the benefits you get from using a tool and the benefits you get from practicing IT service management (ITSM), the report stated that “software alone does not make a strategy; rather, software facilitates a strategy and allows a team to complete its task.” Carrying that thought one step further, I would argue that it is only through the efficient and effective completion of IT projects and service delivery initiatives that the IT organization can enable the business to realize the benefits it seeks.

So, if what we are currently doing is not enough, how do we take it to the next level?

The Information Paradox

In my daily activities as a management consultant specializing in ITIL and ITSM, I use some of the principles and techniques that were introduced in The Information Paradox: Realizing the Business Benefits of Information Technology, specifically the Results Chain, the Four “Ares,” and benefits realization. In my experience, these principles and techniques can help your organization take it to the next level, by helping you to clearly identify, communicate, and leverage the connection between your IT initiatives, eventually leading to the realization of true business benefits (value). This will allow you to swap that leap of faith for a clearly marked path, one that is based on facts and the commitments made between the IT and business stakeholders.

The Results Chain

The Results Chain technique provides a simple, yet rigorous model for the identification and realization of benefits. Essentially, it is a tool for capturing the relationships and dependencies between the desired results/outcomes (value) that our business customers seek and the available paths (initiatives/projects) the business could take to realize the target outcomes.

By way of example, I have sketched out a simple Results Chain below, which captures the desired business objectives (benefits) being sought by an imaginary NHL franchise, the HDI Hawks. It also captures some of the intermediate outcomes (the circles) that must be realized en route to the eventual goal, as well as some of the specific activities and initiatives (the squares) that must be completed along the way. The arrows that connect the squares and circles represent the contributions made toward the high-level outcomes by previous initiatives and intermediate outcomes. The hexagons represent any assumptions made that support the logic.

One thing you may notice is that all of the initiatives and outcomes are expressed in terms that are measurable and quantifiable.

Based upon feedback from those who have used this technique in ITIL/ITSM environments, the active participation of both IT and business staff in the development and subsequent communication of a Results Chain provides tremendous value. The business-oriented discussions regarding the alignment of organizational and departmental goals, and the subsequent identifi cation of programs, projects, and initiatives intended to realize the desired results (specific to a given organization and environment), often prove to be an eye-opener for the participants. The output from these discussions (i.e., the Results Chain model, like the example above) also makes it easier to communicate direction and priorities to the IT and business stakeholders who did not participate in the process.

When preparing a Results Chain, you should build it from right to left, starting with the desired (target) outcomes, which should be expressed in business terms and should reflect the results/value that your business customers seek. Working backwards, you can then identify any intermediate outcomes that must be realized before you can achieve the overall objectives, as well as any specific initiatives that may be required to make all of this possible.

To further demonstrate this concept, the eleven realized ITIL benefits and six contributing success factors from the HDI and Global Knowledge report have been mapped out into the Results Chain below. As you can see, doing the right things, the right way, will only get you so far. ITIL may help an organization improve end-user satisfaction, increase the success of IT projects, or even reduce the cost of IT service delivery. However, without establishing a clear link between the realization of intermediate (internal) improvements and the resulting enablement of business improvements or changes that actually deliver value to the business, it is often not enough.

The Four “Ares”

The Four “Ares” is simply a structured set of questions that, in my opinion, should be an integral part of any ITIL/ITSM implementation program:

  1. Are we doing the right things? (Business Alignment) 

Questions and confirms the alignment of IT projects and initiatives with the overall business direction and investment portfolio, as recommended by the ITIL framework.

  1. Are we doing them the right way? (Integration and Best Practices)

Assesses the organizational structure, processes, and enabling technologies; is complemented by the effective introduction of programs designed to combine these structures, processes, and technologies in the overall environment, as recommended by the ITIL Extended Process Maturity Framework (EPMF).

  1. Are we getting them done well? (Capability and Efficiency)

Addresses organizational capabilities, resources, and accountabilities, combined with the discipline necessary to leverage both quantitative and qualitative metrics to assess efficiency and identify opportunities for improvement.

  1. Are we getting the benefits? (Benefits Realization)

Addresses the proactive management of the benefits realization process to ensure that the business realizes the desired results, outcomes, and value.

In my opinion, the ITIL framework provides good guidance for the first two “ares.” ITIL v3, with its increased focus on measurements, metrics, and continual service improvement, as well as its reinforcement of the need to focus on the delivery of value to the business and to talk about this value in business terms, covers the third “are” and takes a critical first step toward the fourth “are.” As simple as this sounds, though, many organizations just don’t think this way, and they fail to leverage this type of mindset throughout the lifecycles of their projects, services, or processes. However, the Four “Ares” dovetail nicely with multiple phases of the service lifecycle, and all organizations should use the Four “Ares” as a periodic sanity check to ensure that they remain on track toward delivering the desired business benefits.

Benefits Realization

“Benefits realization” refers to a mindset that is contrary to the silver-bullet approach touted by many ITSM software vendors. According to The Information Paradox, this mindset is based upon the following premises: 

  • Benefits do not just happen. 
  • Benefits rarely happen according to plan. 
  • Benefits realization is a continuous process.

In organizations that have adopted the benefits mindset, there is often a major shift in management methods and practices with regard to identifying target outcomes, implementing technologies and/or processes, tracking intermediate results, and continually adjusting their plans and portfolios, all focused on the realization of tangible and measurable business results (value).

To track these results, use a simple benefits register. It will enable you to describe the target outcomes and timelines, document desired results (both quantitative and qualitative), identify the individuals/teams that are accountable for delivering these results, and capture the actual results obtained over time. This benefits register can a simple spreadsheet that is updated manually, or a complex electronic dashboard that reflects real-time achievements. The important thing is that the achievements are recorded and compared against the target(s).

Among the reasons for adopting ITIL, as identified by HDI and Global Knowledge, are the following business benefits: 

  • Improve the quality of services and the customer experience; 
  • Increase productivity and revenue, and improve competitive advantage; 
  • Improve cost control; and 
  • Facilitate new product/service offerings.

To realize these benefits, IT organizations must focus on programs and projects that are selected on the basis of business value, alignment with business strategy, and a high likelihood of delivering benefits and clear, measurable results/value to the business.

In this article, we have reviewed the mindset, approach, and discipline that are required to support the adoption of ITIL, or any of the other best practice frameworks intended to help organizations do the right things, the right way. For those of you implementing one or more of these frameworks, success does not just mean “doing the right things, the right way” or completing projects “on time and on budget.” It also means delivering the expected benefits to the business.

For more information on the Four “Ares,” the Results Chains, and benefits realization, visit


Glen Purdy is a management consultant with Fujitsu Consulting (Canada), Inc. He has more than twenty-five years of experience as an internal practitioner, outsourced service provider, and consultant. As an early ITIL adopter, Glen obtained his first ITIL certification, Service Manager, in 1999. He has since earned his ITIL v3 Expert, COBIT, and Certified Process Design Engineer (CPDE) certifications, and is pursuing the qualifications for the new ITIL v3 Master certification. In addition, Glen has served as an HDI local chapter officer and represented Canada on the HDI Member Advisory Board. He can be reached at [email protected] .

Tag(s): process, business of support, framework and methodologies


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