ITIL principles

What’s ITIL?

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of practices that supports organizations and individuals to gain optimal value from IT and digital services. Providing guidance on the definition of the direction of the service provider with a clear capability model and aligns them to the business strategy and customer needs.

Until the introduction of ITIL 4 in 2019, ITIL was commonly defined as a library of volumes describing a framework of best practices for delivering IT services (IT Service Management). But, as with ITSM itself, ITIL was increasingly being used in non-IT scenarios through what the IT industry termed Enterprise Service Management strategies: The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the use of ITSM principles and capabilities in IT and other business areas to improve operations, services, experiences, and outcomes.

This enterprise-wide use of ITSM and ITIL meant that ITIL 4 morphed from its traditional focus on ITSM to service management, with mentions of ITSM avoided in ITIL 4 literature unless absolutely necessary. Such that ITIL is now presented as a body of service management best practice guidance. This has impacted not only the provided guidance and the terminology employed, but also how ITIL is defined.

For example, AXELOS – the custodians of ITIL (there’s more on this shortly) – defines ITIL as both “…the most widely used guidance in the world on IT Service Management” and “best-practice guidance for IT service management” in its ITIL 4 Foundation publication despite the move from ITSM to service management throughout. Whereas the ITIL 4 Glossary has no definition for ITSM, only service management – “A set of specialized organizational capabilities for enabling value for customers in the form of services.”

As to how ITIL was originally created, and continues to be created, it’s curated real-world good practices for service design, delivery, and support (including continual improvement).

Finally, you might be thinking “But it’s the IT Infrastructure Library, right?” This is historically correct – where before the ITIL v3 version in 2007, ITIL was an acronym for the IT Infrastructure Library. However, with this version the longer-form nomenclature was dropped such that ITIL is now just a name, i.e. ITIL simply means “ITIL.”

ITIL framework and Management Practices

ITIL isn’t simply a set of ITSM processes. ITIL is very much about creating a fit-for-purpose capability around service design, delivery, support, and improvement. ITIL 4 addresses the process-bias issue head-on by replacing the 26 processes of ITIL 2011 with 34 management practices which are defined as “…a set of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective.” There’s more on management practices later but the key point is that service management success requires people, processes, technology, and more

Among the processes found in both ITIL v3 and ITIL 4 are included:

ITIL Change Management
The objective of change management is “to ensure that changes are recorded, evaluated, authorized, prioritized, planned, tested, implemented, documented, and reviewed in a controlled manner in order to to understand and minimize risks while making IT changes.

ITIL Incident Management
The process, or set of activities, that ensures all IT issues (termed “incidents” by ITIL) are logged and progressed effectively and consistently through to resolution. All while ensuring that nothing is lost, ignored, or forgotten about.

ITIL Problem Management
ITIL 4 defines the key purpose of problem management as being “to reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents and managing workarounds and known errors.”

Read more about ITIL 4 Management Practices
ITIL processes

ITIL vs. ITSM

This might seem a strange section to have in a webpage related to the body of service management, or ITSM, best practice guidance. However, it’s important to appreciate that ITIL and ITSM are different things, even though some people will use the two terms interchangeably.

A starting point is that ITIL is “specific” in that it’s just one of a number of bodies of ITSM/service management guidance. Whereas ITSM is “generic” with those aforementioned different flavors of guidance. An easy analogy is that all parrots are birds but not all birds are parrots – such that ITIL is ITSM (with the caveat that it’s now service management, not just ITSM) but not all ITSM is ITIL-based. For example, your organization could use any of the bodies of ITSM guidance listed below and potentially others too:

Service Level Management in an ITIL 4 World

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Service Level Management in an ITIL 4 World

Service level management (SLM) is the IT Service Management (ITSM) and ITIL practice that helps to ensure IT delivers the outcomes needed by the business. Done well, it can improve relationships, add transparency to service delivery (and the associated service packages), and support ongoing service improvement.

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ITIL Roles Types and Their Responsibilities

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ITIL Roles Types and Their Responsibilities

ITIL offers up a number of generic role types that are then applicable across its various ITSM processes (or capabilities) – where these are then specific, rather than generic, roles, i.e. the generic roles become specific when attached to a certain ITIL process such as incident management.

read more
Problem Management in an ITIL 4 World

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Problem Management in an ITIL 4 World

ITIL 4 defines the key purpose of problem management as being “to reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents and managing workarounds and known errors.”

read more
Change Enablement in an ITIL 4 world

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Change Enablement in an ITIL 4 world

Change management is the IT Service Management (ITSM) capability that ensures change is delivered effectively and safely, delivering outcomes that enable the business. Done well it can deliver new services, reduce unplanned downtime, and support successful innovation.

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The History of ITIL

The History of ITIL

While service management, and some would say ITSM, existed long before ITIL - ITIL was introduced in 1989, driven by the UK government which was unhappy with how its IT was being delivered in the latter half of the 1980s. As a result, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), although called the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) at the time, was set to creating a framework of best practices for the efficient and economic use of IT resources.

Both ITIL and ITSM adoption levels grew quickly during the 1990s and much of ITIL’s success can be attributed to the symbiotic relationship it had with ITSM tools, in that ITIL adoption drove ITSM tool sales and ITSM tool sales drove ITIL adoption. Especially since all of the most popular ITSM tools had used ITIL best practice as a blueprint for their process-based design.

ITIL v2 was published in 2001 in the form of two books that focused on service delivery and service support, respectively. These were supplemented by additional non-core ITIL publications that were not examinable. Here ITIL continued to take the approach of documenting the service delivery and support practices used within successful IT organizations and had pretty much a stranglehold on the market for ITSM qualifications.

A third version of ITIL – ITIL v3 – was published in 2007, with this “refreshed” in 2011. For many, this was a rewrite, and the new body of guidance was called ITIL 2011. AXELOS made this ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) with the introduction of ITIL 4 although you might still see it called ITIL 2011 or ITIL v3/2011.

ITIL v3 had a far wider scope than ITIL v2 and introduced “the service lifecycle” to house ITIL v3’s 26 ITSM processes and four functions across five areas: service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement (CSI).

The latest incarnation of ITIL – ITIL 4 – was made available in February 2019 in the form of the Foundation publication and exam. Additional, higher level, publications and exams were released in February 2020.

The ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification requires the passing of four higher-level exams plus ITIL 4 Foundation:

  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support
  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value
  • ITIL 4 Specialist: High-velocity IT
  • ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan and Improve (a universal module that’s also employed in the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification)

The ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification requires the passing of two higher-level exams plus ITIL 4 Foundation:

  • ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct Plan and Improve
  • ITIL 4 Leader: Digital and IT Strategy
  • The “ITIL Master” designation requires both the Managing Professional and Strategic Leader certifications. Here, candidates need at least five years’ experience working in service management leadership, management, or higher management advisory roles in addition to the exam passes.

The Need for ITIL 4

One could argue that ITIL 4 was well overdue in 2019, given that ITIL v3/2011 was released in 2007 and then refreshed in 2011. So much had changed in the world, let alone IT, between 2011 and 2019.

The key drivers for replacing ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) are well expressed in an ITIL 4 blog by ITIL author Stuart Rance. These include that the 2011 Edition:

  • Was process-centric
  • Talked to capability implementation in silos where different teams operated different ITIL processes separately
  • Had too little focus on value, outcomes, costs, and risks
  • Has little compatibility with Agile, DevOps, Lean, and other management approaches
  • Lacked support for digital transformation (a business need that was already a decade old in 2019)

ITIL 4 vs. ITIL v3 (2011 Edition)

While the following sections outline a number of significant changes in ITIL 4 – versus ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) – it’s important to note that ITIL 4 retains many of the ITIL best practices that have assisted organizations over the last three decades

As to what has changed, the key differences include that:

  • ITIL 4 relates to service management rather than ITSM
  • ITIL 4 introduces the Service Value System with the Service Value Chain at its center
  • “Management practices” replaces the processes in ITIL v3 (2011 Edition)
  • The ITIL Practitioner book’s Guiding Principles are now part of the core ITIL guidance
  • The Four Dimensions of Service Management replace the “four Ps” of ITIL v3 (2011 Edition).

The Service Value System

At the heart of the ITIL 4 service management best practice is the Service Value System. This is shown below, with demand for services being turned into value using the ITIL 4 “components” in the central hexagons.

The ITIL 4 Service Value System
  • The Service Value Chain which is described in the next section
  • Management practices (covered later)
  • Governance, with three key governance-related activities – evaluation, direction, and monitoring
  • Continual improvement, which replaces CSI to reflect that improvement applies to more than just services
  • Guiding Principles that were first included in 2016’s ITIL Practitioner publication (covered later).

The Service Value Chain

ITIL 4 describes the Service Value Chain, shown in the diagram below, as “an operating model which outlines the key activities required to respond to demand and facilitate value realization through the creation and management of products and services.”

The ITIL 4 Service Value Chain

Each of the six central elements within the Service Value Chain can be used to create “value streams” that define how value is created by particular service management capabilities. Importantly, each element can be reused within any given value stream as demand is turned into value. A common example of this is that many value streams will have multiple instances of engagement.

Management Practices

The highest-profile part of the various incarnations of ITIL has traditionally been the ITSM processes. In ITIL 4, the focus has been elevated to consider practices, or capabilities, rather than simply the processes – this reflects that ITSM capabilities require more than simply processes. ITIL 4 defines a management practice as:

“A set of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective.” Importantly, a practice is more than just the process(es).”

Also, the 34 ITIL 4 management practices are related to service management per se such that they apply to all service providers and not just IT. They’re also split across three groupings: general management practices, service management practices, and technical management practices as shown in the table below.

General Management x14 Service Management x17 Technical Management x3
Architecture management Availability management Deployment management
Continual improvement Business analysis Infrastructure and platform management
Information security management Capacity and performance management Software development and management
Knowledge management Change enablement
Measurement and reporting Incident management
Organizational change management IT asset management
Portfolio management Monitoring and event management
Project management Problem management
Relationship management Release management
Risk management Service catalog management
Service financial management Service configuration management
Strategy management Service continuity management
Supplier management Service design
Workforce and talent management Service desk
Service level management
Service request management
Service validation and testing
Management Practices

The origins of each set of management practices are as follows:

  • “General management practices have been adopted and adapted for service management from general business management domains.
  • Service management practices have been developed in service management and ITSM industries.
  • Technical management practices have been adapted from technology management domains for service management purposes by expanding or shifting their focus from technology solutions to IT services.”

When the ITIL 4 management practices are compared to the ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) processes, some practices have new names as well as updated content, for example:

  • Capacity and performance management was previously capacity management
  • Change enablement was previously change management
  • Monitoring and event management was previously event management.

Some practices are new to ITIL (although elements of related guidance might have been contained within other processes), for example:

  • “IT asset management
  • Organizational change management
  • Software development and management
  • Workforce and talent management.

The ITIL Guiding Principles

ITIL 4 has brought the nine guiding principles for ITIL contained within the 2016 ITIL Practitioner Guidance publication into the main body of ITIL. Albeit reimagining them as just seven principles that better reflect the needs of modern service management and ITSM. These are outlined below.

“Everything that the organization does needs to map, directly or indirectly, to value for the stakeholders. The focus on value principle encompasses many perspectives, including the experience of customers and users.”
“Do not start from scratch and build something new without considering what is already available to be leveraged. There is likely to be a great deal in the current services, processes, programs, projects, and people that can be used to create the desired outcome. The current state should be investigated and observed directly to make sure it is fully understood.”
“Do not attempt to do everything at once. Even huge initiatives must be accomplished iteratively. By organizing work into smaller, manageable sections that can be executed and completed in a timely manner, it is easier to maintain a sharper focus on each effort. Using feedback before, throughout, and after each iteration will ensure that actions are focused and appropriate, even if circumstances change.”
“Working together across boundaries produces results that have greater buy-in, more relevance to objectives, and increased likelihood of long-term success. Achieving objectives requires information, understanding, and trust. Work and consequences should be made visible, hidden agendas avoided, and information shared to the greatest degree possible.”
“No service, or element used to provide a service, stands alone. The outcomes achieved by the service provider and service consumer will suffer unless the organization works on the service as a whole, not just on its parts. Results are delivered to internal and external customers through the effective and efficient management and dynamic integration of information, technology, organization, people, practices, partners, and agreements, which should all be coordinated to provide a defined value.”
“If a process, service, action or metric fails to provide value or produce a useful outcome, eliminate it. In a process or procedure, use the minimum number of steps necessary to accomplish the objective(s). Always use outcome-based thinking to produce practical solutions that deliver results.”
“Resources of all types, particularly human resources, should be used to their best effect. Eliminate anything that is truly wasteful and use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of. Human intervention should only happen where it really contributes value.”

The Four Dimensions
of Service Management

ITIL has longed urged people to focus on all three of “people, process, and technology” and not simply the technology. ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) extended this with the “four Ps” of people, process, product (meaning “technology”), and partners.

ITIL 4 has extended this even further with “the four dimensions of service management” as shown in the diagram below.

The Four Dimensions of Service Management

The observant will see that this model still includes people (in 1), processes (in 4), technology (in 2), and partners (in 3), with the addition of the external factors affecting each of the four dimensions.

The Relevance of ITIL to ITSM Tools

The Relevance of ITIL to ITSM Tools

As already mentioned, the earliest service desk solutions and then ITSM tools were modeled on ITIL best practices. Or, more specifically, the most commonly adopted elements of ITIL were used as an ITSM tool blueprint in terms of capabilities such as incident management, service request management, problem management, change management/enablement, knowledge management, service catalog management and self-service, and service configuration management and the configuration management database (CMDB).

The introduction of the service lifecycle and its five stages in ITIL v3 also brought with it a way to group ITSM capabilities within ITSM tools for more intuitive user experiences too. For example, grouping all the service operation processes together and all the service transition processes together.

The introduction of the service lifecycle and its five stages in ITIL v3 also brought with it a way to group ITSM capabilities within ITSM tools for more intuitive user experiences too. For example, grouping all the service operation processes together and all the service transition processes together.

This said, any ITSM tool that you’re currently using or planning to use is still likely built on ITIL best practices. Meaning that many organizations are benefitting from ITIL even if they haven’t separately invested in its adoption.

How ITIL Will Enable Your Organization

ITIL adoption will benefit your organization across three areas. First, the use of ITSM or service management thinking. Second, the use of specific ITIL best practices. And third, the use of ITIL-aligned ITSM tools to deliver enhanced versions of otherwise manual practices.

So, for example, the benefits of ITIL adoption start with the generic benefits of ITSM. That the focus of IT delivery and support moves from individual technology domains to the delivery and improvement of IT services. Here the use of standard practices and defined responsibilities increase speed and efficiency, reduce costs, and provide better user experiences and outcomes.

Then the ITIL guidance provides guidance related to optimizing specific practices and processes along with related benefits driven by the supplementary ITIL content, i.e. that which sits outside of specific processes. For example, increased control and governance.

Finally, the use of a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool provides technology-based enablement that improves both operations and outcomes, For example, the automation of workflows and routine tasks and activities, the provision of multiple access and communication channels (such as self-service), the facilitation of knowledge management, and greater insight into operational performance and opportunities for improvement.

ITIL Governance

With ITIL, everyone benefits – from service-provider staff, through service receivers (employees and potentially customers), to the organization as a whole. Where ITIL will help technology, or digital enablement, to become a source of competitive advantage.

How ITIL will enable your organization

Frequently Asked Questions

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of practices that supports organizations and individuals to gain optimal value from IT and digital services. Providing guidance on the definition of the direction of the service provider with a clear capability model and aligns them to the business strategy and customer needs.
The objective of change management is “to ensure that changes are recorded, evaluated, authorized, prioritized, planned, tested, implemented, documented, and reviewed in a controlled manner in order to to understand and minimize risks while making IT changes.
The process, or set of activities, that ensures all IT issues (termed “incidents” by ITIL) are logged and progressed effectively and consistently through to resolution. All while ensuring that nothing is lost, ignored, or forgotten about.
ITIL 4 defines the key purpose of problem management as being “to reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents and managing workarounds and known errors.”

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