What is ITIL?

ITIL, otherwise known as “Information Technology Infrastructure Library”, is a set of detailed practices for IT service management (ITSM). The ITIL framework includes defined and documented principles and processes that form an operating model for the effective delivery of IT-driven services. Examples of the types of processes covered by ITIL include incident management, IT asset management, and change management.

Originally developed during the 1980s by the UK’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (later part of the Office of Government Commerce), ITIL has evolved through several iterations (the latest being ITIL 4), reflecting broad industry input and changing technological landscapes. Now governed by AXELOS — a joint venture between the UK Cabinet Office and Capita — ITIL is an essential framework to manage IT services and mitigate risk within technology-driven functions.

ITIL guiding principles

The 7 guiding principles of ITIL 4 are meant to define the way that organizations should approach ITSM, regardless of which ITIL processes are being leveraged and for what goal. The guiding principles are:

1) Focus on value 

2) Start where you are 

3) Progress iteratively with feedback 

4) Collaborate and promote visibility 

5) Think and work holistically 

6) Keep it simple and practical 

7) Optimize and automate

Incorporating the ITIL framework enables companies not only to manage their IT operations effectively but also ensures resilience against service disruptors, and flexibility to scale and adapt to changes in the dynamic IT industry.

Exploring the core components of ITIL 4

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library v4 (ITIL v4) is a robust operating model to standardize the selection, planning, delivery, maintenance, and overall lifecycle of IT services in a business environment. The launch of ITIL 4 brought several advancements over its predecessors, including integration of IT into the broader business strategy and an emphasis on customer experience and digital transformation.

ITIL 4 is both efficient and agile in handling various IT governance issues faced by many organizations today. Here’s a breakdown of two fundamental concepts that underpin ITIL:

Service Value System (SVS)

The Service Value System is the core of ITIL 4, and provides a holistic approach to creating, managing, and continuously improving IT services. SVS supports organizations in their journey towards effective service management through several components, including the guiding principles (discussed above), ITIL practices (discussed later in this article), and the Service Value Chain for the pipeline of IT products and services, defined according to these activities:

  • Plan
  • Improve
  • Engage
  • Design & transition
  • Obtain/build
  • Deliver & support

Four dimensions model

To enable a cross-organizational, holistic approach to service management practices, ITIL 4 emphasizes four dimensions:

  1. Organizations and people: Acknowledging that individuals’ skills and their collaborative efforts drive successful outcomes.
  2. Information and technology: Covering the connections between information flow and technologies required to support service management.
  3. Partners and suppliers: Focusing on relationships with partners or vendors to ensure shared expectations.
  4. Value streams and processes: Articulating how different components contribute to efficient workflow delivery.

As ITIL evolves, it more closely aligns with contemporary technological demands. ITIL’s latest iteration features a dynamic structure aimed at building operational excellence in a more complex, integrated, and data-driven digital ecosystem. 

Let’s now explore the theory and structure of ITIL in action, as the ITIL process.

What is the ITIL process?

ITIL is an operating model for developing and implementing IT services that align with business needs while also enhancing usability and customer satisfaction. This is achieved through the ITIL process, a structured approach to developing efficient, resilient IT service management. 

Here are the stages of the ITIL process in brief detail:

  • Service strategy: This initial phase revolves around understanding organizational goals and customer needs, in order to design IT services that support long-term business objectives.
  • Service design: This step includes designing the infrastructure and technology required for delivering IT services, tailored to fit specific organizational strategies.
  • Service transition: Here, IT services are developed and tested before being released into live environments ensuring they meet all outlined specifications.
  • Service operation: During this phase, IT services are managed day-to-day to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency while troubleshooting and promptly resolving any issues that arise.
  • Continual service improvement: This last stage is a cyclical component of the ITIL process. It focuses on ongoing enhancements to IT service management based on performance metrics and feedback loops from previous phases.

Each stage of the process builds upon the previous ones, ensuring that services are aligned with current business needs and adaptable enough for future requirements. By sticking to the structured steps of the ITIL process, organizations can have better control over IT environments and increased reliability of service management activities.

ITIL management practices

ITIL management practices are structured ‘modules’ that help organizations manage, optimize, and streamline their IT services. Each practice is a sub-world of the complete ITIL framework, focusing on the procedures, guidelines, and operations for the specific area. There are 34 ITIL management practices, divided into three categories: general management practices, service management practices, and technical management practices.

Here is the full list of ITIL management practices:

General management practices

  • Strategy management
  • Portfolio management
  • Architecture management
  • Service financial management
  • Workforce and talent management
  • Continual improvement
  • Measurement and reporting
  • Risk management
  • Information security management
  • Knowledge management
  • Organizational change management
  • Project management
  • Relationship management
  • Supplier management

Service management practices

  • Business analysis
  • Service catalog management
  • Service design
  • Service level management
  • Availability management
  • Capacity and performance management
  • Service continuity management
  • Monitoring and event management
  • Service desk
  • Incident management
  • Service request management
  • Problem management
  • Release management
  • Change enablement
  • Service validation and testing
  • Service configuration management
  • IT asset management

Technical management practices

  • Deployment management
  • Infrastructure and platform management
  • Software development and management

By incorporating some or many of these frameworks into your operational blueprint — tailoring them as necessary — you can significantly improve your organization’s capability to meet current and future IT demands while staying aligned with industry standards.

ITIL certifications

ITIL certifications provide IT professionals with industry-standardized training and expertise in IT service management, according to the principles and practices of ITIL. These credentials are recognized globally and can significantly boost career prospects by showcasing an individual’s commitment and knowledge to ITIL-aligned ITSM.

There are several categories for ITIL certifications tailored to various degrees of skill, experience, and professional responsibility:

  • ITIL Foundation: This entry level certification provides a broad-based understanding of the ITIL framework and its core principles. It’s designed for beginners who wish to understand the essentials of ITIL-based IT service management.
  • ITIL Practice Manager (PM): The ITIL PM certification is a practical, hands-on course designed for those who want to enhance their abilities in ITIL practices. The syllabus includes practice exercises to simulate real-world scenarios and skills.
  • ITIL Managing Professional (MP): Targeted at IT professionals who manage teams, workflows, and cross-organizational processes, the ITIL MP certification covers 4 modules focused on building technical and practical skills, such as service strategy and value.
  • ITIL Strategic Leader (SL): The ITIL SL certification covers all the digital enabled operations in an organization, beyond ITSM. The course is focused on the bigger picture of how IT influences the broader business goals and strategies, not just IT operations.
  • ITIL Master: Those who complete all the modules for the Managing Professional (MP) and Strategic Leader (SL) certifications will qualify to become an ITIL Master. This certification also requires at least 5 years of work experience in ITSM in a management or leadership role.

ITIL certifications open up numerous benefits for IT professionals, including career mobility and earning potential. The expected base salary for individuals holding an ITIL Foundation certificate stands at $98,000, and significantly grows with more experience and advanced certifications.

Benefits of ITIL

Understanding and applying ITIL models in your IT organization is a critical part of effective service operations and management, and ultimately, business success. Here are the key benefits of ITIL when implemented properly and comprehensively:

Enhanced service delivery and customer satisfaction

By standardizing procedures for service management, ITIL helps organizations provide more predictable levels of service, which naturally enhances customer satisfaction. Consistency in service delivery ensures that customers receive reliable and efficient solutions to their IT issues, leading to increased trust and sustained business relationships.

Less use of resources and reduced costs

ITIL processes such as incident management, as well as ITIL’s proactive approach to continuous improvement, enable businesses to prevent incidents before they happen and manage service failures more efficiently. This not only reduces downtime but also decreases the costs associated with ‘putting out fires’. Furthermore, streamlined ITIL processes are designed to optimize the use of resources, leading to improved efficiency in time, manpower, and budget.

Improved decision making

With regular monitoring, analysis, and reporting of IT activities and outcomes, ITIL practices provide businesses with invaluable insights into operations — identifying trends, anticipating potential issues before they escalate, and benchmarking performance against service level agreements (SLAs). These practices allow leadership to make informed strategic decisions, faster.

Aligning service management with business goals

ITIL bridges the gap between IT services and business outcomes by ensuring that every aspect of service delivery is aligned with the overarching goals of the organization. This alignment is essential for justifying investments in IT infrastructure and proving value from technological enhancements.

ITIL vs ITSM

ITIL and ITSM are integral to one another, yet they are not the same thing. They are each a distinct concept in the field of IT and technology infrastructure administration. Let’s explain what they are and put any confusion to rest.

Understanding ITIL and ITSM

ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a framework for IT service management, designed to help businesses improve their IT and digital operations and align them with the organization’s overall goals and strategy. ITIL encompasses an extensive set of guidelines and processes aimed at boosting quality and efficiency in ITSM and other digital-driven operations.

ITSM, or Information Technology Service Management, is a professional discipline in the broader IT arena. ITSM refers to the planning, design, delivery, operation, and control of IT services provided by a business to users (internally to employees and externally to customers). ITSM includes policies, strategies, processes, and operations for the provision and maintenance of IT services by an organization. 

While the ITIL framework may be implemented as part of the efforts to streamline and standardize ITSM operations, there are other approaches beyond ITIL that may be used to manage IT services, such as Six Sigma or TOGAF. Think of ITIL as one set of rules, among others, that can be adopted within the broader field of ITSM, depending on organizational needs.

Comparing ITIL with other ITSM frameworks

In the field of IT Service Management (ITSM), ITIL stands out as a prominent operational framework, however, it’s not the only player on the field. Let’s explore how ITIL stacks up against other prominent ITSM frameworks, such as MOF (Microsoft Operations Framework) and COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology).

Origins and evolution

ITIL was developed by the UK government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency during the 1980s to standardize efficient use of governmental IT resources. The ITIL framework has developed over the years as a highly regarded and broadly applicable IT management framework that is not technology specific or specific to an organization. Contrastingly, COBIT was created by ISACA as an IT governance model for enterprise organizations. MOF was of course developed by Microsoft in 2008, and while it is designed to cover the complete IT lifecycle, it is more closely aligned with Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) best practices.

Scope and focus

While ITIL provides a comprehensive, process-focused approach to IT and service management and operations, COBIT is broader in scope. It interlocks information technology more closely with overall business governance. MOF, on the other hand, aligns closely with Microsoft technologies offering specific guidance that caters to their products.

Certifications

In terms of professional development, all three offer certification programs to train IT professionals in management and operations of each respective framework. That said, they emphasize different aspects — ITIL is heavily service-oriented, COBIT focuses on governance control points across an enterprise environment, while MOF drills down into practical application using Microsoft technologies.

Choosing the right framework

Deciding between these IT management frameworks might seem daunting. Here are some factors to help you understand which one may fit your organizational needs best:

  • Organizational alignment: Consider whether your organization requires strict adherence to regulatory standards more thoroughly covered by COBIT, or perhaps benefits from a detailed focus on operational processes like those described in ITIL.
  • Technology stack: If your infrastructure is significantly based on Microsoft technologies, MOF presents targeted benefits. ITIL, on the other hand, is a widely recognized, non-agnostic  ITSM framework suitable for any technology ecosystem.
  • Complexity and scale: Larger organizations may appreciate COBIT’s robust focus on controls across business practices, which simplifies governance at scale; smaller teams might leverage ITIL for its straightforward models enhancing day-to-day operations.

While all three systems have their purpose within the ITSM industry, each brings something different to the table, allowing IT professionals to tailor their approach according to organizational dynamics.

How to adopt and implement ITIL

The ITIL framework is a comprehensive, clearly defined set of processes and practices. Adopting and implementing ITIL therefore requires a systematic approach, based on a deep understanding of what ITIL entails and how it integrates with business objectives and existing IT functions. An ITIL-aligned IT management software already incorporates ITIL-based tools, enabling you to seamlessly adopt the framework as part of your daily functioning. Let’s take a look at the general steps you need to take to get started with ITIL in your ITSM and digital environment:

Assess your current status

Before diving into ITIL, it’s crucial to understand where your organization currently stands in terms of IT service management. Conduct a thorough assessment of your existing processes, services, and their maturity levels. Identifying the gaps between your current state and the desired ITIL best practices will help you pinpoint areas needing immediate attention and improvement.

Train and certify key personnel

ITIL’s effectiveness largely depends on the people implementing it. Ensure that key team members receive training to deeply understand ITIL frameworks and gain practical skills in ITIL processes. Investing in certification courses for employees not only boosts their capabilities but also ensures that they are well-equipped to lead the charge in adopting ITIL practices within the company.

Plan your implementation strategy

Establish what you aim to achieve with ITIL implementation — whatever your objectives are, set them out clearly, such as improving service delivery, enhancing customer satisfaction, or reducing operational costs. Create a detailed roadmap towards that goal. Include quick wins and long-term goals that provide visibility into the implementation process and help maintain momentum.

Remember, implementation doesn’t happen overnight; setting realistic timelines will help to manage expectations across all organizational levels.

Execute according to priorities

Start small by prioritizing areas that will benefit most from incremental changes according to the roadmap. Early successes create positive impact statements within the team, which encourage ongoing efforts. Gradually expand the scope of implementation as teams become more familiar with ITIL principles.

Measure results and iterate

Once initial projects are up and running under new ITIL guidelines, establish metrics for evaluating success for different KPIs and outcomes, such as decreased downtime or improved customer feedback scores. Use these insights to validate methods and to refine and optimize approaches wherever necessary — after all, continual improvement is at the heart of ITIL philosophy.

This methodical approach paves way towards streamlined ITIL-based operations and also strengthens the organization’s resilience in a fast-moving IT landscape. Most importantly, implementing ITIL effectively helps to create a growth-oriented IT environment that is ready to scale and adapt towards operational and service excellence.

ITIL with Atera: Let’s get streamlined

Adopting ITIL is much easier with an ITSM tool that is based on key ITIL principles and processes. Atera, the all-in-one IT management platform, incorporates ITIL practices inside the software, enabling IT professionals to streamline their operations with ITIL practices directly from the dashboard. 

With an ITIL-based approach to ITSM, Atera supports consistency in IT service delivery. This is the key to efficiency, cost savings, and user satisfaction in IT management, across your organization. Start your free trial with Atera and explore the potential of embedded ITIL compliance in your day-to-day ITSM and digital operations.

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