ITIL Overview

ITIL was developed as an initiative by the UK Cabinet Office and is presently owned by Axelos, a public/private joint venture. The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) has become the most effective standard in IT Service Management. ITIL helps organizations across industries offer their services in a quality-driven and cost-effective way. The framework was developed in the 1980s and the most recent update, ITIL 4 was published in February 2019.

ITIL best practices are explained in the five core guidance publications outlining the fundamental ITIL principles that focus on various areas within the service management discipline. ITIL best practices also underpin the foundations of ISO/IEC 20000, the International Service Management Standard for organizational certification and compliance. ITIL has always been dynamic - evolving over time to reflect changes to the way IT organizations work, incorporating new service management concepts and the industry’s evolving understanding of the different capabilities required to deliver value.

ITIL V1 - The Beginning

The first version of ITIL discussed processes involved in service support such as help desk management, change management, and software distribution and control. It also covered topics such as capacity management, contingency planning, availability management, and cost management – all of which are still very relevant today.

Large companies and government agencies around the world began adopting the framework in the early 1990s to help improve their IT services and delivery capabilities. As ITIL grew in popularity, IT itself changed and evolved, and so did ITIL. In the year 2000, The CCTA merged into the OGC, Office for Government Commerce and in the same year, the first ‘child standard’ emerged as Microsoft used ITIL as the basis to develop their proprietary Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF).

ITIL V2 - The first major revision

The second version of ITIL was published in 2001. This version was focused on the elimination of duplicate entries, improvement in the consistency of topics and inclusion of new IT concepts. Some of the topics covered in ITIL v2 were problem management, release management, incident management, financial management of IT assets, security management, and service continuity management. These are some of the most enduring and popular pieces of ITIL today. ITIL v2 also introduced the concepts of call centers and help desk - discussing and comparing three kinds of service desk structures: local service desks, central service desks, and the virtual service desks. In the following years, ITIL became the most widely accepted IT service management adopted by organizations.


ITIL V3 - Introduction of the Service Lifecycle

In 2007 ITIL version 3 was published. This adopted more of a lifecycle approach to service management, with greater emphasis on IT business integration. This version is another upgrade and it consists of 26 processes and functions, grouped into 5 volumes, which focus on service strategy, service transition, service design, service operation, and continual service improvement. ITIL V3 approximately doubled the scope, almost tripled the number of processes and functions and introduced a few new dimensions and perspectives. In the service transition and service strategy volumes, new concepts were added in the areas of service assets, business case development, service value definition, and information security management. In the service operation and service design volumes, new topics introduced include access management, request fulfillment, and application management. The ITIL v3 volume on continual service improvement introduced concepts related to planning and scheduling. 

The ITIL v3 2011 edition was an update to the 2007 edition primarily aimed at resolving the errors and inconsistencies in the text and diagrams across the suite. The majority of content changes in the 2011 update were in the Service Strategy volume—the rest of the volumes received primarily minor contextual edits.

Service Strategy

ITIL 2011 Service Strategy introduced the concepts of Internal and External Customers and Services and an 8-step approach on how to define services. Service strategy now includes the scope of both business and IT strategy management along with improvements to the description on how finances are managed from a services perspective. Two new processes were added covering: 'Strategy Management for IT' and 'Business Relationship Management'

Service Design

Service Design received a moderate edit in the 2011 update. It now includes an explanation of how design activities should be planned and coordinated and guidance on how best to integrate a Service Design function into an existing IT organization. Perhaps the most notable content addition was a new section on the use of 'RACI' charts to help explain how process actors should be documented.

Service Transition

The Problem Management team is responsible to perform a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and to find a permanent fix/workaround for recurring incidents. It is recommended to have an effective communication strategy and to follow a proactive approach to avoid any major incident occurrence. Problem is one or more incidents with an unknown root cause. Problem management maintains a known error database, KEDB whose solution is unknown.

Service Operations

The Service Operations volume received a minor edit in 2011 with improved guidance for event, incident, problem, access management, and request fulfillment. A new discussion was also added on the topic of how ongoing application management should interact with application development projects.

Continual Service Improvement

The Continual Service Improvement volume received moderate edits along with improved guidance on how the seven-step ITIL process aligns with the “data -> information-> knowledge-> wisdom” concept and the PDCA 'Deming' cycle. A new addition to this volume is the 'CSI register' -a database or structured document used to record and manage improvement opportunities throughout their lifecycle. It is interesting to note that the ITIL framework for Continual Service Improvement is credited by many as the inspiration for modern DevOps initiatives.

You can read more about ITIL V3 here

The Current Release - ITIL 4

The latest version of the ITIL framework, ITIL 4 was released in February 2019. With the modern service industry being driven by digital transformation, this latest release will act as a comprehensive guide for organizations to manage their information technology better and focuses on the creation of value to customers. So far, only the Foundation book has been published, with the other publications slated for release in the second half of 2019.

As mentioned earlier, ITIL 4 focuses on value creation, rather than just delivering services. It defines service as:

“A means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.”

ITIL 4 also talks about the four dimensions of service management - Organizations and people, Information and technology, Partners and suppliers, and Value streams and processes. In addition, it introduces the ITIL service value system (SVS), which discusses how different components involved in service delivery will help co-create value for customers. In other words, it will elucidate the significance of collaborating different practices and working in unison towards delivering value, rather than working in silos and optimizing internally. On the whole, ITIL 4 continues the process to lifecycle transition with value creation at its prime focus.

ITIL Management Diagram ITIL Management Diagram

Source: Axelos

ITIL 4 Certification

According to Axelos, the ITIL 4 certification scheme consists of four different levels - ITIL Foundation, ITIL Managing Professional, ITIL Strategic Planner, and ITIL Master. The foundation course covers the fundamentals and basic terminology of service management. It helps you gain entry into the ITIL framework of managing IT services. The Managing Professional course provides practical and knowledge about running successful IT projects, teams and workflows. The Strategic Leader course targets IT professionals who want a clear understanding of how IT influences and directs business strategy. In addition, the scheme also contains another module called the Managing Professional Transition, which is for ITIL v3 experts who want to transition into ITIL 4’s Master level.


Organizations of all sizes depend on technology these days. As they grow bigger, there arises a need to ensure that these technological services are offered to consumers in the most effective way. There are a myriad of processes that streamline the delivery and management of these IT services and get the most out of the available resources. With so many processes defining the how-to’s of the industry, it is quite common to stumble upon a lot of similar terms and acronyms. ITIL and ITSM are two of the most popular terms that are used interchangeably but are very different.

At its core, IT Service Management or ITSM, is how an organization delivers and manages all the activities involved in designing, creating, delivering, supporting and managing IT as a set of services. These services include everything from hardware equipments like laptops, printers, and modems to software programs, installations, password resets and licensing agreements, etc. It is a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on integrating people, processes and information technology that enable an organization to function more efficiently.

On the other hand, ITIL is a best practices framework for effective IT service management within an organization. The idea behind this framework is to integrate ITSM processes, procedures and tasks with the organization’s overall business strategy, in order to produce the best results. It is regularly updated with the advent of newer technologies, so that the existing processes and workflow is managed even better.

In a nutshell, IT service management is about how you manage the services you deliver to your customers and end users. Whereas, ITIL guides you towards the best possible ways to achieving the same.

Benefits of ITSM Processes

Benefits of implementing ITSM processes range from IT-specific to Business-level benefits like:

Increased IT efficiency and productivity through defined roles and responsibilities Better understanding of business needs
Process implementation based on best practices Higher IT service availability levels for higher business productivity
Increased support to counter regulatory and compliance challenges Increased value and cost efficiency
Increased visibility and understanding of IT services Manage expectations better
Reduced incident lifecycles Reduced impact of incidents on the business
Read more about the Benefits of ITSM

ITIL Service Lifecycle & ITIL Processes

The core of the ITIL framework revolves around the ITIL Service Lifecycle and a set of supporting processes and best practices for each stage. The 5 ITIL Stages are:

ITIL was designed such that the lifecycle stages together form a closed-loop process. This is important because most service management activities aren’t performed when creating services from scratch, they are activities that fix or enhance an existing service. Each stage of the service lifecycle is represented by one of the ITIL volumes and is self-contained while at the same time integrating into the overall ITIL framework.

Using ITIL with other Frameworks

When you’re getting an enterprise to function in a more lean and efficient way, there isn’t just one path to get there. Companies will often leverage ITIL and other frameworks together to support their holistic organizational needs. Each framework has their own scope and unique approach which can be helpful in addressing your organization’s unique challenges. Some of the common frameworks implemented alongside ITIL include:

ISO 20000

Although there is no formal relationship between ISO 20000 and ITIL, ISO 20000 clearly draws on ITIL principles. The ISO/IEC 20000:2005 version of the standard, was designed to be aligned with (then current version) ITIL V2. ITIL V3, published in 2007 was intended to achieve even better alignment with ISO 20000. Although not explicitly stated in ISO2000 standard, preparing an IT organization for ISO 20000 certification typically involves introducing ITIL principles.


It is an IT governance framework and supporting toolset developed by ISACA. ISACA views ITIL as being complementary to COBIT with COBIT as providing a governance and assurance role while ITIL providing guidance for service management.

The Business Process Framework (eTOM)

published by the TeleManagement Forum offers a framework aimed at telecommunications service providers. In a joined effort, TeleManagment Forum and itSMF developed an Application Note to eTOM (GB921) that shows how the two frameworks can be mapped to each other. It addresses how eTom process elements and flows can be used to support the processes identified in ITIL.


is a standard for lightweight service management whose process framework is quite similar to that of ISO 20000 and the Service Support and Service Delivery parts of ITIL Version 2, but adopts Service Portfolio Management from later ITIL versions.


Isn’t a framework as much as a change of culture. DevOps uses the approach of cross-functional teams, encouraged to experiment, fail and learn and enabled by open communication. This addresses a key criticism of ITIL - teams working in silos with an “it’s not my issue” attitude. There is no “one size fits all” with DevOps because the framework brings together a looser set of principles that are integrated depending on the organization’s needs.


(Scaled Agile Framework) allows you to apply the same Agile structure as you use with software development teams to an enterprise by scaling Agile on a larger applications. SAFe enables ‘teams of teams’ and a single view of the entire process. SAFe and other Agile frameworks do not conflict with ITIL processes but often the speed of process execution and the software being used by the organization result in some ITIL activities being perceived as overly cumbersome.

IT4IT Reference Architecture

from The Open Group is a reference architecture and supporting guidelines for managing the business of IT. It uses a value chain approach to create a model of the functions that IT performs to help organizations identify the activities that contribute to business competitiveness. IT4IT covers a similar general scope as ITIL however it does so with a focus on the technical capabilities needed to support the IT function instead of the processes and activities described by ITIL

These frameworks compete when people take them literally and use prescriptive solutions, however, they can be complementary when used as guidelines and best practices that are adapted to your unique needs. The most common combinations are ‘DevOps and ITIL’ and ‘COBIT and ITIL’, but other combinations can work well too. Before you throw out any process or frameworks you already have, consider whether there is an opportunity for a multi-framework solution that provides a best-of-breed solution.

ITIL Guide to Adoption

From its inception, ITIL has existed to provide guidance that can be adapted to the needs of an individual organization – not as a prescriptive set of rules. This is not always well-understood and some people end up feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they believed they have to follow to the letter. You should not implement any process for process sake – your focus should be on providing the services customers want and need as effectively and efficiently as you can, not doing ITIL for the sake of doing it.

There is no one-size-fits-all ITIL implementation checklist. Each organization will approach the challenge differently. Rather than introducing the full set of ITIL recommendations at once, most organizations start with a subset of ITIL processes. Here are 3 of the most common approaches for organizations implementing ITIL:

Providing Better Support

The motivation for introducing ITIL in many organizations is a desire to deal with Incidents more effectively (perhaps in response to recent growth). These organizations typically begin by implementing the “Incident Management” process; followed by “Problem Management”, to take care of deeper-running issues; and, “Configuration Management” to provide reliable data on the IT infrastructure to improve the effectiveness of Incident and Problem Management. All of these processes are focused on IT providing better support to users.

Enabling Business Change

It is an IT governance framework and supporting toolset developed by ISACA. ISACA views ITIL as being complementary to COBIT with COBIT as providing a governance and assurance role while ITIL providing guidance for service management.

Providing Better Services

If your organization is focused less on the mechanics of service management and more on the content of services being enabled, the ITIL lifecycle stage for ‘Continuous Service Improvement’ is a good place to focus. CSI is often enabled by other ITIL capabilities such as: “Service Level Management”, “Capacity Management”, “Availability Management” and “IT Service Continuity Management” to both provide data to your CSI initiatives as well as making sure that the relevant service level targets are actively managed.

ITIL Adoption Mistakes:

Here are some of the common mistakes that organizations commit while implementing ITIL and how to avoid them.

Taking ITIL too literally

First things first, ITIL is a framework and not a standard. Your organization or your ITSM tool can never ‘comply’ with ITIL. It can only be aligned. ITIL adoption does not give your business direct results but can help you achieve your goals in a much more efficient and effective way. So, do not adopt ITIL just because everyone’s doing it. Understand how the adoption would impact your business and how well it aligns with your business goals. What works for one organization might not necessarily work for the other. So, it is best to have thorough evaluations done before you choose the right framework(s) that best fit the business needs of your organization. After all, it’s all about improving your business.

Overseeing the risks

Adopting the ITIL framework means rolling out org-wide changes which can have a large impact. This also renders your business prone to risks. Keeping these risks in mind, classify them, regularly evaluate your approach, and carefully plan your process implementations. Borrow the best from ITIL and combine it with other principles. When you want to improve your business efficiency through ITSM, you can leverage ITIL along with other frameworks which have their own unique scope and approach. Some of the common frameworks include COBIT, ISO 20000, FitSM, DevOps, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), etc. This ensures a balanced approach to risk and speed of service delivery.

Going all-out

ITIL processes involve rigorous planning and executing projects under strict timelines. In an attempt to get things done as planned, organizations sometimes go overboard and end up with over-scoped projects and implementations that come at the cost of your service delivery speed. This over-ambition can be curbed by implementing Agile principles into your IT service management. Based on the impact, you can prioritize your ITIL processes and fix your more important business challenges first. You can approach your implementation in phases, make small changes more frequently and progress iteratively. This will help you gain valuable feedback, which will, in turn, help you identify areas for improvement and ultimately, ensure a better outcome.


In the world of service management, what’s considered ‘done’ might not necessarily be done. There is always room for improvement. Even while you’re on the right track of implementing processes and executing processes according to your plan, look around for opportunities where you can improve. In this dynamic environment, your organizational needs also keep shifting. When you’re too focused on the process itself, you tend to miss these significant areas of improvement, and thus lose track of the changing needs. In order to remain aligned, you can establish Continual Service Improvement (CSI) in your organization. It helps you in evaluating and refining your ITIL processes and their implementations. In addition, you can use  Lean and DevOps principles to eliminate waste and identify processes to automate. This guidance from CSI enables your team to implement improvements wherever and whenever possible.

Choice of ITSM tool

The service management industry is constantly evolving with the advent of newer technologies. The speed of service delivery has also improved multifold as compared to the last decade. A high-velocity environment like this can only be managed by a fast and robust ITSM solution.

Your ITSM tool is the brain of your IT organization. It controls the way your IT team functions and helps you achieve your business goals. You will find it hard to meet your organizational needs if your ITSM tool is antiquated and too cluttered. Which is why choosing the right ITSM solution is highly significant.

Where to Start

Before you start on an ITIL implementation effort, it is important to gain a solid understanding of not only the problems your organization is trying to solve, but also how the organizational culture will impact your ability to succeed. The size of the organization, management structure, appetite for change, the business model and processes and the abilities of the implementation team are all parameters that can influence the complexity of the implementation.

The ITIL framework is diverse and covers many aspects of IT. There is no need to try and implement all parts of ITIL at one time - find what is most important for your organization that you think you can effectively address and begin there. Keep It Simple. There is enough know-how about ITIL and implementation to provide you with solid advice and experience. Use that know-how, take what is relevant to you and get started.

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