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Bill Gates once said: “The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life.” This is true for business especially, where technology has a vital role in day-to-day operations. But, without a solid foundation of best practices in place it can be a struggle to maintain that necessary technology. That is where the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and ITIL processes comes in to establish these best practices and processes.
ITIL processes describe a set of detailed practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focus on aligning IT services with the needs of business.
Although ITIL 4 was released in February 2019, for the purposes of this post, we will be referring to ITIL v3/2011, as that is the version currently in use by many ITSM software vendors and IT departments.
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ITIL is defined as:
“A set of best-practice publications for IT service management. ITIL gives guidance on the provision of quality IT services and the processes, functions and other capabilities needed to support them.”
ITIL also describes processes, procedures, tasks, and checklists which are not specific to any singular organization or technology. These practices can be applied to knowledge management strategies and can be used with ITSM software.
The ITIL v3 framework consists of five stages of the service lifecycle, with each stage consisting of processes or functions aligned with the IT organizational structure. These processes can be adopted based on suitability for the team, which gives ITIL some flexibility. We will touch on the ITIL service lifecycle later in the post, but for now it is important to understand that ITIL 4 focuses more on value creation, rather than the delivering of services, which is the focus of the ITIL v3 service lifecycle.
ITIL was originally developed in the 1980s as an initiative by the UK Cabinet Office in an effort to improve the quality of IT services while saving costs for the government. But, the original version of ITIL is far different from the current version, which is now owned by Axelos (a non-government entity).
ITIL has evolved through the years, starting with ITIL v1 which was adopted by organizations worldwide in the 1990s. By the year 2000, ITIL had grown in popularity and became the basis for Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF).
In 2001, ITIL got an upgrade with ITIL v2, which focused on consistency, elimination of duplication, and the inclusion of problem management, release management, incident management, IT asset management, security management, and service continuity management. These enduring pieces remain an important part of ITIL today. ITIL v2 also introduced the idea of various service desk structures, like local, central, and virtual service desks, and introduced the concepts of the call center or help desk.
In 2007, ITIL v3 was introduced, which was later refined in 2011 to become ITIL v3/2011. This version doubled the scope of the prior version and introduced the ITIL service lifecycle. This framework is often credited as the inspiration for modern DevOps initiatives and is still widely used today. (In fact, it is the version we are discussing in this blog post!)
By February 2019, ITIL underwent another revision to become ITIL 4. This framework has a few key differences from ITIL v3, but the one major difference was the removal of the service lifecycle. ITIL 4 also introduces a shift in focus to value creation rather than service delivery.
We will go through more specific changes later in the post, but the main idea is that ITIL 4 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.”
There are several key points in ITIL that make it different from other frameworks, but there are at least 3 core pillars that have remained steady throughout the various updates and versions. These pillars include:
The formal definition of change management is:
“The process responsible for controlling the lifecycle of all changes, enabling beneficial changes to be made with minimum disruption to IT services.”
Change management is ultimately a balancing act between the need for speed and the management of inherent risks associated with a change. After all, no organization wants its latest change to cause its customers and/or employee’s issues, nor the IT service desk to be drowned under a deluge of change-related incidents. This unwanted disruption, and potentially cost, is a foundation stone in the need for a change management process.
The change management process is used for scheduled and emergency changes, as well as routine and large changes. Change management also dictates specific roles and processes before implementing any new or scheduled change, including who can and how to submit a Request for Change (RFC), who sits on a Change Advisory Board (CAB), and who is in charge of implementing and overseeing the change.
An incident is defined as an unplanned interruption to a service or reduction in the quality of a service. Incidents are usually identified by end users and reported via telephone, email, or an IT self-service portal.
An incident is an issue affecting one or more employees, customers, third parties, business processes or services, or another entity that can be adversely affected by your organization’s technology—or technology-based services—not working as they should. For example, a faulty laptop and an inaccessible business application are both classified as incidents. Both of these example issues (or incidents) are likely to be reported to the IT service desk—either by an affected person or a monitoring or event management tool—for resolution.
Incident management (not to be confused with problem management) is defined by Axelos as:
“The practice of minimizing the negative impact of incidents by restoring normal service operation as quickly as possible.”
In short, this core pillar of ITIL aims to reduce downtime caused by incidents by getting the user back up and running in as little time as possible. An example of incident management in action is an employee call to the IT service desk in respect of an app on their mobile phone not working, with the resolution being either an update to the app, the phone’s operating system or both. This can either be done by the service desk analyst remotely or the employee by following provided instructions.
Problem and incident management differ, but are both key components in ITIL. Problems are defined by Axelos as “A cause, or potential cause, of one or more incidents.”
Problems come from incidents, but despite how some people might describe problems, incidents don’t change state into problems. Instead, a problem is a new ITSM entity—and a separate record in an ITSM software—created from recurring incidents.
A problem might be an incident that repeats over time—for example, the same laptop continually experiences hard disk failures (despite repeated replacement). Or, it’s an incident that’s affecting multiple laptops, and the likely cause, or root cause, is going to be a manufacturing issue.
Problems are typically identified through the analysis of incident records and other ITSM data.
ITIL best practices indicate the proper way to handle problem management:
“The practice of reducing the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents, and managing workarounds and known errors.”
Problems are usually dealt with over a longer timeframe than incidents. Here, ITSM tool data and potentially other sources of information are gathered and analyzed to understand what has caused the recurring issue(s) and what needs to be done to rectify the situation. This resolution might take the form of a request for change (RFC) or if a definitive solution is known or isn’t feasible, then a known error and workaround are created to temporarily flag and fix the recurring issue respectively.
Many ITSM tools still currently use ITIL v3/2011, which is built around the concept of 5 stages of the service lifecycle. It is important to note that the service lifecycle is not included in ITIL 4.
The technical definition for the ITIL service lifecycle is: “An approach to IT service management that emphasizes the importance of coordination and control across the various functions, processes and systems necessary to manage the full lifecycle of IT services.”
The 5 stages of the service lifecycle work together to enable more seamless delivery and communication between business services and IT. This approach can be used enterprise-wide. The service lifecycle approach considers:
The service strategy stage facilitates organizations to strategize and set business goals to meet customer demands and needs.
This stage in the lifecycle includes the design of service management processes, technology, infrastructure, products, processes, and functions.
Risk and impact of any change must be taken into consideration, which is where this stage begins. Transition planning and support is focused on maintaining current functionality while deploying new organizational changes with minimal risks.
Service Operation is the stage where day-to-day operational tasks would fall. This stage is responsible for monitoring infrastructure and application related services and enables businesses to meet the needs of their customers and staff.
The quality check of continual service improvement ensures that throughout the lifecycle, improvement is the end goal. This is also part of service continuity management.
You may be tempted to spend time constructing best practices and processes for your team from scratch, but this is both time consuming and potentially redundant. One of the major benefits of using ITIL is the amount of time saved by having a uniform guidance and processes.
The benefits of ITIL spread beyond the IT department and include:
The benefits of using the ITIL framework within an IT Service Management solution also include a more streamlined organization. These positive benefits extend beyond simply the IT department and those they serve, rather they can be implemented enterprise wide.
Knowledge and mastery of ITIL is important in the IT industry. ITIL certification indicates to organizations and IT managers that you are a skilled practitioner of ITIL, which can lead to potentially higher paying opportunities, a sharper skillset, and more knowledgeability and credibility on the job. Furthermore, certification is a relatively low-risk effort with a potentially high ROI for those in the IT industry.
According to Axelos: The ITIL certification scheme provides a modular approach to the ITIL framework and is comprised of a series of qualifications which vary be degree of depth and detail. The tiered structure of the qualification offers candidates flexibility relating to the different disciplines and areas of ITIL and the ability to focus their studies on key areas of interest.
There are several levels of certification for ITIL v3 and ITIL 4.
The ITIL v3 Certification Scheme includes the following levels:
ITIL v3 Foundation qualified candidates are encouraged to move straight to ITIL 4 Foundation to keep their skills up to date. Intermediate candidates can decide to collect 17 v3 credits to enable them to transition to ITIL 4 with one course and one exam.
ITIL 4’s Certification Scheme differs from ITIL v3, and includes:
There are two ways to become ITIL certified. You can either sit the exams at the end of a training course with an Accredited Training Organization (ATO), or study privately and then book the exam without a training course via PeopleCert, the ITIL Examination Institute.
More information about ITIL training courses and exam information can be found here.
IT Service Management, or ITSM, refers to the entirety of activities directed by policies, organized and structured in processes and supporting procedures, that are performed by an organization to design, plan, deliver, operate and control information technology services offered to customers. This is often delivered through an ITSM software solution.
ITSM should not be comprised of a random assortment of rules, practices, and tools. Rather, ITSM requires a set of uniform rules and common practices to function seamlessly.
Think of ITIL as a language used by ITSM. ITIL and ITSM are two separate entities which work together. ITIL is a cohesive set of best practices and an accepted approach to ITSM.
Although ITIL framework is the most widely used for ITSM, there are others that may be used by ITSM software companies. These frameworks include Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT), and Business Process Framework (eTOM). Frameworks may also have different subsidiaries outside of the general IT department, like DevOps, for example.
Although ITIL 4 is the current version, it is important to note that many ITSM vendors still use ITIL v3/2011. The key differences, which we have noted above, include the inclusion of the Service Lifecycle and the emphasis on service delivery.
Unique to ITIL v3 is also the four P’s of Service Design (which is part of the Service Design phase in the Service Lifecycle). The four P’s are:
Of note, ITIL v3/2011 refers to “processes” rather than “practices”. This subtle difference underpins the emphasis on service delivery.
So, what has changed with ITIL 4?
There are, of course, many other changes to be aware of, but the above are some of the most important.
IT departments have long understood the benefits and positive aspects of the ITIL processes and framework. When used in concert with an ITSM software solution, every aspect of the IT department from simple ticket creation and tracking to the change management, incident management, and asset management processes can be streamlined. Furthermore, these benefits can extend to the entire enterprise.
Learn more about how ITIL and how we can help your organization adopt ITIL by getting a personalized demo here.
Krista Lyons is the Content Marketing Manager at EasyVista. She manages the EasyVista blog and social media channels. Lyons has a background in journalism and writing and has contributed to several publications prior to joining EasyVista. Lyons enjoys all things tech and has a passion for reading about artificial intelligence and robots.