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A guide to ITIL and its place in modern ITSM

As organizations are coming to rely more and more on the technologies to power their operations, IT teams are becoming increasingly important partners to their businesses. ITIL - and in particular, the newest version of ITIL called ITIL 4 -  provides a framework that gives IT teams both the flexibility and stability that they need in order to successfully support the business.

What is ITIL?

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a widely accepted set of best practices that is designed to support an organization in gaining optimal value from IT by aligning IT services with business strategy.

The history of ITIL

ITIL was originally created by the British government in the 1980s. At the time of its inception, they were looking for a set of standards to improve IT performance. Over the years, ITIL has grown in popularity and evolved as new versions have been released. ITIL is now owned by Axelos, a joint venture between the British Government Cabinet Office and Capita. In 2019, they released the latest version of ITIL, ITIL 4, which takes a more holistic and adaptable approach to ITSM.

ITIL vs ITSM: What’s the difference?

To get at the difference between ITIL and ITSM, let’s first start by defining ITSM. ITSM, or IT service management, is how IT teams manage the end-to-end delivery of IT services to customers. This includes all the processes and activities to design, create, deliver, and support IT services. ITSM is service-centric; its core concept is the belief that IT should be delivered as a service.

So while ITSM is a kind of methodology for delivering IT to the business, ITIL is a commonly-used set of practices that outlines how to implement ITSM in a business. For those of you familiar with Agile methodologies, the difference between ITSM and ITIL is akin to the one between Agile and Scrum. While ITSM (or Agile) is a methodology, ITIL (or Scrum) is a framework for implementing that methodology.

Obviously, the connection between the two is strong; ITIL was created with ITSM in mind. But the distinction between the two can be boiled down to one idea: ITIL is a framework or a set of guidelines to assist in implementing the activities involved in ITSM.

The ITIL framework

The release of ITIL 4 brought changes to ITIL that place it within the context of emerging technologies and new ways of working like Lean, Agile, and DevOps. It guides teams into a holistic, business and customer-value frame of reference. With this latest update, ITIL has become more flexible and adaptable. This change is evident in the new ITIL 4 framework and guiding principles.

For example, ITIL 4 introduced the Service Value System, in which the key inputs are opportunity or demand and the key output is value. The components of the ITIL SVS include:

  • ITIL Guiding Principles 
  • Governance
  • ITIL Service value chain
  • ITIL Practices
  • Continual Improvement

A side-by-side comparison of the ITIL 4 Guiding Principles and the Agile Manifesto will show that this new version of ITIL promotes a more agile way of working:

ITIL 4 and Agile principles compared

The ITIL 4 guiding principles  The Agile Manifesto
  • Focus on value
  • Start where you are 
  • Progress iteratively with feedback
  • Collaborate and promote visibility
  • Think and work holistically
  • Keep it simple and practical 
  • Optimize and automate
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan

 

The ITIL 4 guiding principles
  • Focus on value
  • Start where you are 
  • Progress iteratively with feedback
  • Collaborate and promote visibility
  • Think and work holistically
  • Keep it simple and practical 
  • Optimize and automate
 The Agile Manifesto
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan

And with the most recent updates to the ITIL practices, IT teams are encouraged not to interpret ITIL in an overly-prescriptive way. ITIL 4 has shifted from step-by-step processes to holistic “practices” that incorporate culture, business goals, and stakeholders. The 34 practices are broadly categorized into general management practices, service management practices, and technical management practices:

The ITIL management practices

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition, Table 5.1, The ITIL management practices

In general, ITIL 4 brings a greater focus to things like people and culture and discourages the use of any heavy, burdensome, or rigid processes that may create siloes. We believe ITIL 4 is a positive step in the direction of an approach to ITSM that values collaboration, ease of use, and business value creation. If you’re interested in learning more about ITIL 4, check out this whitepaper which provides a practical guide to using ITIL 4.

Should your organization use the ITIL framework?

To be certain, there are a number of benefits to adopting ITIL. Bringing the kind of structure that ITIL does to your IT team can help better align IT goals with business goals, track IT costs, streamline service delivery, and keep your customers happy. 

There are some that think ITIL/ITSM is too structured and process-driven and promote the adoption of DevOps, instead. We don’t think it’s an either/or decision; successful IT teams can draw from both ITIL/ITSM and DevOps practices.

It’s important to remember, however, that the architecture of ITIL 4 specifically encourages and enables flexibility. The point of ITIL is not to create strict rules and heavy processes, but rather to provide adaptable guidelines. You and your team should evaluate the ITIL framework, practices, and guidelines and implement what works for you. And above all else, avoid rigidity and work siloes.

Summary

As IT teams evolve and look to new ways of working, ITIL is evolving with them. It’s no longer necessary or encouraged to strictly adhere to all of the processes outlined by ITIL and ITSM. Instead, IT teams are embracing greater flexibility and more collaboration.