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ITIL framework

For many years now, IT professionals have been hearing the term "ITIL" in the context of building IT operations, providing IT services to the business, and approaches to organizing technical support. However, not everyone knows exactly and can explain what is actually meant by these four letters. We tried to collect all important and interesting about ITIL in a format of brief 10 facts, so that everyone using this word ("ITIL"), could clearly understand each other and be sure that they speak about the same thing.

1. ITIL is a framework.

Not a standard, not a library, not a methodology, but a framework. It's not easy to translate the word. Because all the connotations of the different translations: framework, base, structure, framework, system of views – are relevant to ITIL. You could say that ITIL is a set of principles, ideas and recommendations for organizing IT activities, which can help you build effective IT Service Management (ITSM) in your organization. Or simply to get things running smoothly.

2 The current version of ITIL is ITIL 4.

The first ITIL 4 publication, ITIL® Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition, saw the light of day in February 2019 and has since been updated.

3. ITIL used to stand for IT Infrastructure Library  ("IT infrastructure library"), but this is no longer true

And this happened during the "life" of the third edition. First authors and rights holders refused to use this phrase (already in books of 2007 you will not find any mention of it) and then officially declared that from now on ITIL is not an acronym, but just a proper name.

4. the organization which creates, supports and disseminates ITIL is in the UK

Today, it is AXELOS®, a joint venture created in 2013 by the UK government and Capita Corporation. But that does not mean that all ITIL authors are employees of that company, who translate only their experience in the Foggy Albion into ITIL books. Several thousand people from all over the world have contributed in varying degrees to the writing of ITIL version 4, and even the core team of architects is represented by professionals from around the world.

5. ITIL includes many books of varying volume

During the development of ITIL the creators changed the number, structure and volume of the books significantly.

Many IT professionals remember the second version of ITIL because of the widespread management processes described in the books "Service Delivery" and "Service Support". In fact, there were more publications – almost nine books. "Almost" because while the ninth book was being written, an ITIL update project was launched that resulted in the release of version 3 (and the ninth book of ITIL version 2 never got to see the light of day).

The third edition of ITIL lasted many years (released in May 2007, updated in 2011). It was structured in accordance with the model of "life cycle of a service" and initially contained five main books:

  • Service Strategy.
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual Service Improvement.

In 2016, it was updated with "ITIL® Practitioner Guidance," which we even devoted a separate webinar to – so good is this book!

The most current fourth edition of ITIL today includes:

an introductory publication, "ITIL® Foundation, ITIL 4th Edition."
five big books:

  • ITIL® 4: Create, Deliver and Support;
  • ITIL® 4: Drive Stakeholder Value;
  • ITIL® 4: High-velocity IT;
  • ITIL® 4: Direct, Plan and Improve;
  • ITIL® 4: Digital and IT Strategy;

Also, 34 small (30-45 page) electronic publications on the number of "ITIL management practices," many of which are familiar to the reader as "management processes" from previous versions + 1 booklet describing the structure and helpful tips on how to properly study these 34 mini-books and huge amount of additional materials: articles, blog posts, white papers and case studies, infographics, videos, etc.

6. ITIL is not a standard, or "Adopt and Adapt"

When trying to use ITIL ideas and recommendations, people often take too formal an approach to their application, without getting into the specific circumstances of a particular organization. ITIL is not (and never has been) a standard but a collection of best practices. A standard contains requirements that must be met. The best practices collection is an averaged or unified description of approaches and techniques that have worked well in other organizations. And the word "other" here is as important as the word "average" – we must treat what's written in ITIL as a set of recommendations, advice, and let all these tips pass through the lens of critical analysis.

So "Adopt" – "accept" an idea from the collection of best practices, i.e. take it into account, absorb it, assimilate it and, perhaps (!), decide that this idea suits you.

And "Adapt" – "adapt, adapt" this idea to your conditions. Multiple naive attempts to blindly copy the idea have perfectly demonstrated the pointlessness and futility of this approach. To include procedures and templates from ITIL into your regulations and instructions and then force your employees to work according to them means to doom your initiative (and sometimes your career or even your entire organization) to failure.

7. The scope of ITIL is much broader than many people think

In many organizations, there's a perception that ITIL is something narrowly specialized, mostly about building and tweaking tech support. Some companies turn to ITIL for information on change management-releases and configurations, service catalog and SLAs. Sometimes they even look there for answers to questions about financial management, availability management, capacity management and continuity management. But in general the attitude is usually exactly as to a source of information only on a particular, often small and not the most important area of IT management.

In reality, ITIL has always looked wider. And while the last version had a fair number of white spots (many were particularly saddened by the complete lack of development), with the release of version 4 this framework has swung to all aspects of IT organization management through the construction of a truly integrated service management model in the digital world. Software development and business intelligence are there, risk and architecture management are there too, human resources and organizational change management, please.

Here's earlier you could definitely tell that ITIL doesn't say anything about project management – there are other authoritative approaches, bodies of knowledge and sources of guidance for that, such as PMBOK® and PRINCE2®. That said, even the past version of ITIL didn't contradict them, but complemented them (and vice versa). And now one of the 34 ITIL management practices is Project Management. Of course, you can't tell about project management in details from A to Z in a document of 40 pages, so many other areas of ITIL management are not so deeply covered either. But now it's really hard to reproach him that he has missed something.

8. ITIL doesn't imply mandatory 100% application

Different organizations solve different problems and have different capabilities. So both the scope and consistency of practical application of what ITIL has to offer is a matter of your choice. You can really only take what you need in the here and now – the important thing is that it suits you and helps you move towards your goal.

However, it's important to remember that ITIL describes a system, not just a collection of disparate constructor elements. This means that even when choosing some individual ITIL recommendations to be implemented in your company, it is advisable to simultaneously imagine how you plan to develop those activities and how they will interrelate with other processes/practices/approaches. I.e. it is necessary to think not only about specific, separately taken elements of your management system, but also about interrelations within this system. Think globally, act locally!

Moreover, in almost every section of every ITIL book it is repeatedly written that "these are just recommendations (and in some cases they are just examples), they are not exhaustive, they may not suit you at all, please think carefully whether you should use them at all. And in the excellent publication "A Reader's Manual. ITIL® 4 Practice Guide" (which is the same mini-book that tells us how to properly read 34 practice brochures) says the following at all: "The ITIL 4 scoping of the practices should not be treated as definitive… ITIL 4 practices may be merged or further divided when institutionalized in the organization." I.e. we are directly told that out of 34 practices you can make at least 20 or 50: they can be merged with each other and split up as you want – the main thing is that they must work well.

9. ITIL is not a panacea

Even after reading all ITIL books and gathering all possible certifications (see fact 10 below) you can't be sure that you've mastered all the necessary knowledge to build a coherent and effective IT management system or to implement any practical activity in a truly effective and successful way. In service management and IT management alone, there are many more worthwhile sources of useful information (e.g. COBIT®, Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®), VeriSM™, IT4IT™, ASL® and BiSL®, USMBOK™, BABOK®, CMMI® models, BRM Institute training programs and many more). 

And in order to learn how to manage an organization really well, you will need knowledge and skills from related fields (general economic theory and management, project management, human resource management, quality management, risk management and many other areas of knowledge and disciplines), an understanding of basic sociology, ethology and psychology and, finally, just soft skills – which, incidentally, is a separate very important competency area that you must learn and train your employees.

So ITIL is certainly a very good source of useful information. But it's not the only one and probably not the most important one. Just one of many to turn to.

10. ITIL and certification.

Organizations. There is no certification for organizations/companies in terms of ITIL compliance and never has been. You can't conform to one-size-fits-all advice that you have to adapt for yourself 😉
But organizations can be certified for ISO 20000 (in the Russian Federation – GOST R ISO/IEC 20000).

SOFTWARE. There is also no official certification of the software, designed to automate IT management processes and procedures in accordance with ITIL recommendations (the reason is basically the same).

But there are several schemes of assessment/verification of such software for conditional compliance, or more precisely, the possibility of fulfilling ITIL recommendations (moreover, still 2011, i.e. the previous version) using such software. One evaluation scheme is proposed by AXELOS itself – ITIL® Software Scheme. The other one, much more popular and old, is called PinkVERIFY™, developed and supported by Pink Elephant, a well-known company in the world of ITSM.

People. And this is where ITIL didn't get it right 😉 Since AXELOS makes money on books and exams, things are going very well with certifications for individual people. I mean, you have an opportunity to pass many different exams and get certificates of different levels – from basic to very advanced. Different levels of such certification are called to confirm that the person who has achieved it knows the material of this or that book/field of ITIL to a certain degree and is able to apply this knowledge in practice.
To obtain these certificates, you need to take a training course at an accredited training center and pass a corresponding exam.

The most common myth about ITIL is

"This ITIL of yours is creepy old stuff! In the age of Agile, DevOps, XaaS, clouds, and the digital revolution, no one needs it. In fact, how many times have we tried it – well, ITIL doesn't work, and that's it!"

Here we should probably split this myth into two parts: the "junk" part and the "doesn't work" part.

The first part may seem reasonable if you know ITIL very superficially or try to follow every word of it blindly. Even the last version of ITIL coexisted perfectly with DevOps, Agile and other modern and trendy approaches to software development and IT organization.

And the 4th ITIL simply absorbed all the best that has proved its effectiveness over the years, as well as absorbed all the innovations of recent years. Already on the basic level you will see how closely intertwine the fundamental principles of ITIL with the principles of Agile-manifesto, get acquainted with the method of swarming, "smart disobedience", issues of customer experience and value streams. And at more advanced levels of learning, you'll learn about different sourcing models together with SIAM, robotic process automation together with artificial intelligence and machine learning, value stream mapping together with other Lean tricks, numerous "… as a service" (XaaS) models, customer journey, Cynefin framework, service-dominant logic, design thinking, positive communication culture, T-shaped competence profiles and much, much more! Yes, yes, we're still talking about ITIL. And it's really already there.

And one of the new ITIL 4 books, ITIL® 4: High-velocity IT, is all about digital transformation, high-speed environments and their corresponding cultural changes and work techniques/methods.

Another very important point is that many things from past ITIL versions (even from "ancient" ITIL v1) are still relevant and will probably remain relevant indefinitely. As long as we have to manage the hardware and software part of our IT systems, solve incidents, implement changes, negotiate with vendors and customers, create and control budgets, etc. Nuances will change, some approaches will evolve, some methods will adapt to new realities, but the essence and basic principles of activity will not disappear. And even now in order to jointly create value (ITIL 4) we must be able to provide the right services (ITIL v3), for which we need to build the effective work of different processes inside ourselves (ITIL v2), with which we will manage our IT infrastructure (ITIL v1). None of the "old" ITIL's have gone anywhere – they have all become the basis, the basis for creating the next versions.

So we advise all skeptics of the "old age of ITIL" to study the subject first, and even better to join its refinement – now everyone can participate in the improvement of this product. And if you believe the team of architects, the model of the current version of ITIL implies constant updates, which will not let this source of information and knowledge become obsolete.

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