Improvements in ISO 20000 vs. CSI in ITIL

Everything can be better; both ISO 20000 and ITIL are aware of and strongly promote this fact. Take it to your personal level. How many details in your personal or professional life have you already improved? Most probably – many of them. Working on improvements continually? You are right – that’s the correct (and, I would say, the only) approach.

Just like you seek to improve yourself, so do ISO 20000 and ITIL. Improvement is embedded in all pores of IT Service Management (ITSM), no matter which approach you take. Let’s examine them in more details.

Improvement in ISO 20000

Section 4 of the ISO 20000 standard defines the SMS (Service Management System). The standard itself promotes the application of the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle while creating, running, and improving the SMS. Each of the PDCA phases carries a certain level of importance for the SMS:

Plan – ensures that a service management plan is created.

Do – SMS is created and operated.

Check – monitoring and review of the SMS is performed.

Act – improvements on both strategic and operational levels.

Let’s focus on the Act phase, which defines the requirements for maintenance and improvement of the SMS. ISO 20000 is quite clear when it comes to improvement. Let’s see a few important requirements of the standard.

ISO 20000 requires a policy on continual improvement of the SMS. That will be the definition of your approach towards improvements. A Continual Improvement Policy needs to ensure that the service improvement process is set and managed. This means that, within the policy, you need to define relationships between the processes and how you will measure particular processes, i.e., what will be your evaluation criteria for particular opportunities for improvement. That’s basically the only direct requirement of the standard regarding the policy. From my experience, I would advise you to define some more details like who is responsible for process or policy review, when the review will be performed, what is your evaluation criteria for the improvement, etc.

Further requirements of the standard emphasize improvement as part of each process in the scope of the SMS. So, my advice is to have that in mind while setting up the process. What does this mean? This means that you need to decide (while setting up the process) what will be your measurements and metrics, i.e., Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the process, which elements are providing enough information to get an objective picture of the process performance and efficiency, whom to involve (e.g., besides the process owner or service owner, include your users and customers, or suppliers). The point here is that improvements need to be managed (from the opportunity detected until realization and evaluation).

ITIL’s view on improvement

ITIL, same as ISO 20000, sees improvements as a crucial element throughout the IT service lifecycle. This is reflected in all five core books, as well as in the new ITIL Practitioner Guidance (the article: New ITIL Practitioner Guidance book – what does this mean for your certification and implementation? will provide you with more details about the ITIL Practitioner guidelines). The last stage (at least in theory) of the IT service lifecycle is Continual Service Improvement (CSI). This stage of the IT service lifecycle ensures that, once the service is in the live environment, “the show goes on” – i.e., you keep your eyes wide open and check the quality and performance of the service as well as how to improve it. Besides being applicable to the service once in the live environment, CSI has to ensure that improvement is an integral part of the processes throughout the service lifecycle.

The primary purpose of ITIL CSI is to continually align and realign IT services to the changing business needs by identifying and implementing improvements to IT services that support business processes. This means that interface to the business has to be permanent, and service level achievements need to be analyzed (and the results of the measurements and analysis acted upon). Further activities include:

  • IT service quality, and efficiency and effectiveness of enabling ITSM processes – identification and implementation of individual activities to improve the processes and service quality
  • Cost effectiveness – controlling of costs related to service performance and quality in order to improve delivery of IT services without sacrificing customer satisfaction
  • Quality management methods – ensuring that applicable methods are used to support continual improvement activities

We covered CSI in several articles, so I suggest you read these articles: ITIL CSI 7-step improvement process: How to analyze and present findings, How to use the ITIL CSI approach to improve your services, and ITIL CSI 7-step improvement process: What is it all about? to learn more.

The difference?

Well, although, while reading the CSI book or the ISO 20000 standard, one can get the impression that there is a huge difference, I wouldn’t stick to that opinion. Yes, ITIL CSI is extensive. It goes into details and it is strengthened with the ITIL Practitioner Guideline. But, in essence, ITIL CSI and ISO 20000 overlap in approach and requirements towards improvement. And, as with most of the ISO 20000 requirements, the standard will tell you what you need to do and ITIL will explain how to do it. For the sake of IT services, processes, organization… and, most importantly, your customers – I’m sure we would agree they are worth the effort.

Use this free  ITIL® & ISO 20000 Gap Analysis Tools to check compliance of your ITSM with ISO 20000 requirements / ITIL recommendations.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.