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What is ITIL®? Discover a simple ITIL definition and explanation

What is ITIL®? - 20000Academy
What is ITIL®? - 20000Academy

We know you just want someone to explain in simple, plain English: “What is ITIL?”

While there are many ITIL definitions on the Internet (and many articles written), you’re often left wondering what it all means.

Your simple introduction to the basics of ITIL

So, what does ITIL stand for? ITIL is the acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library. While this longer name is still officially in place, it is now more commonly known as just ITIL. ITIL is a globally recognized set of best practices for Information Technology Service Management (ITSM).

The British Government created ITIL when it recognized that the ever-increasing dependence on IT required a set of standard practices. The standard is now published and owned in a joint venture between a private company, Capita, and the United Kingdom Cabinet Office, named Axelos.

The official definition of ITIL is:

“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. The ITIL framework is based on a service lifecycle and consists of five stages (service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation and continual service improvement), each of which has its own supporting publication. There is also a set of complementary ITIL publications providing guidance specific to industry sectors, organization types, operating models and technology architecture.”

But, the best way to think about ITIL is as a simple and practical framework that focuses on aligning your Information Technology (IT) services with the wider needs of your business. ITIL is about making smart improvements to your IT service management processes. And it’s really practical, not simply a mass of theory (in fact, ITIL was born from practical experience and not in a university classroom). And ITIL can help your organization deliver best practice in ITSM, whatever the size of your company or the industry you’re in.

Both companies and individuals can comply with ITIL, but only individuals can become certified. The 20000Academy service is aimed at helping organizations become compliant with ITIL.

Getting to the heart of why ITIL is so important

To understand the importance of ITIL, it’s vital to understand the relationship between IT and the overall success of your organization. You rely upon IT to help you achieve your organizational goals. It affects how you operate and how you communicate – it’s a fundamental element of how you do business.

You use IT to overcome your competitors, to reach larger audiences, to become more productive and more efficient. In myriad ways, IT is vital to improving revenues, reducing costs and enhancing your reputation.

So, it’s crucial that you get the most from your IT investments – meaning IT services must be well planned, designed, managed and delivered. Without high-quality IT service management, IT projects routinely fail or go over budget. Ongoing costs become hard to manage, and you often see businesses fail before achieving any return on their investment.

So, put simply, high-quality IT service management standards are fundamental to your success – it’s not too much to say that they can make or break your organization.

What does ITIL actually look like?

ITIL is organized into the following five stages (broadly defined here):

  1. Service Strategy – Aligning IT strategy to overall business goals and expectations and ensuring decisions result in measurable value to the organization.
  2. Service Design – Making sure IT services balance cost, functionality and performance and are designed to meet business objectives (ensuring they’re both fit for purpose and use).
  3. Service Transition – Ensuring new, modified and retired IT services are meeting the needs of the business, and that changes are managed and controlled effectively – with change achieved rapidly, at a lower cost, while also driving increased value.
  4. Service Operation – Ensuring IT services are operated securely and reliably so as to support your business needs.
  5. Continual Service Improvement – A focus on improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of your IT services, while reducing costs.

So, what value does ITIL provide for your organization?

By comparing your current processes to the globally respected ITIL standards of best practice, you gain a clear picture of how you can improve.

With ever-increasing pressure to get more from less, you may wonder how you’ll ever find the time or resources to focus on process improvement. But, it is the organizations that make this commitment that will ultimately win the competition.

  1. A better, more reliable service – By applying proven standards to your organization, you gain a consistency and quality to IT service delivery. Your support teams can reduce downtime and respond to incidents faster. And you’re more capable of meeting standards, contractual obligations and regulatory requirements across your organization.
  2. Improved customer satisfaction – ITIL helps you focus on the needs of your customers and the overall user experience of your IT infrastructure, rather than focusing on technology issues. This leads to better internal and external customer relationships.
  3. Everyone speaks the same language – Within your organization, it’s vital that everyone understand exactly what is being discussed. When you say “incident,” your colleagues will know you don’t mean “issue,” “problem,” or something else entirely. This ensures clarity of communication and correct priority assignment.
  4. Financial savings – Know and manage the cost of IT in order to better plan finances and reduce the cost of IT support. Become more efficient with your resources by following best practice standards and simpler processes.
  5. Productivity enhancements – Increased efficiency and effectiveness resulting from more reliable IT services. For example, reducing the frequency of incidents and your speed in dealing with them. And because everybody knows exactly who does what, there is no lost time trying to figure that out every time an issue arises.
  6. It’s proven and respected – It’s the premium, de facto standard for IT service management in the world. Organizations around the globe have shown how ITIL can be customized to suit their business needs. As a proven set of best practices, you can adopt process improvements with full confidence in their scalability as you grow.
  7. Improved innovation – Reduce the time it takes to implement change in your organization (this ability to innovate and adapt quickly could be crucial to your organization’s long-term survival).

What benefits does ITIL provide to individuals?

Become more productive – With an ITIL qualification, you can develop your skills to perform your IT role better, allowing you to help your organization improve overall productivity.

Focus on what matters – With everyone in your team operating under clear roles and responsibilities, you’ll spend less of your time cleaning up other issues, leaving you to get on with the important parts of your job.

Become more valued – With the skills, knowledge and experience gained through ITIL qualifications, you’ll become a more valued asset in your organization and more respected by senior management.

Implement ITIL more effectively – When an organization has qualified ITIL practitioners, the chances of successful compliance with ITIL best practice guidelines are considerably higher.

Improve career prospects – Having this premium qualification in ITSM best practice makes you a more appealing candidate in any job you apply for. Just like compliance with ITIL is a competitive differentiator for a company, so it is for an individual.

So, how do you get ITIL?

What are the practical steps to gaining ITIL?

It’s important to realize that ITIL is not a standard. It is a framework of guidance and best practice. The standard that defines IT Service Management is ISO 20000, which is essentially underpinned by ITIL best practices (read more about what is ISO 20000 here).

The basic difference between ISO 20000 and ITIL is that ISO 20000 gives you the methodology and framework to put all the pieces of the ITSM jigsaw puzzle together, while ITIL gives you the details (the best practices) on how to manage each and every IT process in your organization.

A good way to think of it is that ISO 20000 says what you need to do, while ITIL tells you how to do it.

For more information, please read our white paper: “ITIL vs ISO 20000.”

Only individuals can get certified for ITIL, not organizations. But, organizations can gain all the benefits of ITIL by becoming compliant with its best practices.

So, for individuals, ITIL has five different certification levels:

  1. ITIL Foundation
  2. ITIL Intermediate Level
  3. ITIL Managing Across the Lifecycle (leading to the award of ITIL Expert status)
  4. ITIL Expert Level
  5. ITIL Master Qualification.

You can gain an ITIL qualification for each of the levels, with each certificate providing you with credits toward the more advanced levels.

You can then achieve the ITIL Master level, which requires you to prove your expertise in real-world circumstances (as opposed to passing exams).

How will you be assessed?

At each level there is a multiple choice exam that will test your understanding of the ITIL framework. The question you probably have now is: Will it be hard work? The honest answer is yes, and no.

Yes, the ITIL framework contains a detailed set of guidelines and best practices that will be tested. But, if you’re an IT professional with some experience under your belt, you are probably already familiar with many of the principles of ITIL.

And what’s more, you can work quickly through the stages. In fact, if you’re focused, the time to complete the foundation stage can be counted in days, not months. For the more advanced levels there will be a larger commitment of time, with perhaps a year required to complete the intermediate stage, for example.

For companies, the path to ITIL compliance is a little different

There is no independent audit or assessment of your compliance with ITIL – and no official certification. But, your organization can take the steps to become ITIL compliant (and reap the many benefits of doing so). A logical, step-by-step process to achieve such compliance would look like this:

  • Create awareness – These are the first steps where you’ll assess whether ITIL is right for your organization. Our Return On Investment Calculator will help you understand whether ITIL makes financial sense for your business.
  • Evaluate your options – Here you might determine how much of ITIL is relevant to your organization. You can also evaluate your options for implementation; e.g., do you hire a consultant or take a do-it-yourself approach?
  • Prepare your project – This is when you get organized and start to gather the information you need for actual implementation. Here you’ll take stock of the resources you do or don’t have (to better understand how easy or difficult implementation will be). Use our resource assessment tool to determine if you have the right skills and people in place.
  • Prepare management – A business case for implementation and a structured, efficient approach to executing the project will need to be presented to senior management in your organization. If you are the senior management, then this stage is valuable to communicate the same information to your teams.
  • Begin implementation – Make the necessary changes to processes in order to close the gaps identified in the earlier gap analysis; this step ensures all best practice criteria for ITIL are met.

So, what does implementation look like?

What does implementation look like?

  1. Map your current processes – Each company operates in a different way. So, before making any changes, it’s important to document your current processes.
  2. Perform gap analysis – Understand the gap between your current situation and what is required to meet ITIL standards. With the 20000Academy’s ITIL gap analysis tool you can determine exactly what needs to be done.
  3. Create a roadmap – Your plan for what needs to be done when. From your earlier gap analysis you’ll know which changes have the highest priority. These should be your focus in the first 6 months. And remember that you must measure progress so you can always demonstrate the value of the project.
  4. Implement your plan – Work through your action points in the priority order you have created, and make sure you define what success looks like (your unique key performance indicators). And do not neglect communication. Throughout implementation you should share progress, next steps and desired outcomes, so the whole organization remains engaged.
  5. Review implementation – Did you meet your objectives as set out in your plan? If not, why not? To ensure your organization is always improving, it’s essential you check that corrective actions were successful.

Remember: there is no rule that you have to implement the entire ITIL model in one go. You can choose to phase the required changes over time.

To learn more about ITIL implementation, please visit our ITIL Free download page. You’ll find a host of helpful resources.

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.