What Is ITIL? A Beginner’s Guide to the ITIL Process

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Read on to learn about IT Infrastructure Library processes, concepts, and use cases.

[Featured Image] A tech professional in an office searches the web for the answer to, “What is itil?”

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is sometimes referred to as the ITIL foundation or the ITIL framework. Regardless of the language used to describe it, ITIL refers to the guiding principles IT service professionals use to standardize their processes. This article answers the question “What is ITIL?” before examining its processes and why they are essential to the IT industry. 

What is ITIL?

ITIL is a set of practices. Its primary purpose is to provide a systematic IT service management (ITSM) approach. Since its inception in 1989, the ITIL framework has undergone several revisions. Today, these revisions span four versions and five books. Each book contains guidelines surrounding the various processes and phases of the IT service lifecycle. 

ITIL benefits and use cases

Any organization, from small businesses in Canada to large-scale enterprises abroad, can use ITIL.  It provides a flexible roadmap for organizations to follow when undertaking a digital transformation. A few reasons a company may align their IT processes with the ITIL framework include:

  • Standardization. As mentioned above, standardization is one of the ITIL foundation’s primary goals. ITIL helps create predictable IT environments, making managing risks, problem-solving, and streamlining processes easier. 

  • Transparency. Establishing a set of standards helps improve visibility into IT costs and operations. 

  • Cost-effectiveness. The ITIL framework helps organizations use their hardware and software resources as efficiently as possible. 

  • Strategic alignment. Similar to DevOps methodology, the ITIL framework seeks to unite business operations and IT departments. Enhanced communication helps organizations better translate business goals into technical requirements.

  • Organizational change management. The ITIL foundation includes best practices for change management. With these guidelines, IT professionals can release changes without interrupting service.

What is the ITIL process?

As you navigate through the steps below, remember that the ITIL process is an iterative, as opposed to a linear process. Organizations can repeat or revisit each phase as needed. The ITIL framework is broken down into five stages.

1. Service strategy

The phrase service strategy refers to the phase of the ITIL process that syncs business goals with the IT service lifecycle. Service strategy has four subcategories:

  • Service portfolio management. A service portfolio is the scope of services the service provider manages. Managing this portfolio requires each service to be identified and evaluated to establish its role in the IT process. Service portfolio management includes the service pipeline, service catalogue, and retired services. 

  • Demand management. IT professionals use user profiles and Patterns of Business Activity (PBA) to analyze and influence customer demand. 

  • Financial management. All accounting, budgeting, and transactional processes associated with the IT department occur during this phase of the ITIL framework. 

  • Strategy operations. During the strategy operations phase, it’s essential to ensure routine IT operations are running smoothly and efficiently. This phase provides an opportunity to reexamine the current strategic approach. 

2. Service design

The service design phase of the ITIL framework focuses on seven processes and the Four Ps of Service Design. Each of the Ps represents an area of focus crucial to consider when designing the IT service infrastructure. 

The Four Ps of Service Design
People: Human resources and customer service representatives are integral to ITSM. It’s vital to ensure the members of an organization are adequately supported and aligned with business objectives.
Processes: Measurability is a key component of process management. Implementing key performance indicators (KPIs) helps keep the IT team aligned with the rest of the organization’s long- and short-term goals.
Products: Before designing a new or managed product, consider how it meets or exceeds customers' needs. IT professionals should consider this question during the service design phase: "How does this product enhance our ability to deliver value to users?”
Partners: Partners can describe the vendors, manufacturers, or other third parties involved in the IT service lifecycle. IT professionals must ensure the organization's processes encompass partner management and support during the service design phase.

The seven service design processes

  • Service catalogue management. A service catalogue is the subset of IT services directly available to customers. Typically, these are the offerings within the larger service portfolio visible to users. 

  • Service level management. Service level management refers to the service level agreements (SLAs) and operational level agreements (OLAs) made between the customer and IT provider. These agreements represent the agreed-upon system or service performance.

  • Availability management. The availability management process deals with a system or service’s ability to function when the customer requests it. The SLA agreements secured during the service level management process above establish the availability requirements. 

  • Capacity management. ITIL defines capacity as the “maximum throughput a service, system, or device can handle.” There are three primary areas of focus involved with capacity management: Business Capacity Management (BCM), Service Capacity Management (SCM), and Component Capacity Management (CCM). 

  • Service continuity management. This component of the ITIL foundation is often referred to as IT service continuity management (ITSCM). It secures the service provider's ability to meet the agreed-upon service-level threshold. Techniques involved with ITSCM include business impact analysis (BIA) and management of risk (MOR).

  • IT security management. IT security management comprises five major qualities: confidentiality, integrity, availability, authenticity, and non-repudiation. 

  • Supplier management. Supplier management ensures the organization receives the agreed-upon service levels from its partners. It’s similar to service level management, but unlike service management, it deals with internal negotiations. 

3. Service transition 

This ITIL phase coordinates IT services' building, testing, and deployment. Plans must include hardware and software configuration, production environment readying, and support personnel management. Seven processes exist under service transition:

The Seven Service Transition Processes
Change management: The primary goal of change management is to minimize IT service disruptions resulting from changes.
Evaluation: The evaluation process requires assessing new services or significant changes to existing services.
Transition planning and support: The transition planning and support process coordinates and budgets resources for upcoming releases.
Release and deployment management: This process includes planning, scheduling, and migrating releases from the testing environment to the live environment. It is essential to maintain the integrity of the live environment.
Service validation and testing: Once deploying releases, it’s critical to ensure they meet user expectations. Another important aspect of service validation and testing is the IT team’s ability to support the new release.
Service asset and configuration management: This process is concerned with relationship management. It involves all elements related to IT services configuration and the connections they have to one another.
Knowledge management: Knowledge management is an efficiency-boosting process. The objective is to collect, organize, maintain, and share information organization-wide

4. Service operations

This phase of the ITIL framework caters to meeting end-user expectations. It includes five processes and four functions. 

ITIL service operations processes 

  • Event management. Event management verifies configuration items (CIs) and services’ consistent monitoring, and any issues are reported and escalated to the appropriate parties.

  • Incident management. This process aims to return services to normal operation swiftly after a disruption.

  • Request fulfillment. Service requests should be acknowledged and resolved as soon as possible. 

  • Access management. This is the process of granting authorized users access to services. It also encompasses activities related to protecting those services from unauthorized users. Some refer to it as rights management or identity management.

  • Problem management. The problem management process includes incident prevention and incident impact management. 

ITIL service operations functions

  • IT operations management. IT operations management oversees all functions. It includes monitoring and controlling the entire IT service infrastructure, from routine tasks and maintenance to job scheduling. 

  • Service desk. The service desk is the portal help desk technicians use to connect with customers. Its primary functions are incident resolution, communication, and service request management. 

  • Application management. Application management oversees applications throughout the entirety of their life cycles. 

  • Technical management. Technical management supports the IT infrastructure through expertise and support.

5. Continual service improvement (CSI)

The fifth ITIL phase is ongoing. The goal is to continually improve the efficiency and quality of IT services and infrastructure. CSI analyzes past performance and uses quality management methods to improve existing processes. One seven-step process comprises CSI:

1. Identifying improvement strategies

2. Defining what will be measured

3. Gathering data

4. Processing data

5. Analyzing data

6. Presenting and using the information drawn from the data

7. Using the information to improve

What is an ITIL certification?

An ITIL certification proves your expertise in the ITIL framework. Some employers look for these certifications to screen potential candidates for their ability to perform an ITIL-related role. You'll need to enroll in an Axelos-approved ITIL training course for a fee to earn an ITIL certification. Here are a few options that are available to you:

  • ITIL 4 Foundation Training Course: This is an entry-level training course introducing learners to IT service management. 

  • ITIL 4 Foundation and ITIL 4 Direct Plan and Improve Bundle: This is a bundle of training courses is the entry point for a journey towards an ITIL Managing Professional or ITIL Strategic Leadership role. 

  • ITIL 4 Managing Professional Bundle: This training bundle includes everything you need to become a certified ITIL 4 Managing Professional. 

  • ITIL 4 Strategic Leader Bundle: In this training bundle, you'll receive all the content you need to become a certified ITIL 4 Strategic Leader. 

Should you get an ITIL certification?

Earning an ITIL certification is an excellent way to enhance your resume. It can also be valuable for IT professionals who want to introduce the ITIL framework to their current organization. There are several versions of ITIL, each of which is an evolution of the one that came before it. As of January 2024, ITIL V4 is the most recent. 

Alternative IT management certifications

If you're unsure if an ITIL certification is right for you, you have options. You can consider earning a Professional Certificate for your resume from a recognized industry leader like System Administration and IT Infrastructure Services by Google. This course is part of the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. In this certificate program, you'll learn how to configure and manage servers and other industry tools. Focus areas include cloud infrastructure and resources, and how to recover an IT infrastructure when disaster strikes.

Prepare for your ITIL certification with Coursera.

Prepare for your ITIL certification exam, or start learning related IT skills today with these top-rated courses on Coursera:

To learn in-demand coding skills for IT, try Google's IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate. Here, you'll learn how to automate tasks by writing Python scripts, use Git and GitHub for version control, and manage IT resources at scale in a six month Professional Certificate taught by industry leaders at Google.

To enhance your cybersecurity skills, explore IBM's IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity Specialization. Learn cybersecurity tools and processes, system administration, and types of cyber attacks in this two month specialization.

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