What Is ITIL? A Beginner’s Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what the ITIL is, including its processes, concepts and real-life use cases.

[Featured image] An IT support specialist overviews the ITIL framework.

The IT 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 set of guiding principles IT service professionals use to standardise their processes. This article answers the question “What is ITIL?” before examining its processes and why they are important to the IT industry. 

What is ITIL?

ITIL is a set of practices. Its primary purpose is to provide a systematic approach to IT service management (ITSM). 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

ITIL can be adopted by any organisation, including both small and large-scale ones. A few reasons a company may align its IT processes with the ITIL framework include:

  • Standardisation. Standardisation is one of the primary goals of the ITIL foundation. ITIL helps create predictable IT environments, making it easier to manage risks, problem-solve, and streamline processes. 

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

  • Cost-effectiveness. The ITIL framework is designed to help organisations 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 organisations better translate business goals into technical requirements.

  • Organisational 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 linear process. Each phase can be repeated or revisited as needed. The ITIL framework can be 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 Catalog, and Retired Services.

  • Demand management. IT professionals use user profiles and Patterns of Business Activity (PBA) to analyse 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 sesign
People: Human resources and customer service representatives are integral to ITSM. It’s vital to ensure that the members of an organisation 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 organisation’s long- and short-term goals.
Products: Before designing a new or managed product, consider how it meets or exceeds customers' current 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. During the service design phase, IT professionals must ensure the organisation's processes encompass partner management and support.

7 service design processes

  1. 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. 

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

  3. Availability management: The availability management process deals with the ability of a system or service to function when the customer requests it. Availability requirements are established in the SLA agreements secured during the service level management process above.

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

  5. 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).

  6. IT security management: IT security management is centred around five major qualities: confidentiality, integrity, availability, authenticity, and non-repudiation.

  7. Supplier management: Supplier management ensures that the organisation 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 the building, testing, and deployment of IT services. Plans must include the configuration of hardware and software, the readying of production environments, and the management of support personnel. Seven processes exist under service transition:

The seven service transition processes
Change management: The primary goal of change management is to minimise IT service disruptions resulting from change.
Evaluation: The evaluation process requires the assessment of new services or significant changes to existing services.
Transition planning and support: The transition planning and support process is used to coordinate and budget 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 releases have been deployed, 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 the configuration of IT services and the connections they have to one another.
Knowledge management: Knowledge management is an efficiency-boosting process. The objective is to collect, organise, maintain, and share information organisation-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 that configuration items (CI) and services are consistently monitored and that 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: Access management is the process of granting authorised users access to services. It also encompasses activities related to protecting those services from unauthorised users. It is sometimes referred to as rights management or identity management.

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

ITIL service operations functions

  • IT operations management: IT operations management is the function that 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 in which help desk technicians 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, hence its focus on continual improvement. The goal is to continually improve the efficiency and quality of IT services and infrastructure. CSI analyses 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. Analysing data

6. Presenting and using the information drawn from the data

7. Using the information to improve

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 organisation. There are several versions of ITIL, each of which is an evolution of the one that came before it. As of March 2023, ITIL V4 is the most recent [1]. 


Prepare for your ITIL certification with Coursera

When you’re ready to start studying for your ITIL V4 certification, consider taking an online course to prepare yourself. For example, you can learn more about ITIL’s key concepts and implementation methods with the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. Learn about the skills necessary to succeed in an entry-level IT job and learn to perform day-to-day IT support tasks. The certificate is offered online and is available to beginners who have no prior experience in this field. 

Article sources

  1. Axelos. "ITIL® 4: the framework for the management of IT-enabled services, https://www.axelos.com/certifications/itil-service-management/. Accessed November 9, 2022.

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