What is ITIL?

ITIL: history, benefits for businesses, and practical recommendations for beginners.

What Is ITIL?

ITIL is an abbreviation that refers to “information technology infrastructure library.” In simple terms, it is a framework, a guide, a set of rules, and recommendations on how to most efficiently deliver IT services in an organization.

Around the middle of the 1980s, the British government realized the rising costs of its IT services, while the quality of the procured IT services was clearly lacking. At the same time, the importance of IT and its role in business operations was becoming more and more significant.

In response to “increasing reliance on IT“,  the CCTA (Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency), was tasked with the development of recommendations to tackle the problem. This led to the creation of the IT Infrastructure Library. Since then, it has come a long way from being a collection of best practices to a coherent ITSM framework for IT service support and delivery in many organizations worldwide.

Axelos (now a division of PeopleCert) took over management and further development of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) in 2013. The framework is now a set of 5 comprehensive volumes (books) containing procedures, tasks, processes, and checklists essential to provide high-quality and sustainable IT services. Axelos also helps organizations introduce the ITIL structure through consulting services and certification of IT professionals and companies.

The latest version of the IT Infrastructure Library is version 4, published in 2019. It emphasizes communication and strives to adapt to modern management practices, including Agile, Lean, and DevOps.

ITSM vs ITIL: What’s the Difference?

Many IT professionals use both acronyms to refer to IT Service Management. In the information technology sector, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Do they all imply the same thing? No, they are not.
The primary distinction between them is that ITSM is a paradigm, while IT Infrastructure Library is a framework of best practices.
Read more about differences here.

What is the difference between ITIL and any other work standard?

Today ITIL is the most widespread “work standard” for IT service management. Using ITIL doesn’t exclude using other management or product development approaches. For example, when sorting out support requests, ITIL principles are often combined with Kanban. And the “progress iteratively with feedback” guiding principle of ITIL resonates with the following idea stated in OKR (the Objectives and Key Results framework): progress should be regularly tracked and matched with the global goals. It is now hard to trace the origins of this or that principle and say whether it was first introduced by Kanban, ITIL, or OKR. For a successful implementation of each methodology, it is apparently more important to know the areas where they yielded the best results. For ITIL, that key area is ITSM.

To give you some more clarity on the actual content of ITIL, let’s have a look at 7 guiding principles stated in ITIL 4:

  • Focus on values
  • Start where you are
  • Think and work holistically
  • Progress iteratively with feedback
  • Collaborate and promote visibility
  • Keep it simple and practical
  • Optimize and automate

The central unit within the ITIL framework is a service and its lifecycle, which includes service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement. By coordinating efforts on every step of the service lifecycle, IT teams ensure ITSM delivery that is consistent with the company’s objectives and is beneficial to the critical internal processes.

Continual improvement is highly important for ITIL. This idea is implemented through the continual improvement model.

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What benefits can ITIL bring to me as a business owner?

To illustrate how ITIL is used, let’s name a couple of practical challenges you’ve probably faced that IT Infrastructure Library proved highly effective to solve:

  • Optimizing the workload of a support team: prioritizing requests, limiting workload per team member, introducing limits for different types of work;
  • Creating role descriptions that define who is responsible for each area; transforming IT operations from being individual-centered to being based on processes;
  • Managing the Service Catalog and defining rules on how teams should document their work, etc.

Hear what IT enthusiasts are saying about the benefits of ITIL.

Michael, IT Office Manager at a real estate company: “Eventually, the goal of any business is to earn money. Smoother workflows in technical support make our sales team happier because they can solve technical issues faster. Happier employees work better and bring more deals. This is my logic in measuring the ROI of ITIL.”

“One of the principles behind ITIL is that the actions of the IT teams and departments should have no other purpose than helping achieve the global goals of the company. As a result, by implementing ITIL, your IT team will understand where the organization is heading and how their activities contribute to corporate success,” says Konstantin B., IT director at an international private school. “This leads to higher employee satisfaction and motivation in the IT team.”

“ITIL had been established in our company long before I joined. Now those tidy workflows come off as natural, as if they’ve always been there,” comments Sophie O., team lead at a software development company. “But when I look into the documentation, I come to realize how much effort was put to bring the processes to this level.”

Can I just build IT services within my business on my own, without delving into ITIL?

ITIL is a de facto industry standard in ITSM, and ignoring it, especially as a newbie, will only make your life harder. On the contrary, ITIL is designed as a tool to ease the transformation process. Consider ITIL as a set of lifehacks, industry secrets, and tricks that will help you avoid most common mistakes.

How much effort will it require from me to comply with ITIL guidelines?

The process of ITIL transformation, as it is with any transformation, might be challenging at the beginning, largely because implementing the new rules will require a lot of adaptability and collaboration from your team. As CIO writes, “bringing best practices into an organization is as much a PR job as it is a technical exercise.” ITIL is indeed not a magic pill to cure your IT services in a day or two. However, the experience of Alloy Software shows that the effort and time invested in ITIL transformation do pay off eventually.

Won’t the new framework just slow down the work? This happened to my team previously when we tried out something new.

This is a justifiable concern. As Harvard Business Review found out, “not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing, and content of training is flawed.”

As previously mentioned, implementing a new approach to management and communication within the team will surely require some learning and adaptation in the first stages. Here are two facts that might help you understand why ITIL is worth it despite the initial difficulties:

  • ITIL is not a framework for the sake of a framework. The idea is that processes should serve the business needs and might change when the business is changing.
  • A great thing about ITIL is that it is neither industry-specific nor organization-specific and leaves ample room for managers to experiment. ITIL is not a strict guide on how to build your IT operations, but a set of smart and verified recommendations that are flexible enough to be adapted to different types of organizations. That is, you’ll still have control over your organization when implementing ITIL.

Where should I start if I want to implement ITIL into my business processes?

Above all, remember that ITIL’s second guiding principle is: “Start where you are”!

Your next steps depend heavily on how IT services in your company are organized and how much improvement is needed.

ITIL trainings and exams for employees could be a great solution. While Axelos is an organization responsible for certification, it has hundreds of accredited training organizations in its network, and it is easy to find one in your country. These partners are called “training providers” on Axelos’ website, but in fact, in many cases certification exams are included in the price of the training.

ITIL certification is multi-level and embraces different levels of proficiency. After completing an initial ITIL Foundation certification, professionals can choose one of the two learning paths – ITIL Managing Professional and ITIL Strategic Leader. A comprehensive scheme is provided on Axelos’ website.

You can also set up IT Infrastructure Library processes by purchasing corporate software from an ITIL-compliant software provider. Alloy Software products are ITIL standardized since its early days, and enhancing ITIL practices has always been the essential priority to our product development.

And finally, as mentioned above, there is enough free and paid educational content on the web to learn about any part of the IT Infrastructure Library framework.

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