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 imply the same thing? No, they do not. The primary distinction is that ITSM is a paradigm, while IT Infrastructure Library is a framework of best practices. Read more about the difference between ITSM and ITIL here.

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

Today ITIL is the most popular “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 one of ideas behind OKR (the Objectives and Key Results framework). In OKR, this idea sounds like “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 Kanban, ITIL, or OKR was first to introduce it. For the successful implementation of each methodology, it is apparently more important to know their key application areas. 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 of 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. This lifecycle 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 maintain 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 that IT Infrastructure Library proved highly effective to solve. You’ve likely faced some of them:

  • 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 how I measure the return on ITIL investments.”

“There is one ITIL principle that I like most. IT teams and departments should have no other purpose than to help achieve business objectives. Once you implement ITIL, your IT team will understand 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.”

“My employer established ITIL practices 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 someone 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. Ignoring it, especially as a newbie, will only make your life harder. On the contrary, ITIL’s very design enables easier transformation processes. 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. This is 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. 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. ITIL’s core idea is that processes should adapt to 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. It is not a strict guide on how to build your IT operations, but a set of smart and verifiable recommendations that are flexible enough to adapt to  organizations of different sizes and forms. 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 first steps depend primarily on the current state of the IT service organization in your company and how much improvement is needed.

ITIL certification 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. It is easy to find one in your country. The partner organizations are called “training providers” on Axelos’ website. In reality, they provide both training and certification.

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 have been ITIL standardized since the early days. Enhancing ITIL practices has always been the essential priority of our product development.

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

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