What is ITIL? Understanding ITIL’s Role in Improving Service Delivery

When it comes improving IT Service Management (ITSM) maturity, many organizations turn to ITIL – a framework that guides users through a process-based approach to the management and continuous improvement of information technologies and services. By using ITIL, IT services within organizations can keep pace with the overall needs and goals of the business or institution; all while delivering exceptional service to customers, employees and other end-users.

What is ITIL?

ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, and describes the processes, procedures, tasks and checklists that can be applied by an organization as part of an overall IT strategy; to improve customer delivery; or to maintain a certain level of competency organization-wide. Those wanting to use ITIL can get certified – the latest iteration being ITIL 4. ITIL 4 provides the guidance organizations need to address new service management challenges and harness the potential of modern technologies in the age of cloud, agile and DevOps transformations. A vital component of the ITIL 4 framework is the use of a single, uniform and cohesive set of guidelines for the management of IT services.

ITSM describes how an organization manages its IT services; and ITIL is a framework for ITSM – a specific set of process and guidelines for the provisioning of IT services.

Does ITIL Differ from ITSM?

When thinking about ITIL vs ITSM, it’s important to understand the relationship between the two. ITSM describes how an organization manages its IT services; and ITIL is a framework for ITSM – a specific set of process and guidelines for the provisioning of IT services. It’s not really a one vs. the other comparison, and having strategies for both are vital to building out a mature IT offering. A useful analogy would be the concept of project management and the various project management methodologies available. While project management describes the standardization of processes any given organization uses to manage its projects, methodologies such as Agile and Waterfall prescribe their own specific frameworks for managing projects in particular ways.

The 5 Stages of ITIL

The ITIL framework bases itself on the five phases of the service life cycle. The guidelines set out the necessary processes, associated challenges and best practices for each phase of the service life cycle, as well as the requirements for the implementation of each phase.  It is important to keep in mind that these are guidelines, and that the framework should be used to facilitate internal discussion and policy creation to optimize service delivery.

  1. Service Strategy – This is the start of the ITIL life cycle, and it sits at the center because a stable and precise service strategy is necessary for better service management. This sets the pace and course for the management of IT services that drive the business objective of any organization. This stage determines what capabilities will need to be developed or implemented, including the definition of markets, development of assets or the necessary preparations for deployment.
  2. Service Design – Ideas become plans in the second ITIL life cycle stage. It is here that services and processes bear out the primary goal of providing a better service management environment. Improvements present for existing issues or protocols. With foresight, a strong organization that follows the stage of ITIL can help in service cataloging, capacity, Information security, availability or asset management.
  3. Service Transition – The third stage of the ITIL life cycle is where the preparation of services and strategies that will be implemented in the live environment take place. It is here that organizations test and implement new designs. By correcting any issues that arise, organizations are setting themselves up for a smooth transition of their services, mitigating the chance for disruption.
  4. Service Operation – Following the launch of services and processes to customers and peers, the operation stage of the life cycle begins. Service owners must be prepared and available to report any issues as they arise, and make sure that customers are satisfied with the services and process. Even with the thorough reviews taken in steps two and three, there’s likely to be a few issues or unforeseen hurdles. If an ITSM team firmly adheres to the ITIL framework, they will be prepared for any service failures or routine operational tasks.
  5. Continual Service Improvement – The status quo is never good enough for the ITIL framework. Organizations and enterprises are always looking for ways to improve or develop better processes. This last stage of the ITIL framework directs organizations to search for potential improvements in all the previous steps. By looking at what is measurable versus what is not, and by processing and sorting of the data into quantifiable findings, the cycle starts all over again.

While ITIL v3 defined several processes for organizing the service life cycle, ITIL 4 describes the principles, concepts and practices in more detail. Additional guidance ensures that practitioners better understand the impact of each phase. ITIL 4 also provides a framework for integrating ITIL with other services such as cloud, mobile and cloud-as-a-service.

If you want to learn more about ITIL, you can watch a recent CIO Panel and hear how CIOs from different organizations have embraced the ITIL framework to level up their ITSM.

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