What Is the ITIL Framework?

Michael Nyhuis
16 min read

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework is a set of best-practice procedures and processes for IT and digital service management. It is a framework used by a huge range of organizations to ensure IT services are fully aligned to an organization's key goals. It's a vital tool in the modern digital workplace and provides a clear structure for achieving digital transformation. Its latest edition – version 4 - was launched in 2019, ensuring the framework provides solutions to the reality of today's IT service industry.

Organizations can use its adaptable models and procedures to achieve continuous improvements to end-to-end services. The focus is on improving efficiency while delivering quality services. One of its stronger features is a template for a Service Value Stream (SVS), a flexible approach to assessing, creating, and improving service delivery processes.

The ITIL Framework helps an organization to define its IT service, align services with customers' needs, and produce a clear model for ongoing success. It is used to improve core IT service processes and is flexible to each organization's unique requirements. A modular structure means implementation and improvements can be made in stages.

There are different levels of ITIL certification for IT and digital professionals to develop their understanding of the framework. This article explores the ITIL Framework, the benefits it brings to organizations, and the merits of ITIL certification.

What is the ITIL Framework?

ITIL was first created in the 1980s by the UK's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), a government agency providing IT support to other departments. It was originally created to standardize the processes for IT support and service management. It consisted of a group of IT service management processes outlined in a library of books. ITIL is now owned by a partnership between the UK Cabinet Office and Capita called AXELOS.

Over the years the ITIL Framework has been streamlined and adapted to reflect a rapidly changing digital landscape. It has evolved alongside changes in technology and IT services and is currently in its fourth iteration. ITIL 4 provides organizations with the tools needed to deal with a rapidly changing and varied digital technology.

Today, the ITIL Framework is one of the most popular IT service frameworks in the world. It's recognized internationally for setting the standard for IT service delivery. The ITIL framework is aligned with international quality system standards such as the ISO 20000 standards. Because of its widespread adoption, ITIL definitions and concepts act as a common language between IT service providers.

Organizations can use the ITIL framework to assess and improve their end-to-end delivery of digital services and products. It encourages a holistic approach to improving processes across the entire organization. These procedures can support digital change, introduce new ways of working and streamline current IT service processes.

An Overview of ITIL 4 Framework

ITIL 4, the latest version of the ITIL framework, was launched in 2019 and has built on the success of the previous version. ITIL 3 had streamlined IT service management processes and was aligned with international service management standard ISO 20000.

ITIL 4 has a renewed focus on customer experience and digital transformation. It engages with the reality of modern-day IT governance such as cloud-based services or machine learning. Digital technology is rapidly changing, and ITIL 4 provides the tools and insight to react to and mitigate risk. The ITIL Framework helps organizations create an environment of efficiency and quality, delivering IT services at speed. It is a vehicle for change, as organizations can also use it to understand and implement new ways of working like DevOps, Lean and Agile.

ITIL 4 ensures IT services are aligned with wider business aims through the principle of a Service Value System. The system highlighted in ITIL 4 is called the Service Value Chain. It gives organizations an operating model to deliver and improve an effective IT service. The Service Value Chain is a flexible model for planning the journey between customer demand and delivery of service. This system is key to good IT governance, as it develops a resilient organization that is responsive to change.

ITIL 4 consists of 34 different practices, focusing on refining technical management, service management, and general management. Organizations gain processes and functions for all areas of service delivery, including risk management, workforce development, and asset development.

The Four Dimensions of ITIL 4

ITIL 4 introduces four dimensions to be considered when delivering a service or product. This ensures that the full organization is taken into account, avoiding inefficient processes. It encourages organizations to map the four dimensions whenever they are designing a service or product, providing a framework for strategic-level planning. The four dimensions replace the Four Ps found in the previous version, ITIL 3 (Products, People, Partners, Processes).

The four dimensions of ITIL 4 are:

1. Organizations and People — This dimension focuses on the structure and governance of the organization and the people involved in every aspect of the service. This includes suppliers, customers, employees, and managers. Organizations should consider how teams are connected, the level of training, and the type of organizational culture.

2. Information and Technology — This dimension denotes the tools, technology, and information needed to support both product delivery and IT governance and management. Considerations may include the capabilities and capacity of the support service and the technology required for the service.

3. Partners and Suppliers — This element centers around the external suppliers and partners that help organizations deliver products and services. The comparison of in-house versus outsourced capabilities is a key part of this dimension. Organizations should consider and compare the cost of outsourcing, as well as reliability, performance, and capacity.

4. Value Streams and Processes — This dimension is all about how services and products are delivered. ITIL 4 introduces the concept of a Service Value Chain, the operating model to deliver services or products. The Service Value Chain will be explored in more detail later in the article but can be used for an incident response as well as product development.

What's Replaced the Five Stages of ITIL?

The ITIL Service Lifecycle is an integral part of the previous version of the ITIL Framework, ITIL 3. It is a framework of processes for service management and is made up of five stages. This structure helped ITIL become synonymous with best-practice service management.

The five ITIL 3 stages are:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual Service Improvement

The stages contain processes and principles relative to the point in the Service Lifecycle, which moves in a linear way. To bring more flexibility into service management, this aspect of the framework evolved into the new Service Value Chain with the release of ITIL 4.

Understanding the Service Value Chain

The main aspect of ITIL 4 is the introduction of the Service Value Chain, a model for service delivery. It focuses on the concept of a value stream and replaces the Service Lifecycle system found in ITIL 3.

A value stream is a journey between receiving a request (or demand) and delivering a product or service (or value). In this instance, the model is based on six flexible activities that can be rearranged to create value streams for specific purposes. It's very flexible, as the value stream doesn't need to be linear. The order of activities is able to dynamically shift to fit the requirement. An example could be creating an incident response process as part of a risk management strategy.

The Service Value Chain naturally brings different areas of the whole organization together, with IT services as the link. This concept is an integral part of ITIL 4, as each activity can draw on procedure or practice outlined elsewhere in the framework. A holistic approach to high-level IT governance is promoted, allowing for informed strategic planning. The six activities found within the Service Value Chain are:

  • Engage  Engage with stakeholders to understand their needs. The aim is to forge good stakeholder relationships and understand their service requirements.
  • Plan  Understand the direction, current status, and required improvements across the organization, services, and products.
  • Improve — Achieve continuous improvements in services. Use the Service Value Chain to improve processes across all areas of the organization.
  • Design and Transition — Ensure that the cost and quality of services meet the expectations of stakeholders.
  • Obtain or Build Ensure individual components of services are reliably available.
  • Deliver and Support — Meet agreed expectations by delivering services and support.


The Benefits of ITIL 4

Today, organizations face a rapidly changing digital environment. A variety of IT systems and services are interwoven throughout the company structure and operations. The ITIL 4 Framework has evolved to meet these changes and can provide best-practice procedures for all IT services. Organizations also gain a framework to guide them through digital transformation and new ways of working to improve service efficiency.

The key benefits of ITIL 4 include:

  • A modular structure that encourages continuous improvements.
  • A Service Value Chain that embeds the ITIL Framework across the entire organization.
  • New ways of working to improve service efficiency.
  • International quality standards for IT service delivery.

As an internationally recognized framework for IT services, the concepts presented by ITIL 4 help to elevate an organization to international quality standards. ITIL 4 is shaping how organizations run their business across the world. The concepts and definitions within the ITIL Framework are a common language between international partners.

ITIL 4 has a modular structure, with baseline concepts outlined in the Foundation section. This allows organizations and individuals to get a well-rounded idea of the ITIL Framework before moving onto supplementary sections. This approach helps to create an environment of continuous, staged improvements within the organization. The stage-by-stage progression is reflected in ITIL 4 certification, with different levels providing support for each step of an IT service professional's career. ITIL certification will be explored in detail later in this article.


How Long Will the ITIL Framework Take to Implement?

The full introduction of the ITIL Framework takes time, especially if it means a root and branch change to the current way of working. It can take up to a year or more for a complex project to be fully implemented. Most organizations will introduce it in stages and may take some time to bring internal IT stakeholders on board through a proper engagement campaign. There are many steps ahead of implementation, from project alignment, the assignment of roles, an internal audit, and the designing of processes.  

To begin with, organizations may use it to combat limitations or issues within current support processes. After issues are improved, organizations can move on to driving improvements to wider IT infrastructure or services. The aim should be to get key stakeholders and managers ITIL certified, allowing them to be the driving force behind the implementation of the framework. Because of the nature of ITIL 4, there will be an environment of continuous improvement which becomes the new normal.


What Is ITIL Certification?

With the launch of ITIL 4 came a new certification scheme. ITIL certification is for individual IT professionals managing digital services within an organization. There are four certification options within ITIL 4, developing different levels of IT governance skills. From foundation to master level, certification will boost an individual's knowledge and skills through their career.

ITIL certification is for individuals, not organizations. However, a key part of each certification is practical and useful knowledge of the ITIL Framework. Individuals will gain insight about the proper implementation of the ITIL Framework into a business or organization.   

There are also transition modules to transfer ITIL 3 certified professions onto the new ITIL 4 certifications. Here we explore the different options for ITIL certification.


ITIL 4 Foundation Certification

The ITIL 4 Foundation certification launched in early 2019 and is the building block for the key understanding of ITIL. As the name suggests, it acts as an introduction to the key concepts of the ITIL Framework. ITIL Foundation deals with the best-practice models for the delivery and improvement of IT services and digital products.   

The training usually consists of two to three days of training by an accredited ITIL training provider, followed by the ITIL Foundation exam. This level of certification is integral for key stakeholders within an organization in charge of implementing the ITIL Framework. ITIL Foundation certification is the prerequisite for the later levels, as it leads on to the ITIL 4 Managing Professional and ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certifications.


ITIL 4 Managing Professional Certification 

This certification is for IT professionals seeking practical processes for managing digital teams, IT services, and product workflows. It is for IT professionals responsible for the delivery and operation of digital products and IT services within a range of industries. The ITIL Foundation certification is earned after completing all modules, which are taught by an ITIL accredited trainer. Individuals must have completed the ITIL Foundation certification before beginning ITIL Managing Professional certification.  

ITIL Foundation consists of four modules:     

1. Create, Deliver and Support — The ITIL 4 Specialist Create, Deliver, and Support module provides fundamental insight into the creation and delivery of IT services and digital products. Individuals will gain an understanding of methods and systems to ensure continuous improvement of IT services.     

2. Drive Stakeholder Value — The ITIL 4 Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value module gives IT professionals key insight into customer and partner engagement strategies. It provides a framework for relationship management with key organizational partners and customers, with a focus on achieving stakeholder satisfaction.     

3. High Velocity IT — The ITIL 4 Specialist High-Velocity IT module gives digital managers the skills to develop and deliver digital services in a fast-paced environment. It deals with different working practices and technology to ensure rapid product delivery. This is particularly important in an industry that often requires rapid deployment of solutions to IT service issues.    

4. Direct Plan and Improve — The ITIL 4 Strategist Direct Plan and Improve is a core module for both the ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification and the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification. It develops core skills in delivering continuous improvement, with a focus on effective IT governance.


ITIL 4 Strategic Leader Certification

The ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification focuses on high-level strategic planning and IT governance, using digital services as a driver to achieving business aims. It promotes the ITIL Framework as a key connection between IT operation and services with the organization's overall business strategy.

Modules are taught by accredited ITIL training providers, much like the ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification. Individuals need at least three years of IT management experience to complete the modules and gain certification. The ITIL Foundation certification must be completed before starting the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification.   

The ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification consists of two modules:

1. Direct, Plan, and Improve — The ITIL 4 Strategist Direct, Plan, and Improve module focuses on developing an efficient and effective digital service. It provides a framework for strong IT governance and explores the merits and impact of different ways of working. It is also a core module for the ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification.      

2. Digital and IT Strategy  The ITIL 4 Leader Digital and IT Strategy module aligns IT governance and strategy with the wider digital business aims. It covers the risk management of disruptive technology and promotes a flexible and proactive approach to changes in the digital environment. It takes strategies and processes from the ITIL Framework and positions them at the strategic level for key stakeholders.


ITIL 4 Master Certification

The ITIL 4 Master certification proves an individual has expert knowledge of the ITIL Framework and has applied this knowledge to their organization. Individuals must prove how their personal application of the ITIL framework has resulted in positive outcomes for their organization. It is the ITIL Framework's top certification level. Individuals need to have been a leadership-level IT professional for at least five years, with extensive hands-on ITIL experience. The nature of the certification is unique to an individual's personal experience. An accredited examination institute will guide an individual through preparation. 


The Benefits of ITIL Certification

The benefits to an individual are huge, as ITIL certification is recognized across the world. It develops and improves an individual's IT governance capabilities, and in the case of the ITIL 4 Master proves mastery of the ITIL Framework.

''The benefits to an individual are huge, as ITIL certification is recognized across the world. It develops and improves an individual's IT governance capabilities, and in the case of the ITIL 4 Master proves mastery of the ITIL Framework''

    Certification suits different levels of experience, with a clear progression from the foundation level onwards. This means ITIL certification can be a guiding force throughout an individual's career in IT or digital service management.   

    Although certification is for individuals, the benefits for organizations are clear. The ITIL Framework itself can enhance IT services through international standards of procedure and ways of working. Certification will ensure an individual within the organization is an expert in ITIL. This ensures that ITIL principles are implemented across the organization, leading to the improvement of digital service delivery.  

    Benefits of ITIL certification include:     

    • Best-practice implementation of ITIL Framework principles across the organization
    • Proof of internationally recognized levels of IT governance and strategic management
    • Different levels of certification reflect and improve an individual's career path
    • Improvements to digital management skills and services across the wider organization

    How ITIL Can Improve an Organization

    At its core, the ITIL Framework will drive real change in the organization by improving inefficient processes, organizations can save the operation time and money. ITIL 4 provides a toolset to mitigate risks and deliver value. The ITIL 4 is a framework for leaders to make positive strategic decisions, and plan and prepare for wider risks and changes. New ways of working and an atmosphere of continuous improvement will bring meaningful change to services.

''The ITIL Framework will drive real change in the organization by improving inefficient processes, organizations can save the operation time and money.''

    ITIL 4 can deliver:     

    • A quality-focused approach that considers customer and stakeholder engagement, leading to greater customer satisfaction
    • Effective and efficient processes across the organization 
    • A framework for adopting and mastering change within a constantly evolving digital landscape
    • Clear models for risk management and product development
    • Models for evidence-based decisions and strategic thinking
    • An enhanced understanding of assets and costs through internal audits
    • An organization-wide approach, improving communication and cross-team working

    Support for ITIL Framework from Diligent

    Looking to embed ITIL Framework in your organization? Diligent can help. Streamline the process with an IT governance solution fit for the digital age. Track the project, perform ITIL Framework compliance monitoring, and automate the reporting.

    Book a demo with Diligent today to streamline your approach to ITIL.

Related Insights
This is where Author Role goes
Michael Nyhuis
Michael Nyhuis is the former Director of Audit & Compliance at Diligent and a modern governance expert with over 25 years of experience.