What Is ITIL: A Simple Explanation

What is ITIL®?

Just want to know ‘what is ITIL®’? without reading a PhD thesis? Here’s the cut-to-the-chase simple explanation.

ITIL is an integrated set of best-practice processes for delivering IT services to customers. The primary focus is to maximize value to customers (the business) by aligning IT resources with business needs. At it’s core is the basic idea that value is provided in the form of business-aligned IT Services.

ITIL contains detailed process descriptions, flows, success factors, metrics and implementation guidance that organizations can adapt to work in their environment.

The ITIL framework can help organizations establish and improve their overall IT Service Management capability, increase alignment with the business, maximize and demonstrate value to the business.

ITIL doesn’t tell how, or how much of the framework to adopt, allowing organization the flexibility to adopt the processes as and if needed to address their specific needs. Each individual process has documented value to the business, and can be adopted individually. (Though they are highly interrelated and some processes are difficult to adopt in isolation.)

ITIL is no longer an acronym – it’s a branded trademark. (It originally came from  “Information Technology Infrastructure Library” – a rather large collection of books (hence “Library”), each focusing on specific process areas.) It is most commonly pronounced ‘eye-till’ (not ‘eye-tee-eye-ell’)

ITIL has had 4 major revisions – Original, Version 2, Version 3, and currently (2014) Version 2011.

ITIL started as a United Kingdom government effort to standardize and document a standard set of operating practices for IT operations.  A wide variety of public and private sector IT experts were engaged to assemble a collective set of best practices.

Each revision has been based on the active engagement and feedback of a broad community of consultants and practitioners.

Since V3, ITIL has been narrowed down to 5 “lifecycle” phases. The lifecycle is circular, with 5 highly interrelated phases. Though it’s not linear, the phases are:

  1. Service Strategy – focusing on understanding customer needs, directions, requirements, helping improve IT over time
  2. Service Design – focusing on turning strategies for services into a detailed Service description, not just the technology.
  3. Service Transition – focusing on building, validating, and delivering new and changed services to customers
  4. Service Operations – focusing on the day-to-day care and feeding of services
  5. Continual Service Improvement – focusing on identifying and managing incremental improvements to services

One of the reasons for ITIL’s widespread adoption is the active involvement of a global and diverse community of IT professionals, consultants, trainers, and professional organizations.

People are sometimes confused by the use of ITIL and IT Service Management (ITSM) interchangeably. ITSM is a generic phrase describing the field of Service Management as applied to providing IT Services. ITIL, on the other hand, is a specific framework of guidance that is owned and managed by Axelos. Click Here for the Official ITIL® Website

ITSM can be implemented in many ways, including the adoption of ITIL. Many organizations adopt ITIL in addition to other complimentary frameworks like Cobit, USMBOK, Lean/Six Sigma, LeanIT, DevOps, PRINCE2.

Side note – it’s important to keep the goal of maximum business value in mind. Frameworks can help, but must never become the goal in themselves. Organizations must determine the right balance of framework(s) and parts to adopt to meet their business needs.

In 2005, ISO 20000 was established as the international standard for IT Service Management. Unlike frameworks, which focus on guidance and best practices, ISO 20000 is a standard against which organizations can be benchmarked and certified (much like ISO 9000 for manufacturing).

As ITIL has continued to mature, it has become increasingly consistent with the ISO standard, and easily interwoven with other best practice frameworks.

Whereas ISO certification is an all-or-nothing deal, ITIL can (and should) be adopted as-needed to meet the unique needs of the company.

ITIL has a well established training and certification scheme, starting with ITIL Foundation. From there, there are Intermediate courses/certifications in each of the lifecycle phases. Alternatively, there’s a Capabilities path. Either path can lead to the ITIL Expert and ITIL Master certifications. Click Here to see the ITIL qualification scheme.

There you have it, an explanation of ITIL in under 700 words!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions, or I can help you on your way to Excellence in IT Service Management.!