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The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a framework designed to standardize the selection, planning, delivery and maintenance of IT services within a business. The goal is to improve efficiency and achieve predictable service delivery. The ITIL framework enables IT administrators to be a business service partner, rather than just back-end support. ITIL guidelines and best practices align IT department actions and expenses to business needs and change them as the business grows or shifts direction.
ITIL started in the 1980s, when data centers decentralized and adopted more geographically diverse architectures. This practice caused process and deployment discrepancies and brought inconsistent or suboptimal IT services performance into organizations.
The United Kingdom's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) recognized the importance of perceiving IT as a service and applying consistent practices across the entire IT service lifecycle and developed Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management (GITIM). The organization released ITIL v1 in 1989.
In 2000, the CCTA folded into the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and released ITIL v2 the following year.
ITIL v3 emerged in 2007 and was updated in 2011 to include feedback from the user and training community, as well as resolve errors and inconsistencies.
The U.K. Cabinet Office and Capita PLC formed the business in 2013. The organization's mission is to "make individuals and organizations more effective by providing practical guidance, content and qualifications distilled from real-world experience and developing practices."
Global best practice company Axelos currently oversees ITIL development. Axelos announced the latest ITIL guidelines in 2017. The organization is releasing ITIL v4 throughout 2018 and 2019.
ITIL process framework
ITIL encompasses a framework of five core publications, which are periodically reviewed and updated as technologies change. Each book collects best practices for each major phase of the IT service management (ITSM) lifecycle. The books and their core concepts are:
- Service Strategy: Describes business goals and customer requirements and how to align objectives of both entities.
- Service Design: Outlines practices for the production of IT policies, architectures and documentation.
- Service Transition: Advises on change management and release practices; guides admins through environmental interruptions and changes.
- Service Operation: Offers ways to manage IT services on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.
- Continual Service Improvement: Covers how to introduce improvements and policy updates within the ITIL process framework.
ITIL adoption and maintenance requires trained and certified experts to guide a company and its IT staff. Businesses such as Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) use ITIL as a foundation for their own internal operating guidelines.
Each iteration of ITIL brings updated documentation and adjusts certifications to prepare admins for the current infrastructure landscape and the types of services they provide.
In 1989, ITIL's goal was to standardize ITSM. This iteration gave organizations an overview of how to streamline services and helped admins start thinking about best practices.
ITIL v2 offered admins a more applicable and uniform structure for service support and delivery and included actual processes for organizations to follow.
ITIL v3 gives a broader look at IT services and adds guidelines on service strategy, design, transition and operation. It also outlined ways for businesses to continuously improve services.
The role of ITIL v4 is to help IT admins navigate the ins and outs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and provide guidance for the role of IT management in a service economy. Not only will v4 include practical guidance, but it will also connect and compare ITIL against newer approaches, such as DevOps.
Admins complete ITIL training and certification with a combination of classroom training and a written certification exam. There are five main certifications:
- Foundation: This entry-level certification covers key concepts, elements and terminology used for the ITIL service lifecycle and contributions to management services.
- Practitioner: This level helps professionals adapt ITIL to their organizations so it supports business objectives. Admins can take the course any time after a Foundation certification; this module also covers organizational change management, communication and metrics, which aren't available in all certifications.
- Intermediate: Each module of this certification goes into different components of ITSM but requires more detailed knowledge than Foundation-level exams. The track is split into service lifecycle and service capability modules.
- Expert: At this stage, admins are interested in demonstrating the entire ITIL scheme. ITIL experts obtain a set of well-rounded skills pertaining to ITIL best practices. Admins must complete 17 credits from previous modules, the Managing Across the Lifecycle module and an exam to get an Expert certification.
- Master: At the Master level, admins need to explain how they chose their areas of study, principles and methods, as well as the techniques they used within their organization to achieve wanted business outcomes. To achieve Master status, there is no certification exam; admins complete a series of written assignments and oral interviews.
Admins can track their certification progress through a credit system, which assigns a specific credit value to each segment.
Benefits and drawbacks
ITIL is not just about straightforward, rote IT skills. The certification also looks at how admins can apply their knowledge within the larger scope of their organization and align with business practices. This means that admins now have more cohesive best practices when addressing all facets of IT management. With this in mind, there are six main, identifiable benefits of ITIL:
- Better goal alignment between IT departments and the business
- Improved service timelines and customer satisfaction
- Reduced operational costs due to better resource utilization
- Increased visibility of IT costs and assets
- Streamlined service disruption response and management
- More flexible service environment that can easily adapt to change
ITIL also provides a good foundation for organizations that don't have any sort of services framework or best practices and enables admins to pursue job specializations.
Admins must be cautious about how management interprets and implements ITIL, however. It is an industry standard, but that doesn't mean it will solve internal personnel or compliance issues. Its implementation guides can make process development easier, but they don't necessarily account for more innovative processes or technologies.
ITIL's implementation requires staff time, training and expertise, so organizations must ensure that they have the appropriate resources -- and certified employees -- before going through with an ITIL implementation.