ITIL Overview

ITIL was developed as an initiative by the UK Cabinet Office and is presently owned by Axelos, a public/private joint venture. The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) has become the effective standard in IT Service Management. ITIL helps organizations across industries offer their services in a quality-driven and cost-effective way. The framework was developed in the 1980s and most recent update to version 3 was published in 2011.

ITIL best practices are explained in the five core guidance publications outlining the fundamental ITIL principles that focus on various areas within the service management discipline. ITIL best practices also underpin the foundations of ISO/IEC 20000, the International Service Management Standard for organizational certification and compliance. ITIL has always been dynamic - evolving over time to reflect changes to the way IT organizations work, incorporating new service management concepts and the industry’s evolving understanding of the different capabilities required to deliver value.


ITIL’s Beginnings

The ITIL concept emerged in the 1980s, when the British government determined that the level of IT service quality provided to them was not sufficient. The central computer and telecommunication agency (CCTA) which is now known as the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) was tasked with developing a framework for efficient and financially responsible use of IT resources within the British government. Their objective was to develop a framework for delivering efficient and quality IT services at the same time reducing cost.

To address the issues they were experiencing, the UK government commissioned a 7-year study to look at how “best in class” organizations were doing service support and delivery. The study included interviewing over 2,500 different organizations of various sizes from different industries and spanning the public and private sectors. The first version of ITIL was very technical in nature (including such topics as are cabling techniques, backup power supplies and office acoustics) and spanned a collection of 40 volumes.

The first version of ITIL discussed processes involved in service support such as help desk management, change management and software distribution and control. It also covered topics such as capacity management, contingency planning, availability management and cost management – all of which are still very relevant today.
Large companies and government agencies around the world began adopting the framework in the early 1990s to help improve their IT services and delivery capabilities. As ITIL grew in popularity, IT itself changed and evolved, and so did ITIL. In year 2000, The CCTA merged into the OGC, Office for Government Commerce and in the same year, the first ‘child standard’ emerged as Microsoft used ITIL as the basis to develop their proprietary Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF).


The first major revision

The second version of ITIL was published in 2001. This version was focused on the elimination of duplicate entries, improvement in the consistency of topics and inclusion of new IT concepts. Some of the topics covered in ITIL v2 were problem management, release management, incident management, financial management of IT assets, security management and service continuity management. These are some of the most enduring and popular pieces of ITIL today. ITIL v2 also introduced the concepts of call centers and help desk - discussing and comparing three kinds of service desk structures: local service desks, central service desks and the virtual service desks. In the following years, ITIL became the most widely accepted IT service management adopted by organizations.


Introduction of the Service Lifecycle

In 2007 ITIL version 3 was published. This adopted more of a lifecycle approach to service management, with greater emphasis on IT business integration. This version is another upgrade and it consists of 26 processes and functions, grouped into 5 volumes, which focus on service strategy, service transition, service design, service operation and continual service improvement. ITIL V3 approximately doubled the scope, almost tripled the number of processes and functions and introduced a few new dimensions and perspectives. Read more about ITIL V3

Sales managers

In the service transition and service strategy volumes, new concepts were added in the areas of: service assets, business case development, service value definition and information security management. In the service operation and service design volumes, new topics introduced include: access management, request fulfillment and application management. The ITIL v3 volume on continual service improvement introduced concepts related to planning and scheduling.

The current ITIL Release – Updates to ITIL v3 in 2011

The ITIL v3 2011 edition was an update to the 2007 edition primarily aimed at resolving the errors and inconsistencies in the text and diagrams across the suite. It is interesting to note that the ITIL 2011 books grew 57% in weight and 46% in number of pages -primarily due to rewrite, redesign and the use of larger font intended to make ITIL more approachable to the reader. The majority of content changes in the 2011 update were in the Service Strategy volume -the rest of the volumes received primarily minor contextual edits.

Service Strategy

ITIL 2011 Service Strategy introduced the concepts of Internal and External Customers and Services, and an 8-step approach on how to define services. Service strategy now includes the scope of both business and IT strategy management along with improvements to the description on how finances are managed from a services perspective. Two new processes were added covering: 'Strategy Management for IT' and 'Business Relationship Management'

Service Design

Service Design received a moderate edit in the 2011 update. It now includes an explanation of how design activities should be planned and coordinated and guidance on how best to integrate a Service Design function into an existing IT organization. Perhaps the most notable content addition was a new section on the use of 'RACI' charts to help explain how process actors should be documented.

Service Transition

The Problem Management team is responsible to perform a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and to find a permanent fix/workaround for recurring incidents. It is recommended to have an effective communication strategy and to follow a proactive approach to avoid any major incident occurrence. Problem is one or more incidents with an unknown root cause. Problem management maintains a known error database, KEDB whose solution is unknown.

Service Operations

The Service Operations volume received a minor edit in 2011 with improved guidance for event, incident, problem, access management and request fulfillment. New discussion was also added on the topic of how ongoing application management should interact with application development projects.

Continual Service Improvement

The Continual Service Improvement volume received moderate edits along with improved guidance on how the seven step ITIL process aligns with the “data -> information-> knowledge-> wisdom” concept and the PDCA 'Deming' cycle. A new addition to this volume is the 'CSI register' -a database or structured document used to record and manage improvement opportunities throughout their lifecycle. It is interesting to note that the ITIL framework for Continual Service Improvement is credited by many as the inspiration for modern DevOps initiatives.

ITIL Today

The content of the ITIL framework has not seen any formal changes since the release of the 2011 V3 update. In July 2013, the UK government began the process of privatizing the framework ITIL is now owned by AXELOS, a joint venture between Capita and the UK Cabinet Office. AXELOS licenses organizations to use the ITIL intellectual property, accredits licensed examination institutes, and manages updates to the framework. The past 5 years have seen the growth of an ‘eco-system’ surrounding ITIL including: software, professional ITIL certification, training, consulting and a variety of publications. ITIL is the accepted current industry standard for IT Service Management

Future of ITIL

Axelos is presently in the process of the first major update to ITIL in over 10 years with a ITIL v4 expected to be released sometime in 2018. The Update will include practical guidance on how ITIL is adopted in conjunction with practices such as DevOps, Agile and Lean with an increased focus on the management of data within organizations. Some of the other key topics under discussion as a part of the ITIL v4 effort include:

Enterprise Service Management

The discussion in IT organizations is no longer about harmonizing, aligning and integrating IT and the business – with modern digital enterprises, the business is technology. All services are IT enabled and include: people, processes, data and technology. Many organizations have been expanding their use of ITIL outside of IT for enterprise service management – this trend is expected to continue. The next edition of ITIL will emphasize that service management and the service lifecycle can be applicable to all services.

Agile Service Management

A support software with intuitive UI will ensure even new agents can start supporting customers immediately without requiring in special training. Just as how higher price does not equate to more features, a complicated UI with a certification process to use it does not necessarily mean a powerful or feature-rich helpdesk.

Service Management and Integration

An area of focus is service integration for multi-provider services - ensuring that all organizations participating in multi-supplier services can work together easily in support of the service lifecycle.

Rarely are all the components of a service delivered by just one team, so service management processes need to take supplier partnerships into account as well. A continuous dialogue between the service provider and their customers is essential to service assurance in a multi-supplier environment.

There is likely to be a lot more focus on outcomes and business value in the next version of ITIL as these topics are of increasing concern for both service management and IT Governance. In future blog articles we will explore the details of ITIL v4 in more detail.

For over 35 years, ITIL has been the benchmark for service management practices in the IT industry. As modern business trends like Cloud, Agile and Digital transformation further blur the lines between technology and the people that use it, ITIL will evolve too and help IT organizations provide the service assurance that businesses expect. ITIL began with the charter to provide a framework for delivering efficient and quality IT services at the same time reducing cost. That objective is just as relevant today as the day ITIL v1 was published.

ITIL Service Lifecycle & ITIL Processes

The core of the ITIL framework revolves around the ITIL Service Lifecycle and a set of supporting processes and best practices for each stage. The 5 ITIL Stages are:

ITIL was designed such that the lifecycle stages together form a closed-loop process. This is important because most service management activities aren’t performed when creating services from scratch, they are activities that fix or enhance an existing service. Each stage of the service lifecycle is represented by one of the ITIL volumes and is self-contained while at the same time integrating into the overall ITIL framework.

ITIL Service Lifecycle & ITIL Processes

The core of the ITIL framework revolves around the ITIL Service Lifecycle and a set of supporting processes and best practices for each stage. The 5 ITIL Stages are:

ITIL was designed such that the lifecycle stages together form a closed-loop process. This is important because most service management activities aren’t performed when creating services from scratch, they are activities that fix or enhance an existing service. Each stage of the service lifecycle is represented by one of the ITIL volumes and is self-contained while at the same time integrating into the overall ITIL framework.

ITIL Service Strategy

The purpose of Service Strategy is to provide a strategy for the service lifecycle and to ensure that the service is fit for purpose and fit for use. The strategy should be in sync with the organizations business objectives as well as customer needs. Starting from an assessment of customer needs and the market place, the Service Strategy lifecycle stage determines which services the IT organization is to offer and what capabilities need to be developed.

  • Strategy Management for IT Services - Assess the service provider's offerings, capabilities, competitors as well as current and potential market spaces to develop a strategy to serve customers.
  • Service Portfolio Management - Ensures that the service provider has the right mix of services to meet required business outcomes at an appropriate level of investment.
  • Financial Management for IT Services - Manage the service provider's budgeting, accounting and charging requirements.
  • Demand Management - Understand, anticipate and influence customer demand for services to ensure that the service provider has sufficient capacity to meet the required demand.
  • Business Relationship Management - Identifies the needs of existing and potential customers and ensures that appropriate services are developed to meet those needs.

Within Service Strategy, Service Portfolio Management helps the organization manage services as a holistic portfolio; demand management is concerned with understanding and influencing customer demand by modeling user profiles and patterns of business activity; and Financial Management is concerned with understanding costs and opportunities associated with services in financial terms. Working together, these processes provide the capability for your organization to make informed decisions about what services to provide and how they should be constructed.

ITIL Service Design

The Service Design lifecycle phase is about the design of services and all supporting elements for introduction into the live environment. The scope of the Service Design lifecycle stage includes the design of new services, as well as changes and improvements to existing ones.

  • Design Coordination - Ensures the consistent and effective design of new or changed IT services, service management information systems, architectures, technology, processes, information and metrics.
  • Service Catalog Management - Ensure that a Service Catalog is produced and maintained, containing accurate information on all operational services and those being prepared to be run operationally.
  • Service Level Management - Negotiate Service Level Agreements with the customers, designing services in accordance with the agreed service level targets and ensuring that all Operational Level Agreements and Underpinning Contracts are appropriate.
  • Risk Management - Identify, assess and control risks, including analyzing the value of assets to the business, identifying threats to those assets, and evaluating how vulnerable each asset is to those threats.
  • Capacity Management - Ensure that the capacity of IT services and the IT infrastructure is able to deliver the agreed service level targets in a cost effective and timely manner.
  • Availability Management - Responsible for ensuring that all IT infrastructure, processes, tools, roles etc. are appropriate for the agreed availability targets.
  • IT Service Continuity Management - Ensures that the IT service provider can always provide minimum agreed Service Levels, by reducing the risk from disaster events to an acceptable level and planning for the recovery of IT services.
  • Information Security Management - Ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of an organization's information, data and IT services.
  • Compliance Management - Ensure IT services, processes and systems comply with enterprise policies and legal requirements.
  • Architecture Management - Define a blueprint for the future development of the technological landscape, considering the service strategy and newly available technologies.
  • Supplier management - Ensure that all contracts with suppliers support the needs of the business, and that all suppliers meet their contractual commitments.

The purpose if ITIL Service Design is to ensure that the services being developed fulfill the organizational intent described in service strategy and take into consideration things like supportability, risk management and business continuity. The more service integration and management issues that can be addressed during service design, the easier service transition becomes.

ITIL Service Transition

The objective of ITIL Service Transition is to build and deploy IT services and ensure that changes to services and service management processes are carried out in a coordinated and safe way.

  • Change Management - Control the lifecycle of all changes to enable beneficial changes to be made, with minimum disruption to IT services.
  • Change Evaluation - Assess major changes before those changes are allowed to proceed to the next phase in their lifecycle.
  • Project Management - Plan and coordinate the resources to deploy a major release within the predicted cost, time and quality estimates.
  • Application Development - The development and maintenance of custom applications as well as the customization of products from software vendors to provide the IT services that users need.
  • Release and Deployment Management - Plan, schedule and control the movement of releases to test and live environments -ensuring that the integrity of the live environment is protected and that the correct components are released.
  • Service Validation and Testing - Ensure that deployed releases and the resulting services meet customer expectations, and to verify that IT operations can support new services.
  • Service Asset and Configuration Management - Maintain information about configuration items required to deliver an IT service, including their relationships.
  • Knowledge Management - Gather, analyze, store and share knowledge and information - improving efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.

In this phase of the lifecycle, the design is built, tested and moved into production to enable the business customer to achieve the desired value. This phase addresses managing changes and transition planning to ensure that all stakeholders are prepared for the service release.

ITIL Service Operation

The objective of ITIL Service Operations is to make sure that IT services are delivered effectively and efficiently by fulfilling of user requests, resolving service failures, fixing problems and carrying out routine operational tasks

  • Event Management - Ensure CIs and services are constantly monitored, and to filter and categorize events to decide on appropriate actions
  • Incident Management - Manage the lifecycle of all incidents to return the IT service to users as quickly as possible. Provides permanent or temporary resolution to end users to restore normalcy as soon as possible
  • Request Fulfillment - Fulfill service requests, which in most cases are minor changes and/or requests for information.
  • Access Management - Grant authorized users the right to use a service, while preventing access to non-authorized users.
  • Problem Management - Manage the lifecycle of problems to prevent Incidents from happening, and to minimize the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented. Root cause analysis, RCA is performed to find a permanent solution
  • IT Operations Control - Monitor and control the IT services and their underlying infrastructure, including execution of day-to-day routine tasks related to the operation of infrastructure components and applications.
  • Facilities Management - Manage the physical environment where the IT infrastructure is located, including things like power and cooling, building access management, and environmental monitoring.
  • Application Management - Responsible for managing applications throughout their lifecycle and making decisions to support continuous improvement of application components.
  • Technical Management - Provides technical expertise and support for the management of the IT infrastructure
  • Closure - Set up an automation rule to automate ticket closure process or let end users close tickets themselves through the self-service portal.

Service operations oversees the daily overall health of the services that are delivered to users and business function. This includes managing disruptions to service and ensuring restoration after incidents; and determining the root cause of problems. It also includes the service desk activities such as handling end-user requests and managing service access permissions.

ITIL Continuous Service Improvement

The Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process uses methods from quality management to learn from past successes and failures and improve the overall quality, cost performance and/or usability features to an existing service.

  • Service Review - Review business services and infrastructure services on a regular basis to improve service quality and to identify more economical ways of providing a service.
  • Process Evaluation - Evaluate processes on a regular basis, including identifying areas where the targeted process metrics are not reached and holding regular audits, maturity assessments and reviews.
  • Definition of CSI Initiatives - Defining specific initiatives aimed at improving services and processes, based on the results of service reviews and process evaluations.
  • Monitoring of CSI Initiatives - Verifying that improvement initiatives are proceeding according to plan and introducing corrective measures where necessary.

The Continual Service Improvement process aims to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of IT processes and services. Companies will often structure their improvement efforts into CSI Initiatives which are prioritized and managed ad projects as compared to other service management tasks which are treated as ongoing operations. The objective of CSI initiatives is to define and execute specific efforts aimed at improving services and processes based on the results of service reviews and process evaluations.
The 5 stages of the ITIL Service Lifecycle work together to support all aspects of service management including the creation of new services and making changes to existing services. Deciding which lifecycle stages are most important for your organization requires a solid understanding of your organization’s culture, strengths and weaknesses so you can focus on the processes that will have the greatest impact for your company.

Using ITIL with other Frameworks

When you’re getting an enterprise to function in a more lean and efficient way, there isn’t just one path to get there. Companies will often leverage ITIL and other frameworks together to support their holistic organizational needs. Each framework has their own scope and unique approach which can be helpful in addressing your organization’s unique challenges. Some of the common frameworks implemented alongside ITIL include:

ISO 20000

Although there is no formal relationship between ISO 20000 and ITIL, ISO 20000 clearly draws on ITIL principles. The ISO/IEC 20000:2005 version of the standard, was designed to be aligned with (then current version) ITIL V2. ITIL V3, published in 2007 was intended to achieve even better alignment with ISO 20000. Although not explicitly stated in ISO2000 standard, preparing an IT organization for ISO 20000 certification typically involves introducing ITIL principles.


It is an IT governance framework and supporting toolset developed by ISACA. ISACA views ITIL as being complementary to COBIT with COBIT as providing a governance and assurance role while ITIL providing guidance for service management.

The Business Process Framework (eTOM)

published by the TeleManagement Forum offers a framework aimed at telecommunications service providers. In a joined effort, TeleManagment Forum and itSMF developed an Application Note to eTOM (GB921) that shows how the two frameworks can be mapped to each other. It addresses how eTom process elements and flows can be used to support the processes identified in ITIL.


is a standard for lightweight service management whose process framework is quite similar to that of ISO 20000 and the Service Support and Service Delivery parts of ITIL Version 2, but adopts Service Portfolio Management from later ITIL versions.


Isn’t a framework as much as a change of culture. DevOps uses the approach of cross-functional teams, encouraged to experiment, fail and learn and enabled by open communication. This addresses a key criticism of ITIL - teams working in silos with an “it’s not my issue” attitude. There is no “one size fits all” with DevOps because the framework brings together a looser set of principles that are integrated depending on the organization’s needs.


(Scaled Agile Framework) allows you to apply the same Agile structure as you use with software development teams to an enterprise by scaling Agile on a larger applications. SAFe enables ‘teams of teams’ and a single view of the entire process. SAFe and other Agile frameworks do not conflict with ITIL processes but often the speed of process execution and the software being used by the organization result in some ITIL activities being perceived as overly cumbersome.

IT4IT Reference Architecture

from The Open Group is a reference architecture and supporting guidelines for managing the business of IT. It uses a value chain approach to create a model of the functions that IT performs to help organizations identify the activities that contribute to business competitiveness. IT4IT covers a similar general scope as ITIL however it does so with a focus on the technical capabilities needed to support the IT function instead of the processes and activities described by ITIL

These frameworks compete when people take them literally and use prescriptive solutions, however, they can be complementary when used as guidelines and best practices that are adapted to your unique needs. The most common combinations are ‘DevOps and ITIL’ and ‘COBIT and ITIL’, but other combinations can work well too. Before you throw out any process or frameworks you already have, consider whether there is an opportunity for a multi-framework solution that provides a best-of-breed solution.

ITIL Guide to Adoption

From its inception, ITIL has existed to provide guidance that can be adapted to the needs of an individual organization – not as a prescriptive set of rules. This is not always well-understood and some people end up feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they believed they have to follow to the letter. You should not implement any process for process sake – your focus should be on providing the services customers want and need as effectively and efficiently as you can, not doing ITIL for the sake of doing it.

There is no one-size-fits-all ITIL implementation checklist. Each organization will approach the challenge differently. Rather than introducing the full set of ITIL recommendations at once, most organizations start with a subset of ITIL processes. Here are 3 of the most common approaches for organizations implementing ITIL:

Providing Better Support

The motivation for introducing ITIL in many organizations is a desire to deal with Incidents more effectively (perhaps in response to recent growth). These organizations typically begin by implementing the “Incident Management” process; followed by “Problem Management”, to take care of deeper-running issues; and, “Configuration Management” to provide reliable data on the IT infrastructure to improve the effectiveness of Incident and Problem Management. All of these processes are focused on IT providing better support to users.

Enabling Business Change

It is an IT governance framework and supporting toolset developed by ISACA. ISACA views ITIL as being complementary to COBIT with COBIT as providing a governance and assurance role while ITIL providing guidance for service management.

Providing Better Services

If your organization is focused less on the mechanics of service management and more on the content of services being enabled, the ITIL lifecycle stage for ‘Continuous Service Improvement’ is a good place to focus. CSI is often enabled by other ITIL capabilities such as: “Service Level Management”, “Capacity Management”, “Availability Management” and “IT Service Continuity Management” to both provide data to your CSI initiatives as well as making sure that the relevant service level targets are actively managed.

Where to Start

Before you start on an ITIL implementation effort, it is important to gain a solid understanding of not only the problems your organization is trying to solve, but also how the organizational culture will impact your ability to succeed. The size of the organization, management structure, appetite for change, complexity of business and processes and the abilities of the implementation team are all parameters that can influence complexity of the implementation.

The ITIL framework is diverse and covers many aspects of IT. There is no need to try and implement all parts of ITIL at one time - find what is most important for your organization that you think you can effectively address and begin there. Keep It Simple. There is enough know-how about ITIL and implementation to provide you with solid advice and experience. Use that know-how, take what is relevant to you and get started.

Other Resources


Improve the efficiency of your IT team by implementing Lean in ITSM


ITSM for higher education


The No-nonsense Guide to ITSM


ITIL Change Management - A Beginner's Guide


Gamifying Your Service Desk - Barclay Rae


Expectations are Good


Enterprise Service Management is Now a Business Reality - Stephen…


Self Service for ITSM 101


Moving from reactive ITSM to proactive ITSM


ITIL & DevOps – Compete or Complement?


What Problem Does ITIL Actually Solve For Companies?


The Paradigm Shift In ITSM