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What is ITIL? - A Comprehensive Guide to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

ITIL, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, has been a significant part of IT service management for decades.

As a proven framework for delivering and managing your IT infrastructure and services, ITIL has become a standard tool for organizations of all sizes worldwide. Consider it a common language and toolset among those running IT functions. This is a guide to answering the questions; what exactly is ITIL, and how can it benefit your organization?

A man with a magnifying glass


  • The Information Technology Infrastructure Library is a framework of best practices for IT management that can lead to improved organization, new capabilities and increased conformance. In short, it gives a blueprint for running an IT team.

  • The ITIL certification program consists of three levels, ranging from Foundation to Expert, each providing an understanding of the ITIL framework and its key concepts tailored to different career paths.

  • Adopting ITIL provides organizations with various benefits, such as a shared vision & language, improved support capabilities, cost-effectiveness and the ability to drive positive business change.

Understanding The ITIL Framework: The Basics

ITIL is a framework of best practices for IT service management. It is designed to align IT services with business objectives and customer requirements. ITIL implementation and adoption can lead to significant business advantages, such as:

  • Improved organization of resources and processes

  • The development of new capabilities that offer business value

  • Heightened conformance

By managing IT services effectively and efficiently, ITIL helps organizations transform change into a positive force through organizational change management service strategy.

I often describe it as a blueprint for running an IT department.

History of ITIL

Initially developed in the 1980s by the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), a government agency in the United Kingdom, ITIL has evolved through several iterations to incorporate best practices and adapt to changing technologies and business needs.

The most recent version, ITIL v4, was released in 2019, departing from the established ITIL Service Lifecycle of version 3. This latest iteration places a strong emphasis on value creation and incorporates more modern approaches such as:

  • DevOps

  • Automation

  • Containers

  • Microservices

  • Cloud computing

ITIL has undergone a number of evolutions over the years. I've personally been with it since Version 2 and its a similar, but different beast now. Some of it's enhancements have been very welcome, and some feel more like an afterthought or justification for the size of the books you are expected to purchase. On the whole though, its evolved for the better and is the most cited and recognised IT framework you can encounter. Being ITIL aware certainly gives you confidence walking into certain situations, knowing you have an interconnected framework to fall back on when you need it.

A shelf of books

Key Components of ITIL 4

ITIL version 4 is built around two central components:

  1. The Four Dimensions Model

  2. The Service Value System (SVS)

1. The Four Dimensions Model

ITIL v4 introduces a holistic approach to service portfolio management through its Four Dimensions Model. These dimensions apply both to the general Service Value System and to specific services. They include:

  1. Organizations and People: The cultural and staffing aspects, competencies, and skills necessary for successful service management.

  2. Information and Technology: The information and technology resources that support the organization's services and management processes.

  3. Partners and Suppliers: The organization's relationships with other entities that contribute to the delivery and improvement of services.

  4. Value Streams and Processes: The workflows, processes, and procedures necessary to deliver and manage services.

2. The Service Value System (SVS)

In ITIL 4, the service lifecycle of previous versions has been replaced with a new, more flexible and holistic model called the ITIL Service Value System (SVS). The SVS illustrates the integration and collaboration of various components and activities within an organization to enable the creation of value

The SVS is comprised of several elements:

Guiding Principles

The guiding principles are the core recommendations that help organizations make good decisions and take meaningful actions in various circumstances. These principles are intended to guide the behavior of the organization in all circumstances, regardless of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or management structure. There are seven guiding principles in ITIL 4:

  • Focus on value

  • Start where you are

  • Progress iteratively with feedback

  • Collaborate and promote visibility

  • Think and work holistically

  • Keep it simple and practical

  • Optimize and automate


Governance in the context of SVS refers to the means by which an organization is directed and controlled. It encompasses the practices, policies, and controls implemented by the organization's leadership to ensure alignment between the organization’s strategy and its operations.

Effective governance ensures that the organization’s strategies and tactics are effectively realized, its resources are used responsibly, and its risks are managed appropriately.

Service Value Chain

The Service Value Chain (SVC) is an operating model in ITIL 4 that outlines the key activities required to respond to a demand for services. It is a flexible model that defines six critical components:

  • Plan

  • Improve

  • Engage

  • Design and Transition

  • Obtain/Build

  • Deliver and Support

The SVC enables an organization to understand how different activities contribute to the production and delivery of services and how they can be flexibly adapted to suit different scenarios.

Continual Service Improvement

This aspect of the SVS focuses on the ongoing efforts of an organization to improve its products, services, or practices. It is grounded in the belief that there are always opportunities to do things better, be more efficient and effective, and enhance value to customers.

Continual Service Improvement in ITIL 4 involves regular assessments and feedback loops that help identify areas for continual improvement and potential enhancement and guide the steps needed to achieve those improvements.


In ITIL 4, practices are sets of organizational resources (people, knowledge, information, etc.) and activities that are performed to achieve specific objectives. ITIL 4 identifies 34 practices, which are divided into three categories: General Management Practices, Service Management Practices, and Technical Management Practices.

These practices provide detailed, practical guidance on various aspects of service management, such as incident management, risk management, and capacity planning.

Let's explore the practices in a little more detail.

ITIL 4 Management Practices

ITIL 4 is its set of 34 management practices. These practices are sets of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective. For each practice, ITIL 4 provides various types of guidance, including key terms, success factors, key activities, and information objects.

ITIL Version 4 introduces a revised, modern approach to service management, focusing on principles, concepts, and practices. In a departure from previous versions, such as ITIL V3 which was organized around a set of detailed business processes, ITIL 4 is designed to be more adaptable and flexible.

Process Categories

The 34 ITIL 4 practices are grouped into three categories:

1. General Management Practices

These practices often come from the business management domain and are adopted and adapted by IT. Some examples include:

  • Strategy Management

  • Portfolio Management

  • Risk Management

  • Knowledge Management

  • Financial Management

2. Service Management Practices

These practices are critical to the support and delivery of IT services. They include:

  • Business Analysis

  • Service Level Management

  • Incident Management

  • IT Asset Management

  • Service Continuity Management

3. Technical Management Practices

These practices are more focused on the technology of service operation, and are crucial for defining the technical aspects of the service management system. Key examples include:

  • Deployment Management

  • Infrastructure and Platform Management

  • Software Development and Management

Customizing Processes for Organizations

ITIL 4 emphasizes the importance of organizations defining their own processes. It encourages organizations to create bespoke, tailor-made processes that align with their specific requirements. This empowers businesses to take ownership of their service management strategies and adapt them as necessary, rather than adhering to a rigid set of predefined processes.

Practicality and Simplicity

One of the defining features of ITIL 4 is its preference for “simple and practical” ways of working. It aims to guide organizations towards streamlined, efficient, and effective, service design and management processes that meet the demands of today’s rapidly evolving IT landscape.

Personally, I really like this, as in the past it felt like you weren't "ITIL" if you didn't follow their processes, but now, its actively encouraging you to simplify and be practical in your application of process.

It's worth noting that while ITIL 4 takes a fresh approach, the detailed process descriptions available in ITIL V3 publications are still considered valid. ITIL 4 doesn't invalidate earlier versions, but rather builds upon them, making it a more contemporary and agile framework.

ITIL Certification

ITIL certification is a proof of expertise in the framework, with various levels available to suit different career paths and goals. Obtaining certification in ITIL can:

  • Enhance resumes

  • Introduce the ITIL framework to organizations

  • Help align IT services with business goals

  • Improve overall IT service management capabilities.

By becoming ITIL certified, IT professionals can:

  • Demonstrate their understanding of the ITIL framework and its best practices

  • Increase their value to organizations

  • Potentially lead to career growth and advancement opportunities.

Why Get ITIL Certified?

Obtaining certification can offer numerous advantages to IT professionals, such as enhancing their employability, making them a more valuable asset to the organization, and helping them better understand the ITIL framework and its best practices. By becoming ITIL certified, individuals can gain the skills and knowledge necessary to align IT services with business goals, improve support capabilities, and drive positive business change.

Additionally, certification can lead to increased earning potential and conformance to international ITSM standards. By investing in certification, IT professionals can set themselves apart from their peers and increase their chances of success in the competitive IT service management landscape.

ITIL v4 Certification Path

ITIL version 4 training path

Certification Levels

The ITIL 4 certification path begins with the ITIL Foundation, an entry-level certification that introduces the key concepts of ITIL.

After the ITIL Foundation, individuals can pursue two distinct tracks: the ITIL Managing Professional (MP) Track, which consists of four modules (Create, Deliver and Support; Drive Stakeholder Value; High Velocity IT; Direct, Plan and Improve) designed for IT practitioners; and the ITIL Strategic Leader (SL) Track, which has two modules (Direct, Plan and Improve; Digital and IT Strategy) aimed at those shaping organizational strategy and direction.

Notably, the Direct, Plan and Improve module is a core component of both MP and SL tracks. After completing either the MP or SL track, or both, individuals with extensive hands-on ITIL practice experience can pursue the ITIL 4 Master certification, demonstrating their ability to apply ITIL principles and methods in the workplace.

ITIL Foundation Level

This is the entry-level certification that introduces the key elements, concepts, and terminology used in the ITIL service lifecycle.

Prerequisite: None.

ITIL 4 Managing Professional (MP) Track

For IT practitioners working within technology and digital teams across businesses.


  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support

  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value

  • ITIL 4 Specialist: High Velocity IT

  • ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan and Improve

Prerequisite: ITIL Foundation (v4).

ITIL 4 Strategic Leader (SL) Track

For those who are involved in shaping the direction and strategy in their organization.


  • ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan and Improve (shared module with ITIL 4 MP)

  • ITIL 4 Leader: Digital and IT Strategy

Prerequisite: ITIL 4 Foundation.

ITIL 4 Master

To demonstrate the ability to apply the principles, methods, and techniques from ITIL in the workplace.

Prerequisite: ITIL 4 Managing Professional or ITIL 4 Strategic Leader. Additionally, the candidate must have extensive hands-on experience with ITIL practices.


  • The ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan and Improve is the core module for both the ITIL 4 Managing Professional and ITIL 4 Strategic Leader streams.

  • After completing the ITIL 4 Foundation certification, individuals can choose to develop their ITIL knowledge further by pursuing either the ITIL 4 Managing Professional or ITIL 4 Strategic Leader, or both.

  • The Managing Professional and Strategic Leader tracks are intended to provide candidates with a clear path to developing their IT service management careers, but they are not required to move onto ITIL 4 Master. One must, however, complete one of these tracks in order to pursue the ITIL 4 Master certification.

Preparing for ITIL Certification

Preparing for ITIL certification can be a challenging but rewarding endeavor. With a variety of resources available, such as online courses, study guides, and practice exams, individuals can develop a comprehensive understanding of the ITIL framework and its best practices. One such online course is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library 4 Exam Preparation by LearnQuest, which covers ITIL topics, terminologies, and best practices, providing a solid foundation for individuals seeking ITIL certification.

In addition to utilizing available resources, it is essential to practice extensively, take as many practice tests as possible, and gain a practical understanding of core ITIL concepts, practices, and principles.

Here are a couple of places beyond this site that offer free resources and training on ITIL. I do believe that great learning draws from different sources;

AXELOS Global Best Practice URL: AXELOS Global Best Practice

AXELOS is the official body that maintains the ITIL framework. Their website provides a wealth of official ITIL resources, including white papers, case studies, sample papers, and a glossary of ITIL terms.

ITSM Academy URL: ITSM Academy

ITSM Academy provides free webinars and informational materials. Their website includes a library of previously recorded webinars on various ITSM topics, including ITIL.

Thought Rock URL: Thought Rock

Thought Rock offers a range of ITIL resources, including free practice exams for ITIL 4 Foundation. These practice exams can help prospective candidates familiarize themselves with the format of the ITIL 4 Foundation exam.

ITIL Training URL: ITIL Training

This website provides a variety of free ITIL v4 resources, including sample papers, exam tips, and a blog with helpful articles on ITIL topics.

LinkedIn Learning URL: LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning offers a variety of free and premium ITIL courses. During their free trial period, you can access several ITIL courses at no cost.

Complementary IT Management Frameworks

While the ITIL framework has proven to be highly effective in managing IT services, it is not the only framework available. Complementary IT management frameworks, such as:

  • ISO/IEC 20000


  • FitSM

  • eTOM

  • MOF

Can be used alongside ITIL to further enhance IT service management processes. These frameworks offer additional perspectives and best practices that can help organizations achieve their IT service lifecycle management goals.

By incorporating complementary IT management frameworks and a configuration management database into their IT service management strategy, organizations can ensure a more comprehensive and robust approach to managing their IT services. This can lead to improved service quality, increased efficiency, and ultimately, greater business success.

Personally, I can't vouch for all of these, I've experience of MOF and ISO 20000, but COBIT has worked really well in combination with ITIL for me in the past. It's like having the CliffNotes version alongside you.

Benefits of Adopting ITIL

The benefits of adopting ITIL in an organization are numerous and far-reaching. Some of the advantages include:

  • Aligning IT services with business objectives

  • Delivering more value to customers and stakeholders

  • Improved support capabilities

  • Cost-effectiveness

  • Ability to drive positive business change

These are just a few of the many advantages that come with ITIL adoption.

Moreover, implementing ITIL can lead to better resource allocation, more effective risk management, and increased customer satisfaction delivering efficient services. By adopting the ITIL framework, organizations can ensure that their IT services are optimized, efficient, and capable of delivering the desired business outcomes.


In conclusion, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library is a powerful framework that can transform the way organizations manage and deliver IT services. By understanding the service lifecycle, adopting the framework, and obtaining ITIL certification, IT professionals can help organizations align their IT services with business objectives, improve support capabilities, and drive positive change.

With complementary IT management frameworks available to further enhance IT service management, the potential for business success is limitless through a solid business strategy. Embrace the power of ITIL and harness its benefits to propel the service portfolio management within your organization to new heights.


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