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March 1, 2024

What is ITIL?

ITIL has revolutionised the way IT departments operate. But what is it, exactly?

By Livia Giannotti

Cybersecurity threats are increasingly harmful to businesses and IT security practices are progressively getting more expensive. But although issues have evolved, the instability of IT environments is not a new concern. In 1989, the British government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) developed a set of best practice methods in IT, known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library – ITIL.

ITIL is shown on a computer screen
ITIL is trusted by the likes of NASA, Disney and the NHS. (Photo by Mongta Studio/Shutterstock)

Today, ITIL is used by 82% of Fortune 500 companies and is trusted by the likes of NASA, Disney and the NHS. Its purpose is to provide organisations with IT guidance in order to “co-create value with consumers, drive business strategy, and embrace digital transformation.”

However, ITIL is not for everyone. While it does provide a general framework to improve IT departments, organisations need to adapt it to their own needs and priorities. Tech Monitor has gathered information to understand and decide whether your organisation needs ITIL – and why.

What is ITIL for?

ITIL is a guide to help businesses create and develop stable IT environments. It provides a set of best practices for the organisation and delivery of IT services, including risk management, customer relations and savvy implementation of guidance.

Since its first version in the 1980s – in the form of 30 books – ITIL has been updated several times, with its ultimate goal of creating predictable and stable IT systems remaining the top priority. The latest version, ITIL 4, was released in 2019 and addresses innovative technologies and their applications, from cloud computing to AI and automation.

This fourth version has a particular emphasis on creating effective ways for IT to collaborate with other departments and on the implementation of a more holistic approach to IT services. For these reasons, the guide is built around seven core principles: 

  • “focus on value” 
  • “start where you are” 
  • “progress iteratively with feedback” 
  • “collaborate and promote visibility” 
  • “think and work holistically”
  • “keep it simple and practical” 
  • “optimise and automate” 

According to the number of companies reporting successful implementation of ITIL, the guidance has been largely effective since its inception. Procter & Gamble announced around $500 million in savings four years after implementing the guidelines and Wipro reported a 10% to 15% year-on-year reduction in service disruption after applying ITIL’s problem management strategy – among many other examples.

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How to implement ITIL

As a general framework, ITIL should be adapted to an organisation’s specific needs, priorities and goals. Chris Sharp, the service delivery manager at CloudTech24, told Tech Monitor that ITIL “is not black and white”. Instead, “you pick it up, pick the best bits that suit your business, and proceed,” he says. “If a section of the framework doesn’t make sense to your business at that time, put it on the back burner until it does.”

This is why there are a number of questions that an organisation must raise before implementing ITIL. “A project manager or service desk manager needs to sit down and look at the framework, planning on the who, what, when, and why to ensure critical elements are being drip-fed into the business and staff are supported in the implementation process,” says Sharp. For him, it is essential for an IT manager to “understand what the business wants to achieve in the first 6 months, 1 year and 2 years and plan accordingly” as a “scattergun approach is a way to failure,” he explains. 

How to get an ITIL certification

IT professionals can gain the skills to effectively implement the guidance by following ITIL 4 certification scheme. There are over two million ITIL-certified professionals around the world, establishing the certification as a global standard for IT careers.

Following the idea that ITIL should be adapted to each organisation, the certification scheme’s modular construction allows to focus on areas of knowledge that are relevant to particular objectives.

What are the different ITIL certification schemes?

Anyone who aims to obtain certifications must pass the ITIL foundation exam – which comes after an introductory course to the core principles of digital service delivery. The exam consists of 40 multiple-choice questions and can be run by accredited organisations, which also offer training courses for all other ITIL certifications.

Foundation-certified people can then follow one of two paths: ITIL Managing Professional (MP) or ITIL Strategic Leader (SL). The MP path focuses on “the essential skills to run successful IT-enabled products and services”, while the SL modules help “established and aspiring IT leaders to navigate the complexities of the digital era and prepare for digital transformation.” Those who complete all the paths are awarded the highest level of certification, ITIL 4 Master.

How much does ITIL cost?

Like any investment in skills and knowledge, the implementation of ITIL has a price. First, each step of the certification can cost up to £1,300 – although most modules have online training and exam packages for under £640. Then, the actual integration of ITIL into a system often involves updating and changing part of the existing software, which is likely to add further spending.

Still, Procter & Gamble and Wipro are not the only ones to report significant savings after implementing ITIL. Sharp says that “in the long term, you’re running slicker processes in-house, which enhances the service your employees offer to your customers.” For him, it is a “win-win” investment. 

Read more: How businesses can thrive in the age of generative AI

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