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ITIL Methodology: Your All-in-One Guide to Improving IT Service Delivery

Posted by on March 13, 2020

ITIL Methodology

The term "information technology" (IT), used in its modern sense, was first published in a 1958 article of the Harvard Business Review. Their definition of IT included techniques for information processes, the application of mathematical and statistical modeling methods to decision-making, and the simulation of higher-order thinking with computers. For reference, this was around the same time that the integrated circuit was invented.

During this time, corporate IT programs were either not yet developed or in their infancy. The earliest examples of IT departments were viewed as cost-centers and essentially acted as organizational gatekeepers of technology. These IT departments performed three basic functions for the business:

1. Governance - IT governance refers to the establishment of operational parameters for how groups and individual users can use IT systems, architecture, and networks. IT governance has a security aspect as well, as part of its objective is to ensure that only authorized persons have access to secure or restricted applications.

2. Infrastructure - IT departments have always been responsible for maintaining an organization's IT infrastructure, including networks, computer hardware and software, circuitry components, other network endpoints, and anything else required to ensure the function of the IT system. 

3. Functionality - IT departments played a role in maintaining and updating applications that are used by the business each day to perform its front- and back-office activities. IT employees develop, secure, and store electronic data that belongs to the organization, and assist the organization in implementing software or data-based solutions in all functional areas.

Over time, the role of IT organizations within corporations began to change. As new digital technologies were more widely adopted, organizations began to view their IT departments as centers of value creation and a potentially high-impact enabler of business, rather than simply an additional source of operating expenses.

To realize their potential to drive value for the business, IT organizations shifted their focus away from the traditional tasks of governance, infrastructure management, and functionality, and the paradigms of IT-as-a-service and IT service management (ITSM) began to gain traction in corporate and public IT organizations around the world.

What Is ITIL?

The 30-year period between the late 1950s, when the term “information technology” was first coined, and 1989, when ITIL (or the Information Technology Infrastructure Library) v1 was first published, included massive technological and operational changes within IT departments. IT organizations moved toward a more service-focused paradigm, but without an established set of best practices for delivering IT services, processes were often inefficient and poorly managed. 

This was exactly the case for the British government in the 1980s. As the government looked to expand its computing infrastructure, it recognized that public and private sector organizations had all established their own frameworks for managing IT services, which led to cost escalations, wasted effort, and unnecessary complexity in IT systems. These challenges made it more difficult for public and private companies to collaborate on IT, especially as computing infrastructure expanded within increasingly globalized organizations. 

To promote standardization within IT service management, the British government began an initiative to establish a set of service management practices for ITSM that would be known at the IT infrastructure library, or ITIL. The first version of ITIL was published in 1989 with an additional 30 volumes of the framework published by 1996. Here's a quick look at how ITIL has developed over time:

  • 1989: First publication of ITIL v1

  • 1996: ITIL v1 includes 30 separate books that comprise a robust framework for ITSM

  • 2000-2001: ITIL v2 launched. The 30 volumes of ITIL v1 are reduced to nine volumes. Guidance for similar processes is grouped together to make ITIL more accessible and logical for IT professionals

  • 2006: ITIL v2 glossary release. The glossary includes definitions for terms that were omitted from the original release of ITIL v2. ITIL becomes even more complete and accessible for IT professionals

  • 2007: ITIL v3 is released. The nine volumes of ITIL v2 are further streamlined into five publications, each of which describes the processes of one stage of the five-stage service lifecycle model. In total, ITIL v3 describes best practices for 26 key processes and functions of ITSM. These processes include Change Management, Configuration Management, and more. ITIL v3 was also termed the "ITIL Refresh Project", as it provided a comprehensive update and reorganization of ITIL v2. ITIL v3 is also referred to as ITIL 2007 Edition.

  • 2011: ITIL 2011 is released, not as a new version of ITIL 2007, but as a more polished update that includes corrections and revisions to text and graphics that were unclear or omitted in the previous version. ITIL 2011 maintained the same structure and organization as ITIL 2007/ITIL v3.

  • 2013: Ownership of the ITIL framework changes hands. ITIL is now owned by AXELOS Ltd., a joint venture between the British Government's HM Cabinet Office and Capita Plc. AXELOS Ltd. manages updates to the ITIL framework, offers ITIL training and courses so that people can earn ITIL certification, and acts as the de facto global authority for ITSM best practices.

  • 2019: AXELOS releases the first publication of ITIL 4, known as "ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition." This latest publication is not a replacement for ITIL 2011, but it does introduce a number of new concepts including the seven guiding principles of ITIL 4 and the service value chain, along with incorporating concepts from Lean, Agile, DevOps, and other newer ways of working. Notably, ITIL 4 eliminates the ITIL service lifecycle. 

RELATED: The Essential Guide to ITIL Framework and Processes

Understanding the ITIL Methodology

The ITIL methodology is defined in terms of the five-stage service lifecycle model. In ITIL, the purpose of the IT organization is to manage all IT services throughout their lifecycle. Each stage of the service lifecycle has its own unique objectives. Each stage consists of service management processes that help to further that objective. Each process consists of a set of activities, roles, and responsibilities that must be carried out. Let's look at each step of the ITIL methodology and how the processes there can help IT organizations improve their service delivery.

ITIL Service Strategy 

In the past, corporate IT departments were seen as a cost center and a "necessary expense," rather than as a value driver and enabler within the business. To ensure that IT organizations meet the needs of the organizations they serve, there must be a strategic approach to IT service management that works to understand business needs and help to satisfy those needs through IT.

ITIL Service Strategy is the first stage of the service lifecycle model. Its objective is to align IT service activities and decision-making with business objectives, and to ensure that investment decisions made by the IT organization align strategically with the needs of the business. 

ITIL Service Design 

In ITIL Service Strategy, the organization makes strategic decisions about what new services and capabilities it will develop to serve the business. Service providers that are selected must then have carefully crafted service-level agreements (SLAs) to ensure that they deliver on their intended purpose in the most efficient way that aligns with the needs of users. Through service-level management (SML), organizations ensure that SLAs are implemented appropriately.  

Through Service Design processes such as Risk Management, Service Catalog Management, and Availability Management, the IT organization performs its due diligence activities to ensure that a newly developed service will benefit the organization in the intended manner.

ITIL Service Transition 

IT services that have passed through the Service Design process enter into the next stage of the service lifecycle mode, known as ITIL Service Transition. The processes in this stage describe best practices for IT organizations to manage the building and deployment of new IT services for the organization. Changes and improvements to existing IT processes are also implemented through the Service Transition process.

Along with processes for service validation and testing, release and deployment management, and application development, ITIL's Service Transition volume also offers best practices to ensure a smooth, streamlined process for changes and effective knowledge management within IT organizations.

ITIL Service Operation 

The fourth stage of the service lifecycle model is known as ITIL Service Operation, and its objective is to provide guidance and best practices that help IT organizations deliver IT services effectively and efficiently. Once a service has been built and deployed to customers, IT organizations are still responsible for servicing, maintaining and updating the application, including providing technical support and incident resolution for the service.

ITIL Service Operation includes a number of crucial processes for IT organizations, including incident management, request fulfillment, event management, and problem management.

ITIL Continual Service Improvement 

Continual service improvement (CSI) is the final step of the five-stage service lifecycle model, whose goal is to ensure that the IT organization learns from its past successes and failures. CSI is an iterative process that improves service delivery over time based on data-driven recommendations and initiatives. IT organizations leverage processes like Service Review and Process Evaluation to track their processes, identify areas of opportunity for improvement, and launch initiatives to increase process efficiency.

How to Improve Service Delivery Using the ITIL Methodology

Any IT organization can improve their IT service delivery through adoption of the ITIL methodology. With its 26 separate processes and functions, the implementation process for ITIL can seem daunting—but there's no need to be overwhelmed. Start by following these five simple steps to improving your service delivery practices using the ITIL methodology. 

1. Assess Your Organizational Maturity - The first step towards a successful implementation of ITIL methodology is to asses both the maturity of your IT organization as a whole, and the maturity of each IT process that you manage. Our partners at PinkVerify recommend looking at each process and asking:

  • Does the process exist in the organization, even in an ad-hoc form?
  • Is the process currently controlled?
  • If controlled, is the process stable? Is it being managed proactively? Are people formally responsible for it?

  • If the project is stable, is it being measured? Are we collecting data on its performance? Are we able to track outcomes?

2. Take a Strategic Approach - Once an IT organization has assessed the maturity of its processes, it should be able to determine which specific ITIL processes would have the strongest impact on improving service management and driving costs down. Bottom line: Your goal is to become more cost-effective, while improving service delivery for end users. One of the keys to improving IT service delivery with the ITIL methodology is to strategically implement processes that drive the desired benefits first. An experienced ITSM software vendor partner can help you determine which ITIL processes can be implemented to help your organization further its strategic goals and meet business needs.

3. Start Small and Expand - There is no need for organizations to adopt all 26 functions of ITIL at once—in fact, we have yet to find any example of an organization that did so successfully. Most ITSM software products are only immediately compliant with 10 or fewer ITIL processes. Most IT organizations choose to implement just five or six processes  initially, and sometimes as few as two or three. It is better to have a few highly mature and efficient processes rather than a handful of low-maturity, inefficient processes. IT organizations can always start small with a few process implementations and introduce more at a later time.

4. Benchmark, Measure, and Monitor - Once a process has been formally defined, documented and implemented by your IT organization, the next step is to develop systems for capturing data from the process. Start by benchmarking the initial performance of the process—for incident management, you might document the initial time-to-resolution when you first introduce the process. You'll need to continuously monitor each ITIL process and measure its performance to drive improvements and determine when (and why) processes are failing to perform at their optimal level.

5. Strive for Continual Improvement - Once an implemented process can be measured continuously, the IT organization should continually try to improve the process. Suggestions for improvement and new initiatives can be put forward by the process owner, or by a CSI manager whose designated role is to implement, evaluate and monitor process changes to increase efficiency.

RELATED: How Useful Is an ITIL Certification?

How Does Cherwell Support Exceptional IT Service Management Outcomes?

Cherwell IT Service Management was purpose-built to drive service delivery improvements within IT organizations by streamlining compliance to the most important core processes of ITIL. Along with a robust service desk functionality with integrated processes on a common platform with a shared CMDB, Cherwell ITSM offers out-of-box compliance with 11 critical ITIL processes, certified by PinkVERIFY.

The Cherwell service platform makes it easy for IT organizations to integrate Cherwell ITSM with other tools that support the ITIL methodology, including Cherwell Software Asset Management, which enables IT organizations to better manage their software license agreements and avoid audit troubles, and Cherwell Security Management, which helps satisfy the requirements of the ITIL Security Management process.

Want to learn more about how Cherwell can help you leverage the ITIL methodology to improve IT services for your organization? Sign up for a demo. 

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