Essential Guide to the ITIL Framework and Processes

Anthony Orr

Jarod Greene, Cherwell Software

A former Gartner analyst with more than 12 years of IT service management (ITSM) industry experience, Jarod understands the market from the vendor, end-user, customer, and analyst perspectives. His proficiency in IT service support management processes, organizational structures, and technology is sought after for speaking engagements, customer consultations, and product development. He has published numerous white papers, research articles, blogs, and delivers innovative IT-focused presentations at events around the world.


Successfully aligning customer demand and business needs with technology services offers organizations a unique opportunity to enhance efficiency, improve productivity, and increase value. Aligned organizational needs and services can lay the foundation for establishing a competitive edge and achieving business success. The ITIL® framework offers a set of ITSM best practices aids organizations in aligning IT service delivery with business goals.

ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a well-known set of IT best practices designed to assist businesses in aligning their IT services with customer and business needs. Services include IT related assets, accessibility, and resources that deliver value and benefits to customers. ITIL framework objectives include the delivery of valuable service offerings, as well as meeting customer needs, and achieving business goals of a given organization. Despite the individuality of each organization, ITIL provides guidelines for achieving these objectives and measuring success with KPIs.

Who Uses the ITIL Framework?

The ITIL framework is used by organizations of all sizes, across vertical industries, and in countries across the globe. While it is most common to see ITIL implemented among large organizations, ITIL processes can bring value to small and mid-size organizations. Smaller organizations often implement only a subset of ITIL processes that are perceived to offer the most significant or tangible return on effort. According to a study by Macquarie University, the three ITIL processes with the highest adoption rates among those organizations who have embraced ITIL were Incident Management (95% of respondents), Change Management (88%) and Problem Management (71 percent).

History of ITIL

ITIL was started by the British government during the 1980’s as a set of standards for improving IT performance. The standards were adopted during subsequent years by both government and non-government entities. As the standards grew in popularity, they went through several versions (ITIL V2, ITIL V3) with the most recent version released in 2011 – ITIL 2011. The ITIL processes according to ITIL 2011 are encompassed in five separate publications: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement.

ITIL Service Strategy involves examining the current market needs and existing offerings and creating a plan for services to meet needs. Service Strategy is made up of five separate processes: Service Portfolio Management, Financial Management, Strategy Management for IT Services, Demand Management, and Business Relationship Management.

  1. Service Portfolio Management focuses on managing the portfolio of all offered IT services. Service Portfolio Management ensures that delivered services remain aligned with Service Strategy goals.
  2. Financial Management centers on financial spending and services - the budgeting, accounting, and charging activities of the business. Financial Management also looks at the costs to provide services while maximizing service value.
  3. Strategy Management for IT Services involves examining IT services in the context of overall market position. Strategy Management includes analyzing the market, reviewing current customer needs, and planning for potential market expansion.
  4. Demand Management assesses customer demand against the services provided. Understanding customer’s demands, and balancing that with the capacity, availability, and types of services provided are all part of Demand Management.
  5. Business Relationship Management is the final process in ITIL Service Strategy. Business Relationship Management involves creating and maintaining customer relationships, understanding customer needs, and providing services to meet those needs.

ITIL Service Design focuses on designing service offerings to meet both business and customer needs. The Service Design publication is made up of eight separate processes: Service Level Management, Service Catalog Management, Capacity Management, Availability Management, IT Service Continuity Management, Information Security Management, Supplier Management, and Design Coordination.

  1. Service Level Management involves planning for and defining organizational service delivery targets, and then measuring performance against those targets. Service level agreements (SLAs) are often used to spell out service level goals for easy measurement and comparisons against actual service performance.
  2. Service Catalog Management involves making sure that there is an updated service catalog available with accessibility to services customers require to remain productive.
  3. Capacity Management ensures that systems are always operating at enough capacity to meet business needs.
  4. Availability Management entails making sure that services are always available to the customer.
  5.  IT Service Continuity Management involves risk management and ensuring business continuity.
  6. Information Security Management includes system and data protection, as well as protection for the people who use the systems and data. Detecting, limiting and preventing intrusions, as well as limiting damage and correcting problems are all aspects of information security management.
  7. Supplier Management monitors all supplier relationships, including whether parties are adhering to contracts and agreements.
  8. Design Coordination involves taking a all-inclusive view into managing the service design phase - looking at resource availability and service needs to determine if the design is optimum and efficient.

ITIL Service Transition involves service implementation, as well as managing services through transitions or discontinuation. There are seven processes involved in Service Transition: Change Management, Change Evaluation, Release and Deployment Management, Service Validation and Testing, Service Asset and Configuration Management, Knowledge Management, and Transition Planning and Support/Project Management.

  1. Change Management ensures that services remain scalable and reliable as business needs change. (For more information, including Change Management benefits, roles and responsibilities, process flow, KPIs, and implementation best practices, read the Essential Guide to ITIL Change Management.)
  2. Change Evaluation includes anticipating and managing changes, as well as evaluating which changes merit moving forward.
  3. Release and Deployment Management involves software deployment while making sure that changes minimally impact the active/live production environment.
  4. Service Validation and Testing details testing and measuring results as well as making service changes and/or service continuation decisions.
  5. Service Asset and Configuration Management manages the configuration items (CIs) attributes, status, owner, relationships, and change/activity history.
  6. Knowledge Management involves assembling and accumulating useful knowledge for use by technicians and customers in resolving issues.
  7. Transition Planning and Support is a less common process and works to plan for the transition of a new or updated service into production.

ITIL Service Operation involves managing the smooth delivery of IT services with the ultimate goal of delivering value to the business. Service Operation must be aware of the changing needs within business based on advancing technology, such as cloud computing and cloud security needs. Service operation is made up of five processes: Incident Management, Event Management, Access Management, Request Fulfillment, Problem Management.

  1. Incident Management is the process of taking action to rapidly restore interruptions in service due to incidents. Incidents may include, password resets, printer failure, or an error message. (For more information, including Incident Management benefits, roles and responsibilities, process flow, KPIs, and implementation best practices, read the Essential Guide to ITIL Incident Management.)
  2. Problem Management works to pinpoint and prevent the recurrence problems and incidents. (For more in depth coverage of Problem Management, read the Essential Guide to ITIL Problem Management.)
  3. Event Management examines and analyzes all service events that may arise from applications, monitoring solutions, and other systems so that action, if needed, can be taken to ensure service continuity.
  4. Access Management controls who has access to the systems by preventing unauthorized attempts to access the system while allowing access for legitimate users.
  5. Request Fulfillment process includes receiving, logging, prioritizing, and resolving service requests received by the service desk.

The Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process focuses on finding opportunities for service growth and enhancement. CSI relies on analyzing metrics in order to both find areas that require improvement and measure the improvements you put in place. But CSI is much more than running reports and monitoring dashboards. Measuring both the success and failure of each business service will help you identify trends, bottlenecks, and flaws, guiding you to changes that will improve your processes. Continual Service Improvement is made up of three processes: Process Evaluation, Definition of CSI Initiatives, and Monitoring CSI Initiatives.

  1. Process Evaluation involves consistently analyzing processes for potential improvement options.
  2. Definition of CSI Initiatives includes choosing Continual Service Improvements based on analysis and review.
  3. Monitoring CSI Initiatives includes keeping track of CSI initiative progress.

Putting an improvement plan in place and assigning responsibilities to appropriate team members will help ensuring IT continually delivers value to the business based on stated business goals.

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Implementing ITIL processes and obtaining ITIL certification offers significant business benefits. These benefits include managing service interruptions, building satisfied customer relationships by providing services that meet customer demand, and enhancing service efficiency, employee productivity, and business value while reducing service costs

With the benefits there are several criticisms of the ITIL framework, with the first being that ITIL is too complex. Some critics also claim that ITIL is outdated, while others claim that ITIL simply doesn't work. Among those who believe the ITIL framework has outlived its usefulness, there is a common sentiment that the emergency of DevOps will eventually render ITIL irrelevant. Others believe that DevOps methods will, in fact, make aspects of ITIL more effective and force ITIL to become a more agile discipline.

It's also important to understand that the ITIL is a framework, not a standard. Organizations are not required to implement each ITIL process or follow the framework perfectly. Each organization can choose the areas (processes) that are most appropriate for their business to implement. The ITIL framework provides small scale ITIL implementation guidance for organizations who wish to implement, but need to adjust based on their size.

In addition to ITIL, there are several frameworks that are in use to support IT service management, including:

  • Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) – Specifically designed to support Microsoft products
  • Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS) – Developed for British schools
  • ISO/IEC 20000 – works in conjunction with ITIL and other ITSM frameworks
  • COBIT – complements ITIL for IT governance
  • Business Process Framework (eTOM) – specifically for telecommunications service providers
  • IBM Tivoli Unified Process (ITUP) – specifically designed to support IBM products
  • FitSM – referred to as a standard for lightweight ITSM

Both individuals and software tools can achieve ITIL verification/certification.

ITIL Certification for Individuals

Axelos, the entity that owns ITIL, accredits training and examination institutes. Individuals can be certified at Foundation, Practitioner, Intermediate, Expert, and Master levels. Upon passing exams at different levels, examinees are awarded corresponding ITIL pins. Understanding the basics of ITIL is valuable for IT professionals at all levels. It will not only boost one's professional qualifications, but it will help them apply logical steps and relationships to IT service delivery processes.

There are several accredited training organizations who offer ITIL certification/training for individuals, including (but not limited to): 

ITIL-Verification for Software

Using ITIL-verified software builds a strong connection between business needs and the processes necessary to deliver business services. When these services and needs are aligned, customer satisfaction increases, productivity and efficiency increase, costs decrease, and service and process scalability are improved. Software applications can be assessed for ITIL compatibility using PinkVERIFY. PinkVERIFY offers ITIL compatibility verifications for up to 16 processes. The verification process can be grueling, as the validation involves documenting process criteria for every aspect of functionality that supports the ITIL processes, a product demonstration, and often reassessments to address any gaps requiring improvements. Once the Pink Elephant consultant confirms the tool meets published criteria, a trademark license agreement is issued and the PinkVERIFY logo can be used by the organization.

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