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The ITIL Framework: A Beginner’s Guide

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ITIL can be a bit intimidating for those just starting to learn this framework.  

There are so many terms, concepts, processes, and acronyms that it may seem like you need an advanced degree in order to understand what they all mean. 


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This post will give a brief overview of some of the most basic concepts, as well as some resources that will help you dive deeper into each.

The ITIL Framework: A Beginner’s Guide 

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is one of the most well-known and widely used IT service management (ITSM) frameworks

In fact, it could be considered the de facto standard ITSM framework across many industries, in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.

One of the reasons why it is so widely used is because it is so comprehensive – yet, as mentioned, its exhaustive level of detail also presents a problem for those just starting out.

Below, we’ll provide a top-down overview of what this framework is, as well as a few of its key concepts.

ITIL: A Brief Overview

ITIL, which is developed and maintained by Axelos, provides a set of ITSM principles and best practices designed to:

  • Maximize customer value
  • Optimize resource allocation and capabilities
  • Delegate IT roles efficiently and effectively
  • Take a goal-oriented approach to ITSM
  • Ensure that the services offered are relevant and consistently available

The framework is built around a life cycle that consists of five stages:

Service Strategy

This stage focuses on the overall approach to developing, maintaining, and delivering services. 

It is also designed to ensure IT services stay aligned with business goals and customer needs. Within this stage, there are several other subcategories: 

  • Service Portfolio Management
  • Demand Management
  • Financial Management
  • Strategy Operations

Once strategic planning efforts are complete, IT managers will then do the actual planning needed to make that strategy a reality.

Service Design

The next stage of the life cycle prepares services for deployment. 

There are several subcategories within this stage, including: 

  • Service Catalog Management
  • Service Level Management
  • Availability Management
  • Capacity Management
  • Service Continuity Management
  • IT Security Management
  • Supplier Management

After designing service deployment plans, the next step is to ensure that those services are implemented with minimal problems.

Service Transition

This stage of the life cycle focuses on the actual deployment and implementation of IT services. 

One of the main goals of this stage is to manage change effectively. Subcategories within this stage include: 

  • Evaluation
  • Transition Planning and Support
  • Release and Deployment Management
  • Service Validation and Testing
  • Service Asset and Configuration Management
  • Knowledge Management

Once transitioned into use, ITSM professionals must then focus on the continual operation of those services.

Service Operations

The fourth stage in the life cycle is aimed at balancing affordability against customer needs, the customer experience, and customer success

This stage includes a set of both functions and processes (concepts we’ll look at below). These are: 

  • Event Management
  • Incident Management
  • Request Fulfillment
  • Access Management
  • Problem Management
  • IT Operations Management
  • Service Desk
  • Application Management
  • Technical Management

After operations, the next area of focus is on ongoing improvement.

Continual Service Improvement (CSI)

The final stage of the ITIL life cycle is simply designed to learn from and improve upon past experiences. 

During this stage, IT managers will focus on tasks such as collecting and analyzing data, compiling that information, presenting it in an understandable form, and applying that information to ITSM.

Key ITIL Concepts and Terms

The above stages represent a high-level overview of the ITIL process, yet there is much more depth to this framework.

Here are just a few of the other important key concepts to understand:

The Four Dimensions

ITIL’s Four Dimensions represent the holistic principles upon which the ITIL framework is founded.

These dimensions are:

  • Organizations and People
  • Information and Technology
  • Partners and Suppliers
  • Value Streams and Processes

New to ITIL 4, these dimensions represent a shift in focus from service delivery towards value creation.

The ITIL Service Value System

The ITIL Service Value System (SVS) is another systematic component of the ITIL framework that connects ITIL to the organization and value creation.

The SVS’s components include:

  • The guiding principles, or recommendations that are used to inform decisions
  • Governance, the system of managing and controlling resources and the organization’s direction
  • Service value chain, the chain of activities the organization engages in to produce value for end customers or users
  • Practices, the actual activities engaged in to accomplish objectives
  • Continual improvement, the process of regularly enhancing organizational activities to maximize output and value creation

This framework, as mentioned, has been updated for ITIL 4, and the emphasis is now on new principles, such as organizational agility and resilience.

Further Reading

For more information on ITIL, visit the Axelos website, or see our posts on CIO frameworks, which outlines modern IT frameworks, such as ITIL, COBIT, and TOGAF.

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