What Is ITIL? Decoding the Information Technology Infrastructure Library

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What is ITIL?

To begin, let’s get real basic. And no, I don’t mean BASIC.

I mean basic.

What is ITIL

Wikipedia defines Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as  “A set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.”

Okay, so what is that, and what does it mean for my IT career? I’ll answer those questions and more below.

What is ITIL

Okayyy, so what is IT service management?

IT service is everything that happens behind the scenes to make a product or service “just work” for an end user. “Services allow customers to do business without worrying about underlying technology or IT infrastructure,” according to UC Santa Cruz.

ITSM is an umbrella term, which encompasses everything an organization needs to do in order to offer information technology (IT) services to its customers. It can also be described as “the pursuit of IT excellence.”

UCSC describes service management as ”a framework to structure IT-related activities” and to manage the relationship between IT technical personnel and customers/clients. ITSM is all the policies around planning, designing, delivering, operating, and controlling IT services. This includes the service lifecycle, which is the continual process of identifying, defining, managing, and retiring IT services.

Experts predict the ITSM industry will grow from $4.4 billion in 2016 to $8.78 billion in 2021, according to BusinessWire. Learn about more ITSM trends for 2017.

So where does a Technology Infrastructure Library come in?

Efficient, dependable, and invisible IT service is the end goal. ITSM is how organizations get there. ITIL is the roadmap. Okay, so why is it called a technology infrastructure “library?”

Now in its third iteration, known as ITIL V3, ITIL is a series of five volumes. Each section covers a different stage of the ITSM lifecycle:

  1. Service strategy
  2. Service design
  3. Service transition
  4. Service operation
  5. Continual service improvement

Competing (or complementary, depending on your view) frameworks include the Microsoft Operations Framework and ISACA‘s COBIT framework.

AXELOS offers licenses to organizations that want to use the ITIL intellectual property, but organizations that wish to implement ITIL internally do not need to get a license from AXELOS to do so.

Practically speaking, SearchCIO defines ITIL as a “globally recognized collection of best practices for managing information technology (IT).”

For a history of ITIL and more detail on what it entails the ITIL Wikipedia page is excellent.

But rather than re-hashing Wikipedia, I’d like to answer some questions related to ITIL.

What are the processes of ITIL?

ITIL is a description of processes for managing pretty much everything related to IT, including:

  • Incidents
  • Configuration
  • Changes
  • Releases
  • Service-Levels
  • Availability
  • Capacity
  • Service Continuity
  • Finances

What is the ITIL Foundation Certification?

Passing the ITIL Foundation exam results in the most basic level of the aforementioned ITIL certification. There are multiple ways to get the training you need to pass, including online and in-person courses taught by AXELOS ATO or other third-party vendors including an ITIL Foundation Training Course provided by SkillMetrix.

According to Balaji Iyengar on Quora, the AXELOS ATO in-classroom training program is “the best value for the buck. Normally such a program would include the ITIL Foundation certification and last for 2 days (just the weekend!).” To explore whether certification is worthwhile, check out this Spiceworks thread. This article comparing PMP and ITIL certification is also helpful.

Where is ITIL Headed?

In the 2016 Gartner I&O Automation Hype Cycle, ITIL was in the “slope of enlightenment.” In a March 2016 report, analysts George Spafford and Ian Head warned that enterprise infrastructure and operations (I&O) groups are Balkanizing, with ITIL on one side and DevOps on the other. The conflict is unnecessary though. “I&O leaders seeking to improve Mode 1 and Mode 2 delivery must seize the value from practices originating in ITIL, as well as those still evolving within DevOps and other sources,” they write.

Stay focused on the end goal, and ITIL definitely still has a place in the enterprise. Spafford and Head predict 80% of organizations that fail to leverage both DevOps and ITIL will not meet their customers’ needs through 2021.

A bimodal IT strategy can help your organization develop the I&O capabilities it needs. DevOps, along with frameworks like ISO 20000 and COBIT, is ideal for addressing challenges and using tools that are clearly understood. ITIL is ideal for murkier, more ill-defined challenges where the resources aren’t as well understood. “Assess ITIL and DevOps overlaps when using them in bimodal IT to reduce linkage breakages,” Spafford and Head write.

In the past ITIL was the de facto service management standard because it was the only source for the kind of guidance it offered. Today, most IT pros know that trying to implement every bit of ITIL is not going to have a positive ROI, and that they’ll need more than ITIL to get their business objectives accomplished. ITIL doesn’t include enough guidance on agile development or high-velocity release practices, for example, to be your only source of truth.


There’s a lot of software required to get everything done for IT departments. To learn more about ITAM, for instance, check out this comparison of the Top 4 Free and Open Source ITAM Software Solutions.

Looking for IT Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best IT Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.



The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework is designed to standardize the selection, planning, delivery and support of IT services to a business. ITIL are the most popular and widely accepted frameworks in IT Architecture and IT Service Management, respectively.

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