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FAQ: Understanding the ITIL framework

The ITIL framework is a globally accepted standard for improving IT service quality. This FAQ reviews the ITIL definition, training options and costs and ITIL-compatible tools.

Many companies are now looking at the ITIL framework as a cost-effective methodology for streamlining processes and improving productivity in the enterprise, as well as for IT Service Management. And because the IT Infrastructure Library is simply a set of practices, there are no direct costs for adoption, although users do need to invest in ITIL training and ITIL-compatible software for services like automation and tracking.

In this FAQ, get more information on how ITIL works, options for ITIL training and learn what types of compatible software and tools are available.

What is ITIL?

The ITIL framework is a globally recognized set of best practices for IT Service Management (ITSM). ITIL consists of a series of core books called the IT Infrastructure Library that provide guidance for improving the quality and effectiveness of IT services.

The ITIL framework was developed in the early '80s to help IT provide high-quality services that meet the needs of the business. Companies that use the ITIL framework see an improvement in customer satisfaction, productivity and the ability to allocate people's skills and experience. The most recent version was released in May 2007.

Mark Hamilton, an IT management consultant at Pink Elephant, described the ITIL framework as "a set of options that I can use in the IT space to make myself more efficient and effective." It's all about "process, activities and options," according to Hamilton.

Who benefits most from using ITIL?

The ITIL framework can be used by any size company within all types of industries. However, it's most beneficial for midsized to large organizations, which have more formal processes.

Traditionally, the ITIL framework has been most popular in the financial, health care and insurance industries, where IT availability and revenue are directly linked. "If IT goes down, you can't do business," Hamilton said. "Ninety-five percent of business processes in these industries are enabled by technology."

  • Read how The Allstate Corp. used the ITIL framework to achieve better IT and business alignment.

What do most organizations use ITIL for?

ITIL is not geared toward specific project improvement. Instead, it's meant to improve processes and implementations.

Within the service lifecycle approach and the five ITIL books, there are 14 processes outlined. The most widely used today are incident management, problem management and change management.

Based on these processes, many companies use the ITIL framework specifically for cost control at the service desk -- by improving how they manage service requests and incidents or problems.

"The ITIL framework is best used for overall service management," said Sharon Taylor, chief architect for the ITIL Version 3 project and president of Aspect Group Inc. Many companies are maximizing the benefits of ITIL by using it in conjunction with other program methodologies, like the Control Objectives for Information and related Technology, or COBIT; Six Sigma; and Lean.

Which version of ITIL should I use?

There are now three versions of ITIL. Version 2 outlines what should be done in terms of process improvement, while V3, released in May 2007, provides guidance on how to improve processes.

ITIL V3 includes all aspects of V2, so those new to ITIL are adopting V3, according to recent research by the Aspect Group. "And the adoption rate is very steady toward ITIL V3 for those currently using V2," Taylor said.

What are the ITIL books?

There are five core books in ITIL Version 3. Each offers guidance on how to provide high-quality IT services through a service lifecycle approach. Here are the names and descriptions of each of the five ITIL books:

  • Service Strategy (Book 1): This book provides guidance on how to leverage service management capabilities that can effectively deliver value to customers and capture value for service providers. Book 1 specifically covers service portfolios, capability development, operational effectiveness and more.
  • Service Design (Book 2): The Service Design book translates plans and objectives and creates designs and specifications for execution through service transition and operations.
  • Service Transition (Book 3): This book includes suggestions to ensure that your design will deliver the intended strategy and can be operated and maintained effectively.
  • Service Operation (Book 4): The fourth book discusses how to successfully manage a service from its production life through daily management.
  • Continual Service Improvement (Book 5): This book offers direction on how to ensure that a service delivers the maximum benefit. It also addresses how to measure the performance of a service through its life.
  • Get more details about each of the five core ITIL books.

What are the ITIL training options and costs?

Various levels of training and ITIL certification are available. For companies using the updated ITIL V3, there are four levels to consider:

  • The foundation-level course is for first-time ITIL users. There are no requirements for the course, which provides users with a general awareness of the basics and terminology around ITIL.
  • The intermediate-level training includes 10 modules focused on two specific streams -- the service lifecycle stream (all five core books), and the Service Capability stream (more process based).
  • The expert-level course is achieved through an accumulation of credits and certifications from previous courses and ITIL schemes.
  • The master level is currently in development. For some participants, reaching the master level is about gaining experience; for others it's more of a level of achievement of multiple certifications.

The costs of ITIL training and certification varies, depending on course level, trainer option (in-house, outside location or e-learning), the price of the exam and time away from the office. "Prices are often driven by market demand," Taylor said. "It's really the training providers who set price. And the only cost that is set is the price of the exams."

Based on published pricing models, the cost for e-learning options ranges from $100 per user to $275 per user, depending on the level. For instructor-led training off-site, prices range from $2,000 for a three-day foundation course to $8,000 for a two-week service manager boot camp.

Is there specific ITIL software?

No, no specific software is needed to use the ITIL framework. However, there are software and tools that can be used to meet ITIL standards.

For instance, many companies use automation software to improve processes outlined in the ITIL books. Companies are also using software and tools for incident tracking, change tracking, server monitoring and switch monitoring. Companies using these type of tools and software to adhere to the ITIL standards are "seeing a real increase in the effectiveness of process management," Hamilton said.

Some of the players offering software that complements the ITIL framework include CA Inc., IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Remedy.

  • Review a list of software providers that were identified as providing certified ITIL-compatible tools, by Pink Elephant, an ITSM consulting company.

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