What is ITIL Certification? A Beginner’s Guide – Part 1


  • Origins of ITIL
  • How IT is Framed by the Library
  • Four General Roles within IT Provision
  • ITIL Category #1 – Service Strategy
  • ITIL Category #2 – Service Design
  • ITIL-Certified = Ordering off a Menu

Many people consider IT a little obtuse just because of the sheer volume of terminology. Just think about it: OS, GUI, SSD, DDoS… The list goes on. Certification standards and compliance mechanisms are no different from the rest of the field: HIPAA, HITECH, PCI-DSS, SSAE, ISO, ITIL.

There are just a lot of different things to keep straight, and it’s understandable that many of us have a surface-level knowledge of certain elements. In the case of ITIL, many people know to check if a vendor has that certification but don’t know much about what it entails.

Is that you? Here is a quick guide that gives you a sense of what the certification means so that you can know how it helps, whether internally or through an IT vendor.

Origins of ITIL

Information technology is centrally concerned with the backend – servers, networking, databases, virtualization technology, etc.. Customers of IT service providers, though, are concerned with the specific functions they can do with their computers – how quickly and reliably they can run payroll, process sales figures, collaborate internally, and perform other business actions.

Essentially, it’s hard for these two parties to see eye-to-eye, according to Excelon Development consultant Matthew Heusser. “[T]he customer wants a restaurant experience, while IT tends to act more like a wholesale grocery store,” he says. “The customer wants to order complete meals off a menu (websites, mobile applications, etc), not assemble ingredients out of servers, databases, frameworks, and so on.”

It’s easy for these two different camps to struggle to communicate. The user can’t do anything without IT setting everything up and making sure that the infrastructure is operating properly. The user may not understand the machinery. IT, thinking from an infrastructural perspective, may have difficulty seeing things from a front-end point-of-view. A lot is lost in translation.

To facilitate communication between these two communities in its national offices, the UK government started developing the Information Technology Infrastructure Library in the 1980s. The set of practices, now officially called ITIL, has been managed by AXELOS (a UK public-private partnership) since 2013.

How IT is Framed by the Library

ITIL frames IT in terms of what functions it delivers rather than the systems and processes used. It frequently speaks in terms of IT as a service, which it describes as “a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.”

What does it mean that IT is a service? It means that IT shouldn’t have direct impact on policy but rather should fundamentally be a service provider to the end-user. The end-user should be concerned with the cost of meeting individual needs as opposed to the cost of IT, and service agreements should limit risk.

ITIL essentially positions IT similarly to utilities, as a resource to power projects. (Consider how cloud computing (resources on-demand) fits neatly within that description.)

The framework describes four types of IT staff, conducting five service-related responsibilities.

Four General Roles within IT Provision

Take or leave this staff classification system. Many people consider it outmoded. There also isn’t strict division between these groups since many individuals wear various hats.

The staff types are:

  1. Help desk – Support role working with the customers or end-users
  2. Operations management – Managers of the physical environment and day-to-day activities
  3. Technical management – Managers of the network and other infrastructural elements
  4. Application management – Managers of the software.

ITIL Category #1 – Service Strategy

Again, you can implement these parameters more strictly or loosely depending on your needs.

First, an organization must think in terms of what it is broadly trying to achieve with service – the strategy. Strategy should be about how services can best meet organizational needs, how the service can outdo what other firms are doing, and how systems can deliver value.

By considering service in this manner, ITIL emphasizes speed and user-friendliness. “Internal IT groups find they can differentiate by understanding the customer and their problems, and applying solutions more directly than external groups,” says Heusser. “On the technical side, this might mean features like single-sign-on or eliminating redundant data entry.”

There are five elements of service strategy, per ITIL, involving management of the following: organizational interactions, the IT services catalog, service costs, resource needs, and service strategy.

As suggested above, users essentially want a restaurant menu, realized by the catalog.

ITIL Category #2 – Service Design

Strategy starts to become actionable via design, which Heusser explains is made up of “[d]esign coordination, service-level management (SLA’s), service catalogue management, supplier management, availability and capacity management, IT service continuity management and information security management.”

ITIL-Certified = Ordering off a Menu

ITIL certification may or may not be right for your internal purposes. However, as you can see, it says a lot about how customer-centric an organization is. It’s all, fundamentally, about service – just like a restaurant.

Want best practices in IT service management? Choose a company grounded in US and global standards.

By Kent Roberts

NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part series – to read Part 2, please click HERE.

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