ITIL Best Practices

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library, commonly abbreviated as ITIL, is a framework of best practices that helps to bring IT service management (ITSM) into alignment with what businesses and organizations require in order to function and grow.

The ITIL model is one of the most widely accepted approaches to ITSM around the world. The framework is currently in the process of transitioning from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4, which has been revamped to help support a world undergoing rapid developments in technology and innovation.

Structural changes can be hard to implement, but it’s important for managed services providers (MSPs) to be familiar with ITIL best practices and methodologies in order to provide a consistent customer experience. This experience should allow for business improvement that keeps pace with the accelerating pace of technology and developmental breakthroughs. In this article, we’ll provide a crash course in ITIL basics to serve as a guideline for keeping your services ITIL compliant.

What are the five stages of ITIL?

ITIL v3 is centered on five stages of a “service lifecycle” that, when implemented correctly, ensure that IT service providers are delivering the proper technological capabilities and support to allow the business to thrive. The stages of the service lifecycle are: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement.

  • Service StrategyThe first stage of the lifecycle is focused on how to design, develop, and establish an IT service management framework that can support the aims, operations, and ambitions of the business. This step includes applying the knowledge of how the business works in order to design service strategies that can actually give the organization advantages over competitors.

    This phase has to do with the organization’s mission and sense of identity, including the target audience and how the organization plans to differentiate itself in the market. This will affect operational planning and decision-making across the entire company, including the IT department, so establishing the right strategies, contingencies, and frameworks can streamline business operations in a number of productive ways.

  • Service DesignThe next phase of the ITIL methodology lifecycle focuses on designing how services will be provided. This includes not only the specific technologies that the department plans to use, but also the structural aspects that will allow the technological services to be delivered across the organization. This involves planning how technological solutions and services interact with other departments, processes, and environments within the organization—as well as with the various structural elements required to support the service.

    Other factors like cost management of services, supply chain management, availability management, and capacity management must also be considered. All of these factors will eventually work together to ensure reliable services that are cost-effective and able to meet the demands of the organization.

  • Service TransitionThe Service Transition phase refers to the building and deployment of technological services for the business. In order to execute this in a coordinated and controlled way, this phase involves a number of planning stages so that deployments do not disrupt normal business operations—or if a disruption cannot be avoided, that it only causes minimal downtime.

    Other elements that require planning and management are the actual deployment of the service, testing to confirm that the service was deployed successfully, evaluating the difference between pre- and post-deployment operations, troubleshooting issues that may have arisen during the deployment rollout, and gathering what knowledge can be learned from the process. Throughout every stage of the process, IT teams must also consider the most effective use of resources along the way.

  • Service OperationThis phase of the service lifecycle includes the ITIL best practices for the direct delivery of services to end users or customers. This includes monitoring and managing the day-to-day functions across the company, such as staying up-to-date on application licensing and technology usage. Many of these functions are often performed through a technology services help desk.

    Having a service desk is something that many employees may take for granted, but this is actually a major part of ITIL compliance. An IT help desk centralizes the management of service by giving end users a single point of contact to report incidents or make requests. This helps streamline communication, but also provides a channel of communication between the IT department and the other departments within an organization.

    The help desk also functions as the site of problem management. The goal is for the technology services department to ensure that the business operations are functioning reliably, on a reasonable budget, and at agreed upon levels or thresholds of service—all with minimal disruptions or downtime.

  • Continual Service ImprovementThe last phase of the service lifecycle involves keeping abreast of any changes in the organization’s needs, as well as adjusting or improving the provision of IT services to support those changes. In order to define and thereby manage what constitutes “improvement,” this phase asks that service providers determine which metrics to control and measure.

    These determined metrics will then be used to identify what constitutes “success” or “improvement.” These metrics can be updated as needed—the continual service improvement phase requires ongoing planning, training, and monitoring of activities in order to maintain technological services that support the company’s needs.

What are the processes of ITIL?

Within each phase of the lifecycle there are several granular processes and subframeworks. Some of these more specific processes have been mentioned above but are further detailed below.

  • Service Strategy
    • Service Portfolio Management focuses on the portfolio of IT services that the department provides and whether these services align with the broader Service Strategy goals.
    • Financial Management ensures that the portfolio of services provided is cost-effective and allows the IT services department to provide maximum support with minimal costs.
    • Strategy Management assesses where IT services fit into the big picture regarding the overall market, and can include analyses of the market, user, or customer needs, and future plans for expansion.
    • Demand Management compares customers’ demands against the services provided and attempts to balance or mitigate any differences between the two.
    • Business Relationship Management establishes and maintains relationships with customers in order to understand their needs—both current and projected—to meet and predict them as best as possible.
  • Service Design
    • Service Level Management plans for service deployment targets and measures actual performance against those targets, which often include service level agreements (SLAs) for preset benchmarks and comparisons.
    • Service Catalog Management ensures that there is an up-to-date, easily accessible catalog of all the services that are available to end users so that teams can perform required tasks.
    • Capacity Management monitors system performance to make sure there is sufficient capacity to match the organization’s needs.
    • Availability Management ensures that the services provided are always available to the customer with minimal downtime.
    • IT Service Continuity Management examines the processes involved in enacting service delivery plans with the goal of ensuring that services are continually available or can recover following a serious IT risk or incident.
    • Information Security Management works to protect systems, data, and the customers who access services through the use of firewalls, SIEM applications, or other security countermeasures.
    • Supplier Management identifies and evaluates suppliers and supplier relationships to ensure that contracts are adhered to and support the organization’s goals overall.
    • Design Coordination takes a bird’s-eye view of how the individual steps of the design phase work together, with the goal of improving efficiency and optimization.
  • Service Transition
    • Change Management endeavors to keep the portfolio of provided services scalable and reliable as the needs of the organization change or expand.
    • Change Evaluation determines which of the proposed changes align with business needs, then prepares for and manages those changes.
    • Release and Deployment Management delivers software deployments or changes with a minimal amount of disruption to active environments.
    • Service Validation and Testing tests and measures the result of deployments and continues to make service changes as needed.
    • Service Asset and Configuration Management manages the configuration of each service item’s attributes, which include its status, owner, activity history, and more.
    • Knowledge Management collects and retains a bank of relevant knowledge that technicians and users can draw upon when attempting to resolve issues that arise.
  • Service Operation
    • Incident Management seeks to quickly restore systems to proper functionality in the event of incidents that may interrupt service—which can range from small events like a password reset to large events like a network failure.
    • Problem Management seeks to prevent recurring problems by identifying the root cause of a given issue and resolving it.
    • Event Management monitors service events and logs files to establish baselines and identify if and when action needs to be taken to ensure reliable service.
    • Access Management restricts user privileges to various systems to prevent unauthorized access, which can cut down on hacking attempts and cyberattacks.
    • Request Fulfillment facilitates all aspects of customers engaging with service desk requests, ranging from receiving a request to determining the priority of requests.
  • Continual Service Improvement
    • Process Evaluation regularly analyzes processes to look for ways to improve, streamline, or make them more efficient.
    • Definition of CSI Initiatives uses analysis, review, and future planning to select new and ongoing Continual Service Improvements to implement.
    • Monitoring CSI Initiatives tracks the progress of current Continual Service Improvement initiatives to ensure that goals are being met regarding the completion of each project and alignment with the organization’s needs.

What is the ITIL framework and processes?

The five stages of the ITIL service lifecycle represent a broad framework that provides IT departments and MSPs with guidelines for providing proper technological service to their organizations. This framework also helps ensure that IT departments and MSPs are in compliance of established service benchmarks.

The ITIL framework is also flexible to allow organizations to create service environments and processes tailored to its specific needs. The broader strokes that ITIL best practices are trying to provide essentially boil down to three key factors: managing change, incidents, and recurring problems. By keeping each of those three aspects in mind, MSPs will be able to provide proper services and support to help your customers meet their needs.