Defining Industry Terms: ITSM, ITIL, ITIL4

What is ITIL 4?

ITIL is a service management best practice framework provided by AXELOS – “a joint venture company, created in 2013 by the Cabinet Office on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) in the United Kingdom and Capita plc, to manage, develop and grow the Global Best Practice portfolio.”

ITIL has traditionally been used by IT organizations and, until the 2019 ITIL 4 update,it was predominantly focused on IT service management (ITSM) best practice. However, since the release of ITIL v3 (2011 Edition), the growing adoption of enterprise service management strategies – “the use of ITSM principles and capabilities in other business areas to improve performance, service, and outcomes” – has in part caused a greater focus on ITIL applicability to, and use by, other business functions.

AXELOS defines ITIL – in the ITIL 4 Foundation publication – as both:

“…the most widely used guidance in the world on IT service management” (on the Welcome page)

“Best-practice guidance for IT service management” (in the Glossary)

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

Although ITIL 4 is then described as a “service management framework,” with service management used in the ITIL 4 Foundation publication and the use of ITSM restricted to only when necessary.

What is the difference between ITIL and ITSM?

When ITIL was purely focused on ITSM, the easiest way to describe the difference between ITIL and ITSM was with an analogy. That it’s like comparing elephants and mammals – all elephants are mammals, but not all mammals are elephants.

So, ITIL is ITSM, but not all ITSM is ITIL.

However, with ITIL 4 taking a “service management” rather than ITSM point of view the situation is now slightly more complicated to explain with this analogy. In that ITIL is now service management, not just ITSM, best practice. And thus “ITIL is ITSM” is no longer exactly true – it’s service management.

Maybe, the phrase needs changing to:

ITIL is servicemanagement, but not all service management is ITIL. Plus, not all service management is ITSM.

And the mention of other ITSM and service management approaches is sufficient to show that ITSM has a life outside of ITIL. For instance, through the use of one or more of:

  • COBIT“…a framework for the governance and management of enterprise information and technology (I&T), aimed at the whole organization.”
  • ISO/IEC 20000 – this is the international standard for service management.
  • IT4IT – this is marketed as a standard, and focuses on defining, sourcing, consuming, and managing IT services (across the value stream).
  • VeriSM“…a service management approach, specifically tailored to support organizations to help them succeed in the world of digital services.”

The above are listed in alphabetical order rather than popularity.

Or ITSM can be employed simply through the use of common sense and logic rather than the adoption of any of these, or other, formal approaches.

A Very Brief History of ITIL

ITIL was formerly known as the “IT Infrastructure Library.” However, the use of this term is now frowned upon by AXELOS, especially since ITIL 4 uses the term “service management” rather than ITSM to highlight the applicability of ITIL outside of IT. With ITIL now simply meaning “ITIL.”

ITIL was born in 1989 and through the 1990s it grew in popularity with IT organizations seeking a better way to deliver and support IT (services).In many ways, back then, ITIL was very much the documentation of what was already being done in the “best” IT organizations. It was sometimes claimed to be “documented common sense.” It was also the only available guidance for IT service delivery and support teams that wanted – or needed – to be better.

In 2001, the second version of ITIL was released – this is now commonly called ITIL v2.

In 2007, the third version of ITIL was published – with this commonly called ITIL v3. In 2011, ITIL v3 was “refreshed” with the resulting publication called ITIL 2011, although more recently this has been referred to as ITIL v3 (2011 Edition).

In 2019, ITIL 4 appeared, starting with the Foundation publication and exam.

How Does ITIL 4 Differ from ITIL v3?

There are many changes between ITIL v3 and ITIL 4, even though ITIL 4 keeps much of the ITIL best practice that has helped IT organizations for up to three decades. Here’s a quick list, with each of these covered in more detail in the section below:

  1. ITIL 4 talks to service management not ITSM
  2. ITIL 4 places a heavy emphasis on “the co-creation of value”
  3. There’s now an ITIL service value system (SVS)
  4. There’s a new service value chain within the SVS
  5. The ITIL v3 processes are now ITIL 4 management practices
  6. Governance has been brought to the forefront
  7. ITIL Practitioner’s guiding principles have been folded into ITIL 4
  8. Continual service improvement (CSI) is now continual improvement

The 4 Ps of ITIL v3 are replaced with the four dimensions of service management.

The Key Elements of ITIL 4

1.  A Service Management Focus

As mentioned earlier, ITIL talks in the main to “service management” not ITSM – with the term “ITSM” only used when essential. Some might see this as semantics, but it’s actually recognition that ITIL can be used outside of IT, i.e. by other business functions such as human resources (HR) or facilities. Or by service-focused business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) companies and their service delivery and support capabilities.

2. The Co-Creation of Value

The emphasis on value co-creation is encompassed not only in the SVS and service value chain described below, but also in the ITIL 4 definition of a service:

“A means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.”

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

Which is similar but different to the ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) definition:

“A means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.”

Source:ITIL 2011 Glossary

With ITIL changing “delivering value” to “value co-creation.”

3. The Service Value System

As shown in the diagram below, the ITIL 4 SVS is comprised of a number of important parts, including:

  • The service value chain
  • Management practices
  • Governance
  • Guiding principles
  • Continual improvement.

The ITIL 4 Service Value System

Infographic of ITIL4 Service Value System.Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

The SVS represents how these different ITIL 4 components and activities can work together, in any type of organization, to facilitate value co-creation through IT-enabled services.

Each of these parts is explained below.

4. The Service Value Chain

The ITIL 4 service value chain is best described using AXELOS’s words:

“Incorporated within the SVS is the service value chain. The service value chain is the set of interconnected activities that when sequenced in the right way provides an operating model for the creation, delivery, and continual improvement of services. The service value chain allows an organization to define a number of variants of these sequences known as value streams, of which the v3 service lifecycle is one such example.”

Source: AXELOS

The ITIL 4 Service Value Chain

Infographic of ITIL4 Service Value Chain.Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

The six activities with the service value chain are:

  1. Plan –“The purpose of the plan value chain activity is to ensure a shared understanding of the vision, current status, and improvement direction for all four dimensions and all products and services.”
  2. Engage –“The purpose of the engage value chain activity is to provide a good understanding of stakeholder needs, transparency, and continual engagement and good relationships with all stakeholders.”
  3. Design and transition –“The purpose of the design and transition value chain activity is to ensure that products and services continually meet stakeholder expectations for quality, costs, and time to market.”
  4. Obtain/build –“The purpose of the obtain/ build value chain activity is to ensure that service components are available when and where they are needed, and meet agreed specifications.”
  5. Deliver and support –“The purpose of the deliver and support value chain activity is to ensure that services are delivered and supported according to agreed specifications and stakeholders’ expectations.”
  6. Improve –“The purpose of the improve value chain activity is to ensure continual improvement of products, services, and practices across all value chain activities and the four dimensions of service management.”

Please note that this is not a linear relationship –a particular value steam might involve “doubling back” through a previously passed through activity – and each of the above activity purpose statements is taken from the ITIL 4 Foundation publication.

5. The ITIL 4 Management Practices

The 26 ITIL v3 processes have been replaced by 34 ITIL 4 management practices – with these management practices split into three groupings:

  • 14 general managementpractices
  • 17 service managementpractices
  • 3technical management practices.

Both ITIL v3 processes and ITIL 4 practices are shown in the tables below.


The 26 ITIL v3 Processes

Service Strategy Service Design Service Transition Service Operation
Strategy management for IT services Design coordination Transition planning and support Event management
Service portfolio management Service level management Change evaluation Incident management
Demand management Service catalog management Change management Request fulfillment
Financial management for IT services Availability management Release and deployment management Problem management
Business relationship management Capacity management Service validation and testing Access management
Supplier management Service asset and configuration management
IT service continuity management Knowledge management
  Information security management
Continual Service Improvement (CSI)


The 34 ITIL 4 Management Practices

General Management Practices Service Management Practices Technical Management Practices
Architecture management Availability management Deployment management
Continual improvement Business analysis Infrastructure and platform management
Information security management Capacity and performance management Software development and management
Knowledge management Change control  
Measurement and reporting Incident management
Organizational change management IT asset management  
Portfolio management Monitoring and event management
Project management Problem management
Relationship management Release management
Risk management Service catalog management
Service financial management Service configuration management
Strategy management Service continuity management
Supplier management Service design
Workforce and talent management Service desk
Service level management
Service request management
Service validation and testing

In addition to the process-to-practice change and regrouping, some practices have new names while other practices are new. Examples of the former are:

  • Continual improvement (previously continual service improvement)
  • Capacity and performance management (previously capacity management)
  • Change control (previously change management)
  • Deployment management (previously release and deployment management)
  • Monitoring and event management (previously event management).

Whereas the new management practices include:

  • Architecture management
  • Organizational change management
  • Workforce and talent management
  • IT asset management

Software development and management

6. Governance

The inclusion of governance in the SVS is a sign of its significance in modern ITSM (and service management). ITIL 4 calls out three key governance-related activities:

  1. Evaluate – with an organization’s governing body regularly evaluating whether the organization is changing in line with stakeholder needs and external forces.
  2. Direct –where the governing body assigns the responsibility for strategy and policy creation and execution.
  3. Monitor –where the governing body monitors the performance of the organization (including its practices, products, and services).

Importantly, and in the words of the ITIL 4 Foundation book:

“…the service value chain and the organization’s practices work in line with the direction given by the governing body.”

7. Guiding principles

The nine ITIL guiding principles introduced in the ITIL Practitioner Guidance in 2016 have been reimagined into a new set of seven guiding principles in ITIL 4:

  1. Focus on value
  2. Start where you are
  3. Progress iteratively with feedback
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility
  5. Think and work holistically
  6. Keep it simple and practical
  7. Optimize and automate

With the introduction of the seventh principle – optimize and automate – the largest change from the previous nine. This is described by ITIL 4 as:

“Resources of all types, particularly human resources, should be used to their best effect. Eliminate anything that is truly wasteful and use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of. Human intervention should only happen where it really contributes value.”

You can read more about the possibilities of automation (and machine learning) in this blog: “ITIL 4 Points to the Need for More AI and Automation in ITSM.”

8. Continual Improvement

While the move from continual service improvement to continual improvement might seem like a small change, it’s important because it recognizes that improvements can relate to factors other than services. For instance, operations (including the organizational structure, processes, and technologies) and performance.

There is also a change to the continual improvement model, with the addition of an extra step to the ITIL v3 CSI model – “Take action.”

9. The Four Dimensions of Service Management

Earlier versions of ITIL talked to the importance of “people, process, and technology” in ITSM. This was then superseded in ITIL v3 with the 4 Ps – people, process, product (technology), and partners. ITIL 4 has now changed the 4 Ps to what it calls “the four dimensions of service management.” These are shown in the diagram below:

The Four Dimensions of Service Management

Infographic of ITIL4 4 dimensions Service Value System.

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

If you look carefully you can see that it’s a decedent of the 4 Ps:

  1. Organizations and people
  2. Information and technology
  3. Partners and suppliers
  4. Value streams and processes.