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ITIL: History, evolution and the differences between ITIL versions 3 and 4

ITIL: History, evolution and the differences between ITIL versions 3 and 4

ITIL: History, evolution and the differences between ITIL versions 3 and 4

What is ITIL®

ITIL® (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is used to provide a cohesive set of IT best practices that have been drawn from both public and private sectors across the globe.  It is a framework for IT service management that provides guidance to businesses and individuals on how to use IT to meet business needs and deliver value.   As a tool, ITIL® facilitates business change, transformation and progress by describing procedures, processes, tasks and checklists that are neither organisation nor technology specific, but that can be applied by either to establish a baseline from which to plan, implement and measure.  It is also a tool for demonstrating compliance and measuring improvement.

In terms of value, ITIL® is becoming an increasingly desirable best practice because of the speed at which IT is constantly developing.  An ITIL® course will allow candidates to obtain the knowledge necessary to navigate their way through the constantly changing technological advances, allowing them to be better equipped to manage resources and improve or optimise the product, service and delivery.  As such, ITIL® is a means of managing IT services, rather than managing a specific project.

History of ITIL®

In response to ever-growing dependence on IT the UK Government CCTA (Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency) developed a set of recommendations in the ‘80s.  It did so in recognition of the fact that without standard practices, both government agencies and private sector contracts were independently creating their own IT management practices.  The goal of ITIL® is to standardise these practices.

Evolution of ITIL®

1989: ITIL® was introduced to standardise IT Service Management

2001: ITIL® Version 2 provides a more uniform and usable structure for service support and delivery

2007: ITIL® Version 3 gives a broader look at IT services and adds guidelines on service strategy, design, transition and operation

2011: ITIL® 2011 expands upon and clarifies processes in Version 3

2019: ITIL® Version 4 adds practical guidance and draws connections between ITIL® and new approaches

ITIL® version 3 qualifications will remain valid and you can still take this course up until June 2020, but history lesson over, let’s now look at some of the main differences between this version and the new ITIL® version 4.  At present, these differences are only found at Foundation level, but there will be changes made to the higher qualifications throughout 2019.

So, what are the differences between ITIL® versions 3 and 4?

1) Processes become Practices: This change is intended to acknowledge frameworks such as project and risk management and provide guidance on how to integrate them with ITIL®.  Whilst both version 3 and version 4 cover services and service management, the latter replaces the 26 processes of version 3 with 34 practices that are now shared across the functions of general management, service management and technical management.  Version 4 also introduces the four dimensions (or perspectives) of service management.

2) The Four Dimensions:  In version 3 there were what were referred to as the four P’s of service management; People, Process, Partners and Products.  In version 4 these are repositioned as dimensions:

  • (The cultural dimension of) organisations and people
  • (The data dimension of) information and technology
  • (The relationship dimension of) partners and suppliers
  • (The working dimension of) value and processes

The four dimensions are a key part of version 4, the idea being that each one should be given specific focus when considering design, management and improvement of services.  These dimensions now combine information and technology and better reflect the whole set of things to be considered in terms of service design, management and improvement.  This places service management in a more strategic context because it now looks at development, operations, business relationships as well as holistic governance.

3) Service Value Chain (SVC): The lifecycle approach of version 3 has been replaced with the Service Value System of which the Service Value Chain is the centre piece.  The old lifecycle included 5 stages; service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation and continual service improvement (CSI).  The service value chain adds to this and provides an operation model that outlines the key activities required to respond to demand:

  • Planning
  • Improving
  • Engaging
  • Design and transition
  • Obtaining and building
  • Delivering and supporting

ITIL Service Value Chain

Image Source: AXELOS, ITIL Foundation ITIL 4 Edition (2019)

These activities can be combined in different sequences allowing an organisation to react more effectively and efficiently to changes.

4) Service Value System (SVS): Service management needs to work as a system, hence the new Service Value System of ITIL®4.  This system facilitates value co-creation (see ‘focus on value’) by showing how all the components and activities of an organisation work together for the creation of value.  Opportunity and demand are key areas in SVS as they are possibilities or options.  Not every opportunity, however, is going to be feasible.  Those that are feasible go through the SVS to deliver value to the intended stakeholder. This system is flexible and supports multiple combinations that allow organisations to adapt to change.  With all organisational governance, practices, principles and continual improvement working together the ultimate goal is achieved; that of value.

ITIL Service Value System

Image Source: AXELOS, ITIL Foundation ITIL 4 Edition (2019)


5) Guiding Principles: At the top of the SVS you will see ‘guiding principles’.  This is another change as these have now been refined and decreased from 9 to 7:

  1. Focus on value: The focus on value by every individual and team is aimed to eliminate or reduce anything that does not add value for the stakeholder whilst adding things that do. Providing value does not only mean for the customer but also for the organisation and the stakeholder and so, in version 4 the focus changes from merely delivering to co-creating.  Co-creation of value is where a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship is established between all relevant parties and is an essential element of value realisation.   It is about working together in order to deliver products and services that work well for all concerned.  ‘Value’ may mean different things to different stakeholder groups, so co-creation ensures that these different expectations are understood and met by everyone concerned.
  2. Start where you are: Build on the tools and skills that you already have and concentrate on improving them, rather than starting from scratch.
  3. Progress iteratively with feedback: Long complex projects are becoming a thing of the past as it has been recognised that it is better to deliver smaller projects in which regular iterations allow for earlier problem spotting and solving.
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility: It takes many people to deliver IT, making it all too easy for teams to have too narrow a focus on their own goals meaning that they can lose sight of the overall organisational goal. Collaboration across all teams can help prevent this and version 4 not only encourages collaboration but also promotes visibility that encourages organisations to work together as a whole rather than individual teams and collectively have the end goal in sight.
  5. Think and work holistically: Consider how everything fits together in the end-to-end value chain rather than optimising one process or activity that may affect the overall service and not always in a positive way.
  6. Keep it simple and practical: Take away everything you do not need so that you can focus on what is most important. Complexity is not only unnecessary but can be damaging so it is best to keep it simple and only do what needs to be done.
  7. Optimise and automate: Mundane repeatable activities should be automated so that people are free to perform tasks that cannot be automated.

Each of these principles have a value of their own but when used in combination with each other, they create many more benefits than as a stand-alone principle.

6) Continual Service Improvement: This has changed very slightly in that it is now referred to as Continual Improvement to show that it is not only the service that can be improved but the whole thing.

7) Optimise and Automate: Version 4 places more emphasis on automation and this helps IT individuals work in a more efficient manner as pressure on staff is reduced when mundane tasks can be automated leaving them free to focus on other things and thereby creating value.

8) Governance: This is now a key component in the SVS as without governance it is not always possible to deliver value.

As I stated earlier, these changes are only found in ITIL® version 4 Foundation level but there will be more changes made to the higher ITIL® qualifications throughout this year (and possibly later).  For now, however, these higher qualifications have been untouched and in my next post ITIL 4 Qualifications and the benefits of gaining them I will explain what these qualifications are and how they might benefit a candidate.


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