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A Brief History of ITIL

Are you struggling to make sense of what’s new in ITIL 4?

The cosmologist Carl Sagan said “You have to know the past to understand the present“—so to help understand where ITIL 4 is now and what this means to you, we’re looking back at how it evolved.

This article is part of our Making ITIL 4 Simple series—helping you learn and apply ITIL 4 concepts and practices quickly and easily.

ITIL 2 Processes

For those of you who have been in the ITSM industry for a long time, you will remember the ITIL 2 Service Delivery and Service Support volumes (sometimes known as the red book and the blue book). For those who are newer to ITSM, these were the two main books of ITIL 2, published in 2001.

A Brief History of ITIL - itil 2 books

There were other volumes launched as part of ITIL 2 (Application Management, The Business Perspective, ICT Infrastructure Management, Planning to Implement Service Management, Security Management, Software Asset Management), but they never really gained the same mainstream traction. The red and blue books became popular because they contained the core content that most people were interested in—how to better manage the main service management processes that represented the work that they were doing. They were the main challenges for managing IT services at that time:

Service Desk (Function) Service Level Management
Incident Management Availability Management
Problem Management Capacity Management
Change Management Financial Management for IT Services
Release Management IT Service Continuity
Configuration Management


Of all the ITIL 2 volumes, the blue and red ITIL books were probably most popular because they were at the very center of the ITIL 2 Framework (below) and also the primary focus for ITIL Foundation Certificate training.

A Brief History of ITIL - itil 2 framework

The ITIL 2 Framework

To a lot of people, the structure of the ITIL 2 Framework model didn’t make sense, so the core Service Support and Service Delivery processes became the default focus. These were the parts that people could understand and apply, fairly quickly. They contained descriptions of best practices processes and explained why they worked well.

ITIL 2 helped a lot of organizations improve efficiency and performance across service delivery and support. However, in hindsight it is clear that the way in which the ITIL 2 content was structured and presented was not optimal. Fundamentally, it lacked a recognizable structure, and the total body of knowledge was spread across too many (expensive) volumes. There was too much content for busy people to consume.

ITIL 2 to ITIL 3

ITIL 3 solved this problem by simplifying ITIL into a 5-part Service Lifecycle Model (5 books published in 2007). It presented an immediately-recognizable cradle-to-grave lifecycle structure on which to hang processes. It had a natural flow to it: business strategy creates a need for new technology-driven services; a number of capabilities are brought into play in a certain order to quickly create these services and bring them online. But there’s a problem here. It’s very “waterfall”—when the one thing that organization’s need today, more than anything else, is agility.

Strategy Management Service Catalog Management Transition Planning and Support Access Management Severn Step Improvement
Demand Management Availability Management Change Management Event Management
Service Portfolio Management Information Security Management Change Evaluation Service Request Fulfilment
Financial Management Service Level Management Release and Deployment Management Incident Management
Business Relationship Management Capacity Management Service Asset and Configuration Management Problem Management
Design Coordination Service Validation and Testing
Supplier Management Knowledge Management
IT Service Continuity


To counter this, Continual Service Improvement (CSI) was wrapped around everything in the lifecycle. This is the first point at which ITIL best practices shows a clear influence of external practices that didn’t grow up within the world of ITSM—in this case the Kaizen principle of continuous, small improvements applied quickly (versus big-bang changes which can take months or years to show benefits).

A Brief History of ITIL - itil 3 service lifecycle module

The ITIL 3 Service Lifecycle Model

But let’s talk about how the processes themselves changed from ITIL 2 to ITIL 3. For all intents and purposes, ITIL 2 was about the 10 Service Support and Service Delivery processes and the service desk function. ITIL 3 expanded the scope significantly and mapped a set of 26 new and old processes onto the appropriate phases of the service lifecycle.

So what was new to ITIL 3?

The big theme here was the appearance of a number of new non-technical “management” processes in the Service Strategy phase. Demand Management and Portfolio Management, for instance. Demand Management is more of a pro-active, eye-level-to-the-business approach than the basic, reactive, and operational queue management tools and techniques that evolved within the service desk silo to help keep control over incidents and service requests. Where the commonly adopted ITIL 2 processes were very internal to IT, ITIL 3 begins to introduce processes which involve strategic interaction with business leaders and stakeholders.

We also see Information Security Management included as a core component, not a separate volume as it was in ITIL 2. And the first appearance of a digital channel—the service catalog—in ITIL. Although the Service Catalog Management guidance in ITIL3 isn’t only about the interface with the customer, this is the first inclusion of multichannel service management in ITIL.

So, where ITIL 2 was (for most people) about a handful of operational processes (incident, problem, change, etc), ITIL 3 is much broader—with many new processes aimed at improving service planning and delivery activities which were conspicuously absent in the core of ITIL 2.

What wasn’t new to ITIL 3?

The core ITIL 2 processes were still in there: Incident Management, Problem, Change, Release, Configuration, Financial Management, Availability, Capacity, Service Continuity and Service Level Management—with some slight changes to their names. For example, Configuration Management became Service Asset and Configuration Management in ITIL 3.

ITIL 3 to ITIL 2011 Edition

ITIL 2011 was an update, not a new version. No completely new concepts were added. However, the documented practices around each of the processes were updated to better track best practice—as well as make the 5 volumes more consistent and cohesive.

ITIL 3 2011 Edition to ITIL 4

In ITIL 4, processes became practices, because capabilities are built on a number of elements—not just processes. The 4 Dimensions of ITIL 4 articulate what these elements are. Processes still feature as components of practices, but these are complemented by organizations & people, information & technology, partners & suppliers, and value streams & processes. If these seem somewhat familiar, it’s because they appeared in earlier versions of ITIL in a more primitive form: People, Processes, Products, Partners (“The 4 P’s”).

The 4 Dimensions of ITIL 4: Information & Technology - 4 dimensions of service management

The 4 Dimensions of ITIL 4

So let’s look at the ITIL 4 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


Where ITIL 3 had a very obvious service life cycle structure—over which the processes were clearly positioned—ITIL 4 has a new value-oriented Service Value System (SVS) as the main framework architecture:

What is the ITIL 4 Service Value System?

The ITIL Service Value System

We see Practices appear in the main body of the SVS model, but it is difficult to see what this means (and where specific practices are applied) until we drill-down into the Service Value Chain part of the ITIL 4 model (which is the operational model where work happens):

Confused About the ITIL 4 Service Value Chain? - service value chain

The ITIL Service Value Chain

It is at this level that we start to see where the ITIL 4 practices “live”—although like ITIL 3, some practices are only associated with one area of the Service Value Chain and others are associated with more than one. For example, Availability Management contributes primarily to the Plan activity, whereas Business Analysis contributes to the Plan, Engage, Design & Transition, and Obtain/Build activities. We will look at each process and where it applies to the Service Value Chain later in this series of articles—so subscribe to our blog to make sure you get those.

The processes in the ITIL 2011 edition haven’t simply been carried over to ITIL 4 as updated practices:

  • Some practices are new. They didn’t appear in ITIL 3. For example, Business Analysis and Organizational Change Management are new to ITIL 4. Most of these practices originated in other areas of business management but are now deemed to be of significant value to running IT services.
  • Some practices have had only minor updates for ITIL 4.
  • Some have slightly different names.
  • Some ITIL 3 processes have been split into new ITIL 4 practices. For example, Service Asset & Configuration Management (SACM) in ITIL 3 has become two practices: Service Configuration Management and IT Asset Management.
  • Some ITIL 3 processes have been broken up and merged into other ITIL 4 practices—so they no longer exist as stand-alone practices. For example, Demand Management in ITIL 3 is not a stand-alone ITIL 4 practice. Instead, Demand Management activities are woven into the relevant practices (such as Service Desk, Service Request Management, Capacity Management and Availability Management). We will discuss this more in a future article.

Follow the ITIL 4 Series

In this series of articles, we will be looking at each of the ITIL 4 practices in more detail to examine what is new about them and how you can quickly apply these new practices to boost performance, reduce stress, and make a difference to your organization.

ITIL Solutions

We will also be looking at the practical application of ITIL 4 practices and how they are supported by technology. For example, how a service catalog helps support Demand Management, and how AI fits into Incident Management.


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