The new ITIL 4 Practices – and what they mean in practice

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) in its new version 4 describes an operating model for the provision of services. The contents, previously known as ITIL processes, are now explained in the form of 34 "Practices" based on many practical examples.

The individual practice documents are very comprehensive, some of them exceeding 50 pages. Compared to the previous ITIL version, there is identical, modified and also completely new content. The following blog post focuses on the 13 widely used practices and summarizes the differences to the processes described in ITIL v3/2011. It is an excerpt from a comprehensive white paper that USU wrote together with ITIL expert Stephen Mann.

Recommendations for 13 widely used processes

The focus is on changes and additions from processes that are already in use today in many IT organizations. In these Practices there are a number of suggestions that motivate organizations to review the status quo and identify potential for improvement. A good example of this is the inclusion of swarming in incident management. This type of change offers organizations the opportunity to question the status quo and whether the additions to ITIL 4 will be beneficial to them.

"The new practices of ITIL 4 do not only describe the current status quo. They also offer a wide range of suggestions and recommendations for IT organizations that have already reached a high level of maturity.”

1. Change Enablement

The name was changed from "Change Management" to "Change Enablement". The content takes into account the needs of modern organizations in terms of greater agility and the effects of DevOps and extensive automation options on the planning and implementation of changes. Further adaptations allow an increase in the frequency and speed of changes to meet the increased demands of the business side for faster innovation.

2. Continual Improvement

The name has changed from “continual service improvement” to encourage the improvement of more than just services – because improvement could equally apply to the organizational structure, practices/processes, and employed technologies. The new guidance also emphasizes that continual improvement is more than simply a process and associated roles. That there’s instead a need for a culture of continual improvement, with the PDF offering advice on how best to develop this.

usu_itil_teil_prozessgrafikFig. „Management of continual improvement initiatives” (Copyright © AXELOS Limited 2020)

3. Deployment Management

As with release management below, this was broken out of ITIL v3/2011’s release and deployment management to reflect the differences between releases and deployments. Put simply, deployment is “moving the technology around.” This is why deployment management is a technology management practice not a general management or service management practice. Along with the above changes to the change enablement, release management, and service validation and testing practices, ITIL 4’s deployment management practice is aimed at making your organization’s IT-related changes “better, faster, and cheaper” (plus safer).

4. Incident Management

As already mentioned, the concept of swarming has been introduced. This is where incident handling is collaboration-based. There are no tiered support groups and thus there’s no escalation between support groups. Instead, someone owns an issue through to its resolution, with them bringing in the right people to help as needed. The benefits of swarming are varied. For example, faster and cheaper issue resolution, more engaged and motivated IT support personnel, and better employee/customer experiences and business outcomes.

5. Knowledge Management

ITIL 4 introduces new knowledge management concepts such as “absorptive capacity.” This is an organization’s “ability to recognize the value of new information, to embed it into an existing knowledge system, and to apply it to the achievement of business outcomes.”

6. Monitoring and Event Management

An obvious complement here is “monitoring” because it was previously just the “event management” process. While the ITIL v3/2011 Service Operation publication did offer a range of monitoring-related guidance, it was spread throughout the book. Now it’s much easier for ITSM practitioners to access and consume monitoring guidance with ITIL 4. Plus, of course, the best practice now better reflects the state of the art in monitoring and event management, especially in tooling and the advancements that AI and automation bring.

7. Problem Management

ITIL 4 has reintroduced error control and problem control. There’s also more emphasis on incident prevention not just on “the cure” post-issues. With problem identification both reactive and proactive. ITSM practitioners will now find that the problem management guidance is now a more complete, and useful, ITIL/ITSM reference than it has ever been.

8. Release Management

Now separated out from ITIL v3/2011’s release and deployment management process, this takes on board the successes of DevOps and automation. The split of release management from deployment management is important, with release management about making new and changed things available to users and not the deployment of the technology. But, as with deployment management, it’s still very much about IT-related change being able to “move at the speed of business.”

White Paper

The practical impact of ITIL 4

You want to know more about the ITIL 4 practices? This article is an excerpt from an extensive white paper that can be downloaded for free here:


9. Service Catalog Management

This is similar to the later ITIL v3/2011 Service Design guidance. However, there are two important changes to note. First, the guidance now refers to services and service offerings, i.e. the bundling of service-components to make the service catalog entries business-focused rather than service-provider-focused. For example, everything a homeworker usually needs could be a service offering rather than being listed as individual services. This is referenced from the outset in stated purpose, “…to provide a single source of consistent information on all services and service offerings, and to ensure that it is available to the relevant audience.” The second is the concept of the (service) request catalog, with this a consumer view of the service catalog. Although, and it will be wanted by many ITSM practitioners, there’s no mention of self-service best practices in this guidance PDF.

10. Service Configuration Management

This practice focuses on the capturing and checking of configuration item (CI) data. So, it doesn’t call out the more modern practice of using the configuration management database (CMDB) or configuration management system (CMS) to drive change. With this instead covered in the High-velocity IT Managing Professional publication in terms of “infrastructure as code.”

Hence, the IT infrastructure reflects the CMDB (or CMS) rather than the traditional view of the CMDB reflecting the infrastructure. Where changes created within the CMDB are automatically enacted within the infrastructure and, when there’s a difference between the two, the CMDB’s view of the world prevails.

11. Service Desk

Service desk is no longer an ITIL function, as it was in ITIL v3/2011, and about incident management, request management, etc. Instead, the ITIL 4 service desk practice is focused on engagement with end users and delivering better employee/customer experiences and business outcomes. There’s a new emphasis on omnichannel support within this practice and “query” is offered as a new ITIL term, with this something that’s presented by an end user before it’s categorized. This is reflected in the practice’s three processes: user query handling, communicating to users, and service desk optimization.

12. Service Level Management

In ITIL v3/2011 service level management was overly focused on warranty. In ITIL 4, there’s now more balance relative to utility and experience, including the expectations on monitoring and reporting on these. ITIL v3/2011 also assumed that every service was tailored (to the customer) with the service level management aspects tailored too. Now, ITIL 4 recognizes the need for service level management capabilities for “out-of-the-box” services where tailoring is not permitted. For example, cloud services or outsourcing arrangements for smaller organizations. The new service level management guidance is, as a result, far more reflective of real-world needs and the operations of exemplar organizations.

13. Service Request Management

The new service request management guidance is more practical than that in the academic-feeling ITIL v3/2011 Service Operation publication. A key addition is the (service) request catalog, as also covered in the service catalog management practice. Plus, there’s an emphasis on the need for more automation, reflecting both the ITIL 4 guiding principle and the increased investments in workflow automation and service orchestration within ITSM tools. As with the service catalog management guidance, there’s no self-service success guidance other than the statement that “Some service requests can be completely fulfilled by automation, from submission to closure, allowing for a complete self-service experience.”


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