ITIL Jargon Explained

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ITIL, the service management best practice framework, comes with its own language. Some of it is easy to understand, but some is not. For example, the use of "problem" to mean the cause of multiple incidents can be confusing when an "end-user" reports their problem (which ITIL wants to call an "incident"). To help, this blog looks at some of the common ITIL 4 terminology and explains it in plain English.

60 key ITIL terms explained

There are various versions of ITIL. This blog looks at some of the terms included in the ITIL 4 Foundation glossary that's associated with the latest version of the ITIL framework released in 2019. This ITIL version is focused on service management, but the explanations below are tailored to IT service management (ITSM).

Availability - that an IT service or other configuration item (see later) can perform its agreed function when required.

Availability management - this ITIL 4 practice aims to ensure services deliver the agreed levels of availability to meet customer needs. It's one of the ITIL practices where organizations are likely already adopting some industry best practices but aren't following the formal guidance in ITIL 4.

Business relationship manager - a role responsible for maintaining good customer relationships. Business relationship management is now subsumed within the ITIL 4 relationship management practice.

Capacity planning - creating a plan that manages the resources required to meet the customer demand for services. This is part of the ITIL 4 capacity management and performance practice.

Capacity management and performance - this ITIL 4 practice aims to ensure IT services meet business requirements in terms of performance and cost.

Change - the addition, modification, or removal of anything that would affect IT services. Guidance on change handling is provided in the ITIL 4 change enablement practice.

Change enablement - this ITIL 4 practice offers guidance on how organizations should ensure that change-related risks are properly assessed and on controls related to change management that maximize the probability of change success.

Change model - a repeatable approach to handling a change. There are different change models for handling different change types. For example, standard changes (see later).

Change schedule - a calendar that shares planned changes so that all interested parties know. This includes assessing future changes and how they sit with the planned changes.

Configuration item (CI) - any component that needs managing in order to deliver an IT service. CI management is included in the ITIL 4 service configuration management practice.

Configuration management database (CMDB) - a database that holds information related to CIs (configuration records), including the relationships between the CIs and the IT services that rely on them.

Continual improvement - there are many available definitions of improvement; in ITIL 4 Foundation, it's defined as "A deliberately introduced change that results in increased value for one or more stakeholders." In ITIL 4, the continual improvement practice guides organizations with their day-to-day improvement efforts.

Critical success factor (CSF) - the elements of projects or business-as-usual (BAU) operations that are vital to their success.

Customer experience - the perceptions customers have of an IT service provider and their IT services.

Deliver and support - the ITIL service value chain (see later) activity concerned with ensuring that IT services are delivered and supported in line with customer needs.

Deployment - moving any IT service component into any environment.

Disaster recovery plans - defined and tested plans for recovering IT services following a catastrophic event.

Emergency change - a change that needs to be implemented as soon as possible. The "need for speed" usually means the change is fast-tracked with increased risk and retrospective activities.

Escalation - seeking specialist help or a higher level of assistance or decision-making to progress an ITSM task. Escalations usually happen on the IT service desk, with issues passed to others for swifter resolution when needed.

Event - a change of IT infrastructure state that's significant for an IT service or CI. Guidance on handling events is part of the ITIL 4 monitoring and event management practice.

Four dimensions of service management - four critical perspectives when creating customer value. The four dimensions are organizations and people, information and technology, partners and suppliers, and value streams and processes.

Guiding principles - the seven ITIL guiding principles are recommendations, such as "start where you are," that guide an organization in all circumstances.

Incident - an unplanned interruption or quality reduction of an IT service. Guidance on handling incidents is found in the ITIL 4 incident management and service desk practices (see later).

Incident management - this practice aims to minimize the negative impact of incidents on business operations. It's usually the first ITIL 4 management practice adopted by organizations and the one most employed by organizations (along with the service request management and service desk practices (see later)).

Information security management - the ITIL 4 practice relates to managing the corporate risks associated with information confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

IT asset - a financially valuable component that contributes to product or service delivery.

IT asset management - this ITIL 4 practice offers guidance across the full lifecycle of IT assets. It covers various aspects of asset management, including maximizing value, controlling costs, managing risks, supporting asset-related decision-making, and meeting regulatory and contractual requirements.

IT service - a service that's based on technology use. ITSM is the management of these IT services in a way that meets the needs of the business.

Key performance indicator (KPI) - a metric used to evaluate factors crucial to success.

Knowledge management - this ITIL 4 practice is focused on how an organization can best maintain and improve its use of knowledge and information across the spectrum of ITIL practices and processes.

Major incident - an incident that has a significant impact on business operations. For example, if there is an office-wide loss of internet connectivity.

Mean time to restore service (MTRS) - a metric that shows how quickly, after failure, an IT service is restored.

Monitoring and event management - this ITIL 4 practice relates to observing the CIs and IT services in the IT infrastructure. Identified issues and changes are logged and reported as events, with further action taken when necessary. AIOps is an extension of this that employs artificial intelligence (AI) to improve analytics and insights, speed of detection (and potentially automated remediation), and decision-making.

Obtain/build - the ITIL service value chain (see later) activity that helps ensure service components meet agreed specifications and are available when needed.

Organizational change management - guidance and tools and techniques for helping to ensure that the people impact of change is recognized and effectively managed.

Problem - the cause of one or more incidents.

Problem management - this ITIL 4 practice identifies the root causes of problems (using root-cause analysis techniques) and provides solutions, workarounds (see later), and known errors to minimize their impact. It's ultimately aimed at reducing the volume of repeat incidents and their impact on the business (and IT service desk workloads).

Production (or live) environment - the controlled technology environment used to deliver IT services to service consumers.

Project management - this ITIL 4 practice is focused on successfully delivering projects. Despite the name, the project management practice also covers program management. It could have been called the program and project management practice.

Release - a version of an IT service or CI (or CIs) that's made available for use (and deployment).

Release management - this ITIL 4 practice offers guidance for managing, planning, scheduling, and controlling releases.

Request catalog - a service catalog (see later) view, including service attributes, that's made available to end-users. The service catalog items shown are usually what the end-user can request.

Request for change (RFC) - a formal description of a proposed change that can be assessed for the potential risks and impact. It's one of the entry points for the change enablement practice.

Risk management - the ITIL 4 practice guidance related to identifying, assessing, and effectively handling risks.

Service catalog - a detailed list of the IT services an IT service provider offers to employees or customers.

Service catalog management - this ITIL 4 practice relates to providing a single source of information on the IT services available. It supports the service request catalog (see later).

Service configuration management - this ITIL 4 practice helps ensure that accurate and reliable information is available related to the provided IT services and the CIs they use.

Service desk (the ITIL 4 management practice) - the ITIL 4 service desk practice provides guidance on how to run an IT service desk. It aligns with the incident and service request management practices (see later), emphasizing the importance of engagement with end-users.

Service desk - the point of communication between the IT service provider and end-users. The communication can be via multiple channels, including telephone, email, walk-up, chat(bots), and self-service portals.

Service level agreement (SLA) - an agreement between the IT service provider and the client that defines the required IT service(s) and service levels.

Service level management - this ITIL 4 practice relates to the interactions between the service provider and service receiver required to create fit-for-purpose IT services. This includes the setting of business-focused targets for service performance and the creation of SLAs.

Service portfolio - the complete set of services employed by a customer or provided by an IT service provider, i.e. both parties can have service portfolios.

Service request - an end-user request for information or advice, a standard change (see later), or a service.

Service request management - this ITIL 4 practice offers guidance for handling end-user requests. It includes best practice processes, which have traditionally focused on efficiency and effectiveness, and brings in the need for IT service providers to be focused on the employee (or end-user) experiences offered.

Service value chain - an operating model that contains the six key activities required to create value with a product or service (please note that this term isn't included in the ITIL 4 Foundation glossary). It's part of the ITIL service value system that visualizes how different ITSM components - the service value chain, management practices, governance, continual improvement, and ITIL guiding principles - work together.

Software development and management - this practice was new in ITIL 4. It extends ITSM to include the discipline of application development and DevOps practices. Ultimately, "ensuring that applications meet stakeholder needs in terms of functionality, reliability, maintainability, compliance, and auditability."

Standard change - a pre-authorized, low-risk change that's proven, in terms of the potential risks and impact, and well understood.

User (or end-user) - a person who uses an IT service provider's services. They could be an employee or external to the organization. User can also apply to members of the IT organization, with them users of IT management tools, including the corporate ITSM tools.

Value - "the perceived benefits, usefulness, or importance of something." It's important to appreciate that different business stakeholders will have perceptions of what value is.

Workaround - a temporary solution that minimizes the impact of incidents or a problem that has yet to be resolved. While hopefully temporary, a workaround might be used in the long term because the costs associated with fixing the root cause(s) of a problem are prohibitive.

Hopefully, these 60 ITIL term definitions are helpful. They provide a common lexicon for talking with others, whether inside or external to your organization, about ITIL 4 ITSM best practices and the key components.

About the author

Stephen Mann

Stephen is Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Stephen previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Omdia and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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