"ITIL v3 vs. ITIL 4: Much Ado About...?"

What's new and changed with the move from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4

March 12 . 06 mins read

In the late 16th century, William Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing. The title is a play on words because "noting" - which is easily mistaken in both written and spoken words for "nothing" - was used colloquially to mean "gossip" or "rumor" in the Early Modern English of the Shakespearean era. The plot revolves around two romantic pairings - one couple deceived into professing love for one another, the other couple dealing with matters of infidelity.

Over four centuries later, throughout 2017 and 2018, many of my esteemed colleagues in IT Service Management (ITSM) were deeply engaged in what was expected to be a major rewrite of the ITIL framework. Because my career before transitioning to IT Service Operations included two decades in business, I engaged in long and wide-ranging conversations with those involved in the rewrite. My business perspective helped them grasp what IT service consumers want to see from IT service delivery and service design that would most contribute to achieving those business needs. After months of deep collaborative conversations with multiple ITIL4 authors, my hopes for a truly transformative framework were high.

Then, in February 2019, the ITIL4 framework was released... and as is often the case when one's expectations are high, my reaction was decidedly mixed. Despite hours upon hours of conversations around key concepts like customer experience and business value, the revamped framework fell somewhat short of the expected mark.

So, reflecting on the last five years and numerous ITIL 4 implementations, it's time to assess what ITIL dimensions changed from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4. In that regard, let's begin by reviewing the key changes introduced in the revision:

  • Integration of modern digital infrastructure
  • Changes to Guiding Principles and Processes/Practices
  • Addition of the Service Value System
  • Incorporation of closed-loop customer feedback

Dissecting each of these can help better understand the impact of the ITIL4 release and how it may have advanced ITSM beyond its predecessor, ITIL v3.

Modern Digital Infrastructure

What was new: ITIL 4 ushered in a greater focus on service design that aligns with modern infrastructure, cloud computing, and more collaborative organizations. Digital transformation entered the business lexicon in the 2010s, preceding the ITIL4 release by five or more years. As organizations focused on transforming their infrastructure, strategic leaders realized that they needed a new vocabulary and updated methods of managing service delivery that superseded the provisioning of services on more traditional infrastructure. It also integrated Agile, Lean, and DevOps methodologies, commonly used in progressive organizations.

Impact: While it was a necessary - even overdue - step for ITIL to reinvent itself for greater unity with the modern digital world, the reality is that digital transformation was already well underway before the update's release. ITIL4 helps to lay a foundation for the way IT professionals should view their role - one of managing services rather than following processes. Yet, five years on, the reality is that many IT practitioners remain rooted in the process-driven approach of the ITIL v3 framework.

Met with somewhat more success is how ITIL4 embraces modern methodologies. Its ability to embrace and incorporate Agile, Lean, and DevOps culture is a watershed for ITIL4. For a framework like ITIL to maintain relevance, it must not simply acknowledge but also embrace methodologies that enjoy wide global adoption.

Guiding Principles and Process/Practices

What was new: The nine guiding principles of ITIL v3 were contracted into seven guiding principles of ITIL4 - but not substantially changed. The 26 ITIL v3 Processes were reimagined, realigned, and expanded into 34 ITIL4 Practices.

Impact: Results of the changes to the guiding principles and processes/practices have been mixed. Consolidating the guiding principles from nine to seven has had little lasting impact over the past five years - except perhaps for making it easier to memorize them for test-taking purposes. Conversely, while many (including me) initially denigrated renaming "processes" to "practices" as nothing more than a marketing ploy, the reality is much deeper and more nuanced. Whereas ITIL v3 processes described roles, responsibilities, and associated activities, ITIL 4 practices instead describe organizational capabilities. For those organizations that have grasped this difference, the results of ITIL 4 have been much better received. Yet this nuance has mostly been lost for organizations with a long history deeply rooted in earlier versions of ITIL - particularly the venerable ITIL v3.

Service Value System (SVS)

What was new: The largest leap forward with ITIL 4 was the introduction of co-creation of value. The central concept is that all activities of an organization should work together to create value via IT-enabled services. This is represented by the SVS, which comprises the Service Value Chain (SVC), ITIL 4 practices, ITIL 4 guiding principles, KPIs (or controls and metrics), and continual improvement.

Impact: Where ITIL 4 truly broke the mold is forsaking its predecessor versions' lifecycle approach in favor of a value-driven approach. Central to this groundbreaking change is adjusting the mindset of IT being a mere enabler of an organization's products and services to being a full participant in those products and services. Inextricably tied to the advent of always-on personal computing, there's almost no element of any product or service today that does not include a technical element. Focusing on outcomes rather than mere outputs is the true game-changing aspect of ITIL4. Yet five years on, many IT teams continue to struggle with making this transition and often fail to effectively quantify and communicate how they serve as a value-center rather than a cost-center.

Customer Feedback

What was new: ITIL 4 Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value delves deeply into the Customer Journey for the first time. It details seven steps (Explore, Engage, Offer, Agree, Onboard, Co-create, and Realize) that help IT service providers to gather key customer insights and incorporate them into service delivery. This approach draws heavily on two additional methodologies external to ITIL - Business Relationship Management (BRM) and Total Customer Experience (TCX). The BRM approach focuses on having embedded resources capable of effectively bridging a line of business with the technical teams. Meanwhile, TCX focuses on the end-to-end customer journey at every touchpoint before, during, and after interaction, including digital experience, sentiment analytics, and personalization.

Impact: Here again, results have been mixed over the last five years. Finding and maintaining effective Business Relationship Managers has been challenging as they are unicorns. The ability to grasp and communicate with non-technical lines of business resources and with technical teams means the demand far outstrips the supply. As such, the BRM element has yet to achieve its potential.

Meanwhile, recent history has witnessed a heavy emphasis on TCX. The proliferation of Customer Experience (CX) programs and practitioners has grown exponentially in the last decade. The ability to gather data from various sources, capture feedback from service consumers, develop journey maps, build user personas, and use these to develop personalized service can dramatically improve customer perceptions of service. CX practitioners and the development of Experience Level Agreements are increasingly viewed as key elements of service delivery success.

Notably, many of these concepts were foreshadowed in the late ITIL v3 era intermediate-level "ITIL Practitioner" courseware. Introduced in 2016, ITIL Practitioner positioned nine Guiding Principles as the foundation of a culture of continuous improvement. Practitioner guidance began to lean in (pun intended) on other methodologies - like Lean, Agile, and DevOps. It emphasized the importance of involving and communicating with service consumers via the practice of organizational change management. It also stressed the importance of metrics and measurements through critical success factors and key performance indicators, which, as value metrics, went well beyond traditional service level agreements.

In Summary

In the final analysis, ITIL 4 advanced ITSM from ITIL v3 in several ways - modern digital infrastructure, practices over processes, focusing on value, and customer feedback and participation. In essence, ITIL4 was more evolutionary than revolutionary - a change of philosophical approach rather than a full rewrite. Where ITIL v3 focuses on how service is delivered, ITIL 4 shifts the paradigm to why it is. Most of the changes introduced have value but were, in fact, presaged a few years before ITIL 4 with the release of ITIL Practitioner.

So, much like one couple in the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing, ITIL4 held the promise of something that business-minded, value-driven ITSM practitioners could love. In fact, many of the best and brightest minds in the field dedicated themselves for years to authoring something they could cherish well into the future. In so doing, they prematurely professed their love of what was projected to be a game-changing framework. Yet, like the other couple in the comedic romp, cracks quickly appeared in the relationship as the promise of what was to come fell short of the truth.

About the author

Doug Rabold

2022 & 2023 HDI Top 25 Thought Leader; CX Magazine #23 CXMStar Influencer of 2023; 2021 AOTMP IT Management Professional of the Year; HDI National Chairman; HDI Certified Instructor; CX / EX Leader; Professional Speaker and Author

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