Choosing between ITIL vs. IT4IT for a best practices model

ITIL and IT4IT offer companies insider knowledge to help achieve IT success. Learn about each model and how they compare and evaluate your organization's best fit.

Every IT department should aim to run their IT platform following best practices. Of course, this needs a knowledge of what others are up to and how they have achieved their successes.

For an organization to gain access to such knowledge is not easy -- particularly when it comes to knowing what your competitors are doing. However, independent groups can build up a wealth of anonymized data across a range of different industries and organizational sizes, codifying this to create best-practice processes.

Popular frameworks include ITIL and IT4IT, but which one should you follow?

What is ITIL?

The information technology infrastructure library, now known as ITIL, was the main approach -- but was seen as unwieldy, too prescriptive and not really best practice in actuality. Few organizations adopted and implemented the whole of ITIL. Many organizations took sections of ITIL as a baseline and applied improvements to make their implementation of ITIL better than the suggested 'best' practice. But this piecemeal adoption and rejection isn't how ITIL was meant to be used.

The current version, ITIL 4, was introduced in 2019 -- a major change to the previous version that launched in 2007. ITIL 3 had become less relevant over the 12 years it had been around: Organizations have adopted greater levels of virtualization, become well on the way to the cloud and have dealt with the fallout from the worst financial collapse seen in the era of computing.

Many organizations had lost faith in ITIL due to this. ITIL 4 brought in a radically different approach, based on a "Maslow's pyramid" model of organizational IT needs.

ITIL 4 service values

This change was welcome and a great deal less prescriptive. Instead of being a set of absolutes, ITIL 4 offers a framework on which organizations can build and adapt to their own specific needs.

However, debate continues regarding how easy ITIL 4 is to implement -- and what costs it requires due to the training and document needs, as it now comes from a private company, Axelos.

What is IT4IT?

A possible alternative approach to ITIL has been eschewed by The Open Group, a global consortium of over 800 IT vendors and buyers attempting to agree to global technology standards that will help organizations meet their business objectives. The Open Group's approach, IT4IT, takes a different basic approach to ITIL.

IT4IT takes a value chain-based approach to IT management, rather than a discrete process-based approach. It is a reference architecture, similar to ITIL 4, with four main constituents, against ITIL 4's five. In IT4IT's case, these constituents are Plan, Build, Deliver and Run. The Open Group expands on this as in Figure 2.

IT4IT values

Much of the documentation to do with the IT4IT reference architecture is in the public domain, with certain aspects available free to The Open Group's members or through payment by nonmembers.

Is it a case of ITIL 4 or IT4IT?

The Open Group insists IT4IT is not a replacement for ITIL 4. It sees IT4IT as a foundational platform on which other IT systems operate -- not just the likes of ITIL 4, but also DevOps, Waterfall and Agile, which enables better interactions between environments in a more monitored, measured and controlled manner.

The Open Group's website provides the following statement:

ITIL offers a reasonable statement of requirements for finer-grained IT management processes. However, ITIL moves directly from the highest-level concept of the Service Lifecycle to its 25 granular processes. The IT4IT Standard will provide an important middle ground by defining the major value streams of Strategy to Portfolio, Requirement to Deploy, Request to Fulfill and Detect to Correct. ITIL furthermore leaves many ambiguities in how to implement and execute an end-to-end IT management capability, especially in terms of process integration.

What does this all mean for an organization?

The adoption of best practices is becoming less possible as the IT platform used by different organizations becomes more complex and disparate.

However, there are many areas within the IT discipline that can be codified as to how to best handle a process. For instance, how to manage patching and updates, or to handle many end user help desk queries. To this end, ITIL 4 used in conjunction with IT4IT creates a solid environment where organizations gain a better means to address issues across their IT platform.

To this end, ITIL 4 in conjunction with IT4IT creates a solid environment where organizations gain a better means to deal with issues across their IT platform.

For others, it might seem daunting to adopt either of these frameworks in a world where change is a given and it seems impossible to find time to implement these systems.

However, as The Open Group says, the best way to approach this is not as a blanket implementation: Plot out your IT organization's starting point, detailing existing processes in place and any gaps for improvement. Then construct an illustration of the checkpoints it would like to reach on the roadmap. From there, look at where the biggest issues are -- how to implement the right systems to eliminate bottlenecks and process issues in high-priority areas. This will, in itself, free up time and resources to then move systems further into the overall platform.

Overall, ITIL 4 and IT4IT can be valuable tools to help make an organization's IT processes and workflows more effective and efficient. But both need effort from IT teams to work.

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