ITIL 4: Real evolution or marketing hype?

The publication of the first ITIL 4 book (“ITIL Foundation ITIL 4 Edition”) reveals the content of the new version of ITIL.

The  famous framework was last updated in 2011. Needless to say, this ITIL 4 version was so eagerly awaited! The release of the first book was preceded by a teasing campaign cleverly orchestrated in the small world of ITIL specialists.

I read for you this first introductory volume, with the aim of getting a first idea about the real added value of ITIL 4.

So, ITIL 4: Real evolution or just a marketing move to revive the certification business ? A few hints in this article.

A new look and revisited concepts

The first thing that strikes when you open this ITIL book is a new style, more airy and easier to read, which is reminiscent of the good old look of our textbooks!

But beyond the makeover, the concepts have been totally revisited in an approach that is holistic and more in tune with the current environment. The ambition is clearly to position ITIL 4 as a framework addressing all types of services in a world where there are hardly any services that do not have a digital component.

Goodbye Service Lifecycle!

The famous wheel that illustrated the ITIL service lifecycle since 2007 has disappeared in favor of the service value system  (SVS) as the main representation of the ITIL 4 approach.

It’s basically an adaptation of the good old value chain concept we’ve known since Michael Porter in 1985. Nothing new here, you’re telling me!


Wait a minute! In fact, the SVS offers:

  • An operating model, the service value chain, to meet the demands of different stakeholders and create value;
  • A prescriptive framework consisting of guiding principles, best practices and recommendations for the implementation of a continuous improvement approach;
  • A global representation allowing to understand and analyze the interactions between these different components and the governance of the whole.

If the notions of service and value remain in line with their ITIL V3 definition, ITIL 4 brings a more pragmatic view of value, recognizing the importance of perception in a customer’s assessment of the value of a service, and therefore its subjective side, and introducing the notion of co-creation that emphasizes the essential role of the customer in the creation and production of services.

On the other hand, a central element of the model proposed by ITIL V3 no longer appears in the presentation of ITIL 4 concepts: processes. They have not disappeared, of course, but they are no longer at the center of the model. Indeed, ITIL 4 speaks of practices rather than processes.

Finally, the guiding principles complete the model, in a logic aimed at laying the foundation of a service culture common to all stakeholders.

A model designed around 4 dimensions

From my point of view, the most interesting contribution of ITIL 4 is undoubtedly the recognition that the implementation of processes is not enough to guarantee an improvement of the results in terms of service. This finding, shared by dozens of practitioners who had to face the traditional difficulties of implementing the ITIL V3 approach in a siloed organization, is now taken into account in the model that advocates a holistic approach to Service Management according to 4 interacting dimensions:

  • Organization and human resources;
  • Information and technology;
  • Partners and suppliers;
  • Value streams and processes.

ITIL 4 4 dimensions

The notion of value stream, which could be likened to a particular scenario of value creation, is quite interesting because it shows the necessary combination of the value chain activities in order to meet the client’s needs and ultimately create value. An approach that ITIL V3, with its model broken down into well-defined processes, had a little more trouble conveying. The proposed examples of  value streams illustrate the interweaving of processes and actors and the need to adopt a global approach.

This vision of the SVS as a flexible model, architected around several complementary dimensions, and reconfigurable according to different value creation scenarios responding to customer requests and / or the service organization itself, is a much more realistic approach to breaking the logic of silos that has so often thwarted, if not annihilated, the success of ITIL approaches based solely on the concept of process.

Guiding principles: The foundation of a service culture

The guiding principles proposed by ITIL 4 are, as their name suggests, designed to build a lasting service culture.

There are seven of them:

  • Focus on value;
  • Start where you are;
  • Progress iteratively with feedback;
  • Collaborate and promote visibility;
  • Think and work holistically;
  • Keep it simple and practical;
  • Optimize and automatise.

Service value chain

Basically, the service value chain is a revisited version of ITIL V3’s famous service lifecycle management .

ITIL 4 value chain

The approach is nevertheless more operational and better adapted to the current environment. In particular, the “obtain / build” block makes it possible to take into account the reality of the cloud (for example, integrate an application in SaaS mode into a service offering) or outsourced services.

Key takeaways

  • ITIL 4 is positioned as a universal model for service management;
  • It’s a holistic and more pragmatic approach that is no longer solely focused on fixed processes;
  • The ambition is to foster a service-oriented culture, in particular based on major universal principles;
  • It offers a flexible model to take into account the impact of the cloud and the evolution of organizations and practices (devops, agile).