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How to get started with ITIL

Matthew Heusser | May 28, 2015
Of all the concepts in IT, ITIL may be the most misunderstood. Here’s a look at what ITIL is, why you might consider using it and where/how to get started.


ITIL certification is about the individual, not the company. ITIL certificates show that the person understands the concepts, terms, and guidance that ITIL offers. As of 2014, the current ITIL individual certifications are foundations, intermediate and master. Like many certification schemes, the training moves up from a 2-to-3 day class or computer-based training that starts with memorizing terms then moves on to demonstrations of understanding. Intermediate certification breaks ITIL down into nine different modules, such as service design, service strategy and service transition. Candidates with two years of hands-on IT experience can take these tests in any order, qualifying as intermediate' in that module. Qualifying as an expert requires 17 credits from the foundation and intermediate exams, a new module, called "Managing Across the Lifecycle," and the expert test, which is broad and comprehensive. The master level requires five years of IT leadership experience and is a more personalized, interview-and-skills based exam.

Because ITIL is a guidance, not a rule, there is no concept of 'compliance', so you cannot get a department, team, or company ITIL Certified'; only the people that work in that organization.

ITIL Controversy

The language of ITIL is a language of best practices; it might be more accurate to say "the best practices that we know of right now for companies like ours." In other words, there are no objective measures used to determine that ITIL is best; it is simply the best job that Her Majesty's Cabinet could determine to give to organizations to make IT work more effectively. John Seddon's work, for example, discredits recent public sector reform agendas, claiming they actually make performance worse -- see his claim roughly six minutes into this video RH1 -- and based on the cost overruns and mismanagement that is endemic in public-sector IT in the UK, organizations looking to adopt ITIL may do well to take a skeptical, piece at a time approach.

Other groups, such as Context-Driven Testing, insist that best practice language is not an engineering term at all, but a marketing term, and suggest caution.

ITIL is one way to look at managing IT among many. If it can be helpful, then it is helpful. When it is not helpful ... then it is nothelpful.

Where to go for more

AXELOS, the joint venture between Her Majesty's Cabinet Office and Capita PLC, has plenty of information about ITIL on their website, including self-study courses. Other common resources include ITIL for Dummies, which can help prepare for the ITIL foundations exam, live in-person training, or the original sourcebooks themselves, available from Amazon for around five hundred dollars. Sybex offers a foundation exam study guide and Emero, an online course and book for a fraction of that amount, but the material will not be first hand.


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