Since its in 1989 inception, the Best Practice IT framework ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) has made a significant impact on a vast community of service management practitioners across the globe.

It's now the most widely applied framework for the delivery of high-quality IT services.

In May 2007, ITIL took important strides towards increasing the alignment of IT and the business with the launch of its third incarnation, ITIL v3. The new version provides guidelines for service management across the full life cycle of a service – from planning, implementation and day-to-day operation to service improvement and eventually retirement.

This new context enables the IT department to increase its value to the business and reach service-level agreement (SLA) goals.

However, as more businesses decide to adopt ITIL, it is becoming apparent that many are confused as to the version best suited to them. While organisations are aware of the new version, most are still unsure as to how, or even if, it will affect them. Consequently, many are reluctant to take the leap of faith.

Are you confused?

One of the major factors prohibiting organisations from implementing the latest version is a lack of understanding about its role, especially with regards to service design and strategy. Some organisations believe that implementing v3 should be the first step in adopting best-practice IT when, in fact, the basic processes outlined in v2 will still support an organisation’s deliverables.

There are significant differences between each version. Processes, efficiency and cost were the focus of v2, while v3 promotes the adoption of a life-cycle approach to improve the quality of service.

It is important to note that there is no need to throw away the processes outlined in v2 as these can be carried over to v3. So, organisations can keep ITIL v2 in place and, depending on the level of ITSM maturity, use these as a foundation for v3.

For some companies and overall business strategies, v3 may never be a requirement as the processes within v2 will be sufficient to meet their service management needs.

When ITIL v3 is worth it

Whereas v2 focuses on separate process silos, v3 approaches service management from a business perspective, closely examining the quality of service provided.

Since IT plays a vital role within the organisation, a better understanding of the business is required to support the changing needs from the start. Version 3 provides guidance on current IT practices and considers issues such as outsourcing, off-shoring and the internet, which have become a fact of everyday business since v2 was introduced.

Recent research has shown that 'best-in-class' organisations at the high end of the IT maturity scale achieve 86 percent of SLA goals – 139 percent better than other respondents. In addition, they experience 83 percent efficiency for IT processes, 112 percent better than less mature organisations. The v3 service life cycle provides the guidelines with which to achieve these goals.

One of the key pressures for IT departments is satisfying customer expectations and achieving better business service from IT. To do this, many service operations professionals need to identify increasing alignment between technology and the business.

To adopt a v3 approach, all parties need to be on board, including senior management. So there is a direct correlation between an organisation’s cultural maturity and that of the associated processes. If all parties have fully embraced the concept of improving service quality, v3 provides the tools to achieve this.

With each ITIL refresh, new elements are introduced to better reflect and assist in following ITSM (IT Service Management) best practices.

While ITIL v3 has grown in popularity over the last six months, its adoption may only be embraced by a few highly mature organisations initially. Version 2 still very much has a place and is, in fact, more appropriate for most of the market.

Regardless of which version is being used, it is important that organisations have the right tools and technology in place to help follow the ITIL guidelines to improve the efficiency and usability of their IT infrastructure.

Dale Brown is best practice consultant at Axios Systems