News / Service Management

  • December 04, 2020

What's the difference between ITIL V3 and ITIL 4?


I was recently asked about the main differences between ITIL v3 and ITIL 4, and whether organizations need to invest in retraining staff who already have ITIL v3 certifications. In this blog, I’ll explore some of the key differences and help you to decide about what investments you should be making.


People aren’t machines, and best practice isn’t software. When something like ITIL changes, you don’t need to upgrade your entire environment, and changes to culture and skills won’t happen overnight.

What you do need to ask yourself (particularly after the rapid changes most organizations have seen in 2020) is:

  • Do we have the digital skills we need to be ready for the next 1-5 years?
  • Do our customers expect IT products and services to be delivered more quickly, and in a more iterative way?
  • Do we have solid IT service management foundations that we can build on to introduce more automation, agile ways of working, and a focus on customer experience?

If your IT teams are feeling the pressure to deliver and your organization has a strong focus on digital transformation, introducing some ITIL 4 knowledge will really help. ITIL 4 will allow your teams to adapt to new ways of working (DevOps, Agile, Lean, SIAM), and give them the digital skills and perspective to support IT transformation initiatives.


ITIL v3 is structured around the service lifecycle – strategy, design, transition, operation and continual service improvement. Many organizations have adopted a structure that is linked the service lifecycle and have invested heavily in training their teams.

The good news is that the ITIL v3 concepts are still absolutely valid. Many of them appear in some form in ITIL 4, and ITIL v3 certifications don’t ‘expire’. ITIL v3 gives organizations a strong service management foundation. With key processes in place and good understanding of end to end services, many organizations are delivering robust, predictable, quality IT services.


In today's fast moving IT environment, we’ve seen many changes in the last 5 years. In addition to ITIL, new ways of working like DevOps, Agile, SIAM and Lean have also been applied to IT product and service delivery. This has created some confusion about roles and responsibilities, and how to create the optimal IT operating model. IT is recognized as a strategic enabler, and many organizations are adopting a digital strategy and discussing digital transformation at the C-level.

ITIL 4 supports these changes and takes service management to the next level. AXELOS, the owners of ITIL, say:

“ITIL 4 takes you through a service value system which provides a holistic picture of what it really means to contribute to business value.

The focus is now on the co-creation of value through service relationship. The updated framework will focus on facilitating value co-creation via a service value system (SVS). The SVS represents how different components and activities can work together, in any type of organization, to facilitate value creation through IT enabled services.”

“The context of ITIL, with the release of ITIL 4 in 2019 is now much bigger, with an emphasis on the business and technology world, how it works today, and how it will work in the future with Agile, DevOps and digital transformation.”


Some of the key differences between ITIL v3 and ITIL 4 are:

  • A new focus on value co-creation: in the past, most organizations have seen the service provider/consumer relationship as one-way, with value being ‘delivered’. ITIL 4 treats the relationship as ongoing, with service provider and consumer collaborating to create value. If you’ve got some rocky relationships with your service consumers, this is an important shift of focus
  • The ITIL guiding principles have changed: the 9 guiding principles outlined in the ITIL practitioner are now 7 – 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 automate. These simple principles are a deceptively powerful tool when it comes to building a service culture
  • The service lifecycle is replaced by the service value system, and service value chains are used to map and analyze how value is created: in the past, ITIL has sometimes been seen as repetitive, waterfall-focused and bureaucratic. Shifting the focus to value chains allows organizations to map how value is created and understand where they can improve.
  • Processes are now practices (and the number has grown!): another criticism of previous versions of ITIL was that it was too obsessed with flow charts and processes, leaving little room for innovation. ITIL 4 expands the definition of processes to discuss practices, encompassing the people, skills, third parties, technology and information that also help to make IT service management work. The 34 practices in ITIL 4 are divided into general management practices (such as architecture management and project management), service management practices (such as busines analysis and the service desk), and technical management practices (such as deployment management).
    One of the really big changes is how little focus there is on these practices in the ITIL 4 certifications, particularly at the advanced Managing Professional level. The courses are focused on principles, and giving practitioners the tools to understand what practices they need in order to deliver a great customer experience.


ITIL 4 gives the ITIL framework a refresh that will prepare it for the digital age. There is much more focus on the enterprise as a whole, and the customer journey that is enabled by IT service management. ITIL 4 doesn’t replace the concepts of ITIL v3, but it builds on them and takes service management to the next level. If your organization has adopted ITIL v3, introducing some of the ITIL 4 concepts will help to support a journey of continual improvement.