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What Is the Difference Between ITIL 4 and ITIL v3?

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

If you're totally new to IT service management, you've probably heard a lot about ITIL® 4, the new edition of ITIL®. It's possible that you'll hear conflicting information about how it differs from the ITIL v3 we all know and love.

In this essay, I'll clear up any misunderstandings by explaining what has changed from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4—and why.

The beginnings of ITIL

ITIL, as we know it now, began in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) established a skeleton framework called the Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management in response to inefficient and expensive IT systems servicing the UK government (GITIM).

GITIM became ITIL by the end of the decade, with the first book published in 1989. ITIL was adopted by both public and commercial sector IT departments in quest of structure around ITSM. ITIL was a collection of material that described the best practices for managing an IT department at the time. IBM's Information Systems Management Architecture was used to inspire many of the ideas. The IT Infrastructure Library got its name from the library. (This nomenclature has subsequently been replaced by the more straightforward ITIL.)

ITIL has grown over time into a more formal framework or set of principles for excellent ITSM practice. The framework has evolved from an IT-centric approach to one that is more aligned with the business and tightly integrated with it.

Today's ITIL

The ITIL framework, which is formally owned by Axelos, is in its fourth generation. ITIL 4 was released in February 2019 and has a new focus: co-creating value with the company.

As we all know, it's nearly impossible to draw a boundary between the business and IT these days. There isn't a service out there that isn't aided by technology in some way. It's vital to effectively manage these services and ensure that they add the most value to the company. ITIL 4 recognises this core idea and relates all it does back to it: assisting the company in achieving its vision.

Now, let's look at what's new, what's different, and what hasn't changed in ITIL.

Structural change from "Processes" to "Practices"

While there are many new concepts, phrases, and ideas to consider in ITIL 4, nothing previously known has been dismissed or proven false—what you learnt in ITIL v3 or earlier versions is still extremely valuable. ITIL 4 has just enhanced this value by requiring us to concentrate on business value rather than technology.

In some opinions, the most significant difference between ITIL v3 and ITIL 4 is more of a movement in language than a huge structural change. What exactly am I referring to? Processes based on ITIL v3. We had numerous discussions concerning the move away from the term "process" in favour of "practice" as news of the changes from ITIL v3 to ITIL 4 started to seep out to the ITSM community. Many folks were baffled as to why this was happening.

In fact, I feel that the term "processes" in ITIL v3 and prior iterations was a misconception. We never talked about a single process when we talked about the incident management process. Instead, we were discussing a set of processes and capabilities that enabled us to manage situations effectively. ITIL 4 has brought all of these elements together into practice. This makes great sense to me (although it did take a bit of getting used to).

The 34 practices specified in ITIL 4 provide you with everything you'll need to collaborate with customers and stakeholders to create value. The scope of these practices has been substantially enlarged from the 29 processes covered by ITIL V3—a reflection of considerable changes in the IT sector in recent years. The guidance for these practices emphasizes that each organization is unique and requires approaches tailored to their specific circumstances. As a result, the principles are less prescriptive than prior editions of ITIL, but they still provide you with the tools you need to start improving the value you produce for the business.

Here's a breakdown of the ITIL v3 processes and ITIL 4 practices:

Breakdown of the ITIL v3 processes and ITIL 4 practices

Even if some of these practices are new to ITIL 4, that doesn't imply we didn't perform them before. More than likely, ITIL v3 and preceding versions did not adequately cover certain practices. ITIL 4 has merely stated excellent practice in areas where we were already doing things.

Introduction to ITIL 4: IT Service Management Transformation

The new framework connects the value of our ITSM work to the value we can co-create with the business. One of the most significant conceptual differences between ITIL 4 and prior versions is that we are no longer talking about delivering value to the company, but rather about collaborating with the business to generate value.

ITIL 4 contains three major components that, while not entirely new, differ from prior ITIL versions in terms of language and organization. These elements distinguish ITIL 4 from earlier editions, and I'll go through each one in greater detail below:

  • The service value system

  • The four dimensions of service

  • The seven guiding principles

The ITIL 4 service value system is a significant ITIL change.

The service lifecycle is at the heart of ITIL v3. The service value system (SVS) takes centre stage in ITIL 4. As demonstrated in this diagram, I'll break down the service value system (SVS) and its six important components:

The ITIL 4 service value system
The ITIL 4 service value system

Source: Quint Group

Opportunity, Demand, and Value

Everything a service provider performs is triggered by these events.

Service Value Chain

The service value chain, which is at the heart of the SVS, is made up of six interconnected activities that are required to offer value to clients and realize value for the organization:

  • Plan. In this activity, you'll develop plans, policies, and other documents that outline your organization's goals and how you and your colleagues will achieve them.

  • Improve. The improved activity focuses on developing plans and activities that allow for continuous product, service and practice improvement.

  • Engage. You'll interact with stakeholders to have a better grasp of their requirements and desires.

  • Design and transition. As a result of this activity, new and altered services are created.

  • Obtain/build. You'll get and construct the service components you'll need to meet customer requirements in this activity.

  • Deliver and support. This action ensures that the services used by stakeholders match their needs.

Guiding Principles

The seven guiding principles provide useful guidelines for planning and managing IT services, as well as pointing to areas where improvements can be made.

Continual Improvement

Every component of the service management system, including perpetual improvement, must be subjected to continuous improvement. ITIL 4 provides a methodology for continuous improvement that may be applied to all elements of services.


The key component of the service value chain practices. There is no way to provide a valuable service without them. ITIL 4 divides these into four service dimensions.


Governance is an important aspect of the ITIL 4 service value system because it describes how you regulate and direct the IT organization and ensure that actions are aligned with the organization's goals and vision.


ITIL 4: 4 Dimensions of Service Management

The four dimensions of service management are another idea introduced by ITIL 4. These aren't new concepts, but ITIL 4 expresses them in a straightforward and actionable manner.

The four dimensions describe all of the aspects of service management that must be considered in order to achieve a balanced approach. The four dimensions are as follows:

4 Dimensions of Service Management
4 Dimensions of Service Management

Source: Quint Group


ITIL 4: The 7 Guiding Principles

The 7 Guiding Principles
The 7 Guiding Principles

Source: Quint Group

Focus on value

To put it, if what you're doing isn't adding value to the company, you should question why you're doing it. “Because we've always done it,” is a common response to this topic. This guiding principle provides you with a compelling reason to come to a halt! Everything you do in service management has to be related to the bottom line. Every activity should contribute in some way to the company's vision being realised.

Start where you are

You almost never start at the beginning. Even if you're creating a whole new process, there will be things you're doing right now that will help you meet some of the goals you're aiming for. Before you embark on a new project, take a step back and examine the current situation. Figure out where you are now and make improvements from there. Instead of starting from scratch, constantly strive to improve on what you currently have.

Progress iteratively with feedback

“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time,” as the saying goes. Take little steps forward, then take a step back to see if you've accomplished what you set out to do. Never try to get from zero to hero in one bound! Changes that are manageable and measurable should be made instead. Move on to the next iteration once these have been incorporated and assessed for value.

Collaborate and promote visibility

You can't succeed if you operate in a vacuum. Sitting in your cubicle, planning process improvements or other changes on your own while disregarding the people who will utilize or benefit from your changes is a definite way to fail. Get out there and talk to these people to learn about their jobs and why they do them. Plan improvements with them, then enjoy your victories and discuss your shortcomings together. Break free from your cocoon and collaborate!

Think and work holistically

Business and IT are no longer two separate organizations. Everything we do in service management must contribute to and be a part of the larger business ecosystem in a world where all services are IT-enabled. Think about servers, applications, and networks in the context of business value: how do these components enable business users to give value to customers?

Keep it simple and practical

Don't make things too difficult for yourself. The majority of individuals do something like this: they create 20-step processes that cover every imaginable eventuality. Something will happen as soon as you do this, and all of your planning will be for nought. Instead, build procedures with the bare minimum of functionality in mind, and teach (and encourage) employees to think outside the box when scenarios happen that aren't precisely aligned with your processes. Examine what you're doing now, analyze why you're doing it, and determine whether these actions add value to your business—and if they don't, stop doing them! I like to say that aim for the stars, you'll be fine if land on the moon.

Optimize and automate

The efficient utilization of limited resources should always be a priority. Examine your present workflows and see if any of them can be automated. Your human workforce should only be doing things that cannot be automated, allowing them to focus on occupations that are more difficult and satisfying. Remember the most important aspect of automation: you must optimize processes before automating them; automating an inefficient process typically leads to less-than-desirable results.

Adoption of these guiding principles across the service management organisation will promote collaboration and business value.


ITIL 4 is a much-needed update to a framework that has formed the foundation of service management for the past 30 years around the world. The emphasis on co-creation of value and business outcomes elevates ITIL from the world of technology and places it squarely in the sphere of business. With this overview, you'll be better prepared to comprehend your ITSM—as usual, frameworks and technology are never the solutions in and of themselves, but they can help you solve and enhance your IT service management problems.


ITIL 4: Certification Scheme

ITIL 4: Certification Scheme

Source: Quint Group

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