What Is An ITIL Certification?

The ITIL framework was originally developed in the late 1980s by the UK Government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) as a set of best practices that would increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of IT service management within government organizations. The framework has undergone several rounds of iteration since its initial publication, most notably the release of ITIL V3 in 2007 and the recent release of ITIL 4 in the first quarter of 2019. 

Since 2014, the ITIL framework has been maintained by AXELOS®, a joint venture company between the Government of the United Kingdom and Capita PLC, an international business process outsourcing firm headquartered in London. AXELOS is involved in every aspect of managing the ITIL framework, including:

  • ITIL's personnel certification program
  • Updates to the ITIL framework
  • Licensing external organizations to use ITIL intellectual property
  • Providing accreditation to third-party providers of ITIL examinations.

ITIL certifications consist of a series of qualifications that cover many areas of the ITIL service lifecycle. Individuals who wish to obtain an ITIL certification must take a training course and pass the requisite exam before receiving their certification. AXELOS offers five ITIL V3 certification levels that range from the ITIL Foundation level to ITIL master. The more advanced courses take a deeper and more detailed approach to ITIL best practices, helping candidates prepare for the most challenging roles within IT organizations.

Today, we're taking a deep dive into ITIL certification. We'll explain how the ITIL certification system works, investigate the benefits of having an ITIL certification, and explore whether a correlation really exists between ITIL certification and career success in IT.

How Does ITIL Certification Work?

Before we take a closer look at the ITIL certification training courses that are available, here are three key facts that you should know about the ITIL personnel certification program:

  1. ITIL certification is for individuals. AXELOS and its partners offer ITIL certifications via training courses for individual IT professionals. There are currently no official ITIL certifications for organizations or businesses. ITIL is not meant to be a prescriptive framework, but a guide for structuring IT operations in a way that benefits the business. Instead of certifying businesses for each aspect of the ITIL framework, AXELOS certifies individuals for competence in a specific areas of ITIL best practices implementation so that employers can more easily identify people with the right skills to support their strategic goals.
  2. ITIL exams are given by accredited training organizations (ATOs). The ITIL framework is an international framework with thousands of IT professionals around the world seeking certification. AXELOS maintains a three-tier structure for ensuring the validity and integrity of ITIL examinations around the world:
    • Axelos: Axelos owns the ITIL certification program. It provides accreditation to examination institutes (EIs) around the world, permitting them to issue ITIL certificates.
    • Examination institutes: EIs act as intermediaries between AXELOS and the ATOs. They provide accreditation for training organizations that wish to offer ITIL certifications, and they are accredited by AXELOS to provide official ITIL certificates to candidates that are successful on their ITIL exams.
    • Accredited training organizations: ATOs administer ITIL examinations to individual ITIL practitioners. Those who are successful will be recommended to receive ITIL certifications through the accrediting examination institute.
  3. The ITIL framework is in a transitional period. AXELOS is in a transitional period between offering exams for ITIL V3 and updating its examinations to reflect the new best practices of ITIL 4. With the recent release of ITIL 4, ITIL practitioners who were in the middle of completing courses in ITIL V3 were left with valid questions about how to proceed: should they complete the rest of the ITIL V3 curriculum or wait for the new ITIL 4 courses to be released? AXELOS has provided some guidance on this, which we'll share toward the end of this article.

ITIL V3 Certification

The ITIL V3 certification scheme consisted of five levels:

1. ITIL Foundation. 

The ITIL V3 Foundation course focuses on the basic elements and concepts of the ITIL framework. This course has been replaced with the ITIL 4 foundation course following its release in February 2019. The foundation course is meant for IT practitioners who require a basic understanding of the ITIL framework and how it can be used to improve IT service management.

2. ITIL Practitioner. 

The ITIL Practitioner course takes a more practical approach to ITIL education with a focus on implementation of ITIL framework best practices to support business objectives. This course covers four key areas that support ITIL success: continual service improvement, organizational change management, communication, and measurement and metrics.

3. ITIL Intermediate. 

ITIL certificates at the intermediate level are divided into two categories: service lifecycle modules and service capability modules. The intermediate level, therefore, represents the first point where ITIL practitioners can take divergent paths along the road to ITIL mastery. Based on their desired career path and personal growth trajectory, IT professionals can choose to take courses from either set of modules to bolster their ITIL qualifications. 

The service lifecycle modules are:

  • Service strategy
  • Service design
  • Service transition
  • Service operation
  • Continual service improvement. 

The service capability modules are:

  • Planning, protection, and optimization
  • Operational support and analysis
  • Release, control, and validation
  • Service offerings and agreements. 

4. ITIL Expert. 

The ITIL Expert certification is available to IT professionals who have already completed a variety of ITIL certification courses and wish to demonstrate their broad knowledge of the complete ITIL framework. To qualify for the ITIL expert certification, candidates must hold an ITIL foundation certification and collect a minimum of 17 credits by completing the ITIL Foundation and Intermediate modules. The candidate is also required to complete the Managing Across the Lifecycle module.

5. ITIL Master. 

The ITIL Master certification is reserved for ITIL practitioners who can demonstrate their ability to apply ITIL principles in professional and business environments. To obtain an ITIL master certification from AXELOS, an individual must explain and justify how they have selected and applied knowledge from the ITIL framework to achieve demonstrable benefits in a practical assignment or setting. Candidates for the ITIL Master certification must have obtained the ITIL expert certification and worked in an ITSM leadership role for at least five years.

ITIL 4 Certification

The ITIL 4 certification scheme consists of four levels:

1. ITIL 4 Foundation. 

The ITIL 4 Foundation course was launched on February 28, 2019. It replaces the ITIL V3 foundation course in the ITIL certification program. The newly revised course covers concepts from Lean, Agile, and DevOps, along with ITIL-specific information like the seven guiding principles and four dimensions of ITIL-Based Service Management. Candidates also learn how to facilitate the co-creation of value through the development of customer-focused IT products and services.

2. ITIL 4 Managing Professional. 

The ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification is a new designation offered by AXELOS following the release of ITIL 4. The modules for this certification were released in late 2019. ITIL practitioners who have obtained ITIL expert certification in the past will be able to obtain this designation by completing the ITIL 4 Managing Professional Transition Module. IT professionals new to ITIL must complete four modules to obtain this designation:

  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support
  • ITIL 4 Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value
  • ITIL 4 Specialist: High Velocity IT
  • ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct Plan and Improve

3. ITIL 4 Strategic Leader. 

The ITIL 4 Strategic Leader designation is due for release in the first half of 2020. An IT professional who completes this certification will have demonstrated their understanding of how IT impacts and influences business strategy. There will be two required modules that candidates must complete to earn this ITIL certification:

  • ITIL 4 Strategist Direct Plan and Improve
  • ITIL 4 Leader Digital and IT Strategy.

4. ITIL 4 Master. 

The ITIL 4 master requirements have not yet been released. AXELOS plans to release more details on the revised requirements for ITIL 4 Master certification toward the end of 2019.

What Are the Benefits of ITIL Certification? 

Since its inception, ITIL has been widely adopted as the leading framework for ITSM. As a result, millions of IT practitioners have invested time and money in ITIL certification programs, intending to enhance their career prospects by understanding more about how to drive business value through best practices in IT. Below, we highlight three key benefits associated with ITIL certification.

1. Understanding ITIL Framework and Processes

The ITIL framework and processes were designed as a set of best practices for IT service management. ITIL 4 shifts the focus of ITIL away from service management as an end in and of itself and toward the concept of value co-creation and the transformation of demand into value through effective ITSM practices. IT professionals that work through ITIL's certification program obtain a deep knowledge of these practices that can be used to drive business excellence in enterprise IT environments.

2. Alignment with Global ITSM Standards

The ITIL framework is aligned with a range of international quality standards, including ISO/IEC 20000 global standard for IT service management systems. The global reach of the ITIL framework and its alignment with other leading standards means that certified ITIL professionals can apply their skills to a versatile range of businesses and industries, even those that exist in foreign countries. Thousands of organizations around the world that have adopted the ITIL framework and invested in ITIL software tools to support its processes.

3. Certified Professionals Are Desirable Employees 

In a 2015 study, 93 percent of employers indicated that it was difficult to find appropriately qualified IT professionals to fill job vacancies. The same study assessed the importance of IT certifications within the hiring process for IT professionals and found that:

  • 72 percent of employers surveyed required IT certifications for specific job openings
  • 67 percent of employers believed that candidates with IT certifications were more likely to work hard to achieve a goal
  • 60 percent of employers used certifications as evidence of subject matter expertise.

Research suggests that employees with job-appropriate certifications are more confident, reliable, and knowledgeable; become proficient in their roles more quickly following the initial hire; and perform their jobs more effectively. These factors make it clear why ITIL-certified professionals are attractive job candidates for IT roles.

Are Earning ITIL Certifications and Being Successful Related?

The Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report ranked ITIL Foundation seventh on its list of top-paying IT certifications, with certified professionals earning an average salary of $120,556. Still, IT professionals should be aware that certification on its own may not bring about a desired increase in salary. While obtaining an ITIL certification demonstrates a commitment to excellence in your field and willingness to invest in yourself, the certification on its own may not correlate directly with career success.

ITIL-Certified Professionals Still Require Experience

An experienced IT professional with no knowledge of ITIL is probably more valuable than an ITIL-certified hire with minimal experience in the work environment. Ultimately, a combination of real-world experience and theoretical knowledge is what provides ITIL-certified professionals an advantage in the job market. IT professionals who obtain the necessary practical skills and experience while earning their ITIL certificates are in the best position to enhance their career prospects with ITIL certification. The AXELOS website recommends which ITIL certification courses an individual can take based on their desired career path within IT.

The Transition from ITIL V3 to ITIL 4

The most important thing that current ITIL-certified practitioners should know is that the ITIL 4 release won't result in their certifications being invalidated or taken away. The major complication in the transition from ITIL V3 to ITIL 4 is that while the ITIL V3 course modules are technically out-of-date, the new training modules for ITIL 4 certification are not yet available. This leaves IT practitioners in limbo if they are partway through obtaining a certification (have completed some modules but not others). 

Thankfully, AXELOS has developed a complete transition plan to help ITIL V3 practitioners update their qualifications within the newly revised framework.

Next Steps for IT Professionals with ITIL V3 Certification

IT professionals with ITIL V3 certifications will have different pathways to obtaining up-to-date qualifications under ITIL 4, depending on their current level of attainment:

Those that have completed ITIL V3 Foundation are recommended to update their qualifications by completing the ITIL 4 Foundations course.

Those that have taken some modules in the ITIL V3 Intermediate Level are given two options:

  1. Take ITIL 4 Foundations, then work toward either the ITIL 4 Managing Professional or ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification as the courses become available.
  2. Continue to work toward achieving 17 credits of ITIL V3 Intermediate modules, then complete the ITIL 4 Managing Professional Transition module

Those that have obtained ITIL V3 Intermediate or Practitioner certifications are recommended to continue collecting credits from ITIL V3 modules until they reach 17 credits, then complete the ITIL 4 Managing Professional Transition module.

Those that have obtained ITIL V3 Expert certification can take the ITIL 4 Managing Professional Transition module as soon as it becomes available. They may also choose to obtain the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader designation by completing the ITIL 4 Leader Digital and IT Strategy module.

So, Is ITIL Certification Really Worth It?

When it comes down to it, ITIL certifications can help you win a job offer or drive your career forward. ITIL's widespread implementation and status as an internationally recognized and widely adopted framework mean that certified ITIL practitioners with the appropriate IT experience are needed and valued around the world.

At the same time, it's up to the individual to maximize the value of their IT certification program by obtaining the necessary skills and experience that complement their certification. Without the ability to manage ITSM effectively in real-world enterprise IT environments, an ITIL certificate is just a piece of paper. 

As far as value for money, ITIL courses can cost a few hundred dollars, but the right person could leverage that certification into a prestigious corporate role with a six-figure salary. Based on the cost of the training and the average salary of someone with ITIL 4 Foundations—the most basic certification level—we're convinced that ITIL training is worth the time and money it takes.

Want to learn more about jobs for IT professionals, ITIL 4 certifications, and the ITIL framework? Take a look at some of our favorite resources:

*This post originally appeared on the Cherwell blog, prior to the acquisition by Ivanti.