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ITIL® 4: The Processes, Practices and Four Dimensions of IT Management

Processes are often the first thing that people think of when they say ITIL. The implementation of ITIL goes hand in hand with the introduction or fine-tuning of important processes such as Incident Management, Change Management or Problem Management. These basic processes can be found almost unchanged in the fourth edition of ITIL. However, the new edition works with the broader concept of ‘practices’. It’s not just about finding the right sequence of steps and actions. We need to make sure we have everything we need to create value for the customer.
Jan Škrabánek

5. 10. 2021

In today’s article, we take a closer look at the processes and explain why the fourth edition introduces the concept of a practice. Processes remain an important part of ITIL. But their role is not nearly as dominant as in previous editions. As we showed in the first part of the series, ITIL was created at a time when information technology was coming into its own. In what was often a chaotic environment, it was logical to seek to get things under control. Hence the great emphasis on procedural management.

Four Dimensions of IT Management 

A process is a beautiful way of showing you what to do. It is a set of linked activities that turn inputs into outputs. But once we have an idea of what is required of us, we can easily get immersed in the activities and tasks without taking into account the work context. But context is crucial. Imagine, for example, that you are preparing a website, without taking into account that 20% of users have a visual handicap. Or, say you plan a project without verifying whether the main vendor has resources to collaborate. Or maybe you are programming some new functionality, without ongoing feedback from the specifier.

So, to save forgetting the context, ITIL 4 brings in the Service Management dimensions. They are 1) Organizations and People, 2) Information and Technology, 3) Partners and Suppliers and finally 4) Value Streams and Processes. If you overlook a dimension, it is easy to create a service whose output no one cares about (which has no value to anyone) or even causes them harm. Consider outsourced services with a sharp drop in user satisfaction, or purchases of software incompatible with existing infrastructure.

What this means for us, among other things, is that processes are only one piece of a larger puzzle, and that’s how we must see them. For instance, back in the day, processes and teams were often merged into one. In a larger corporation there would be a dedicated team for Incident Management, Change Management, etc. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it can lead to a number of problems, the biggest of which is a widening gulf between people, with the organization splitting up into silos. If you are dealing with any issue, ITIL guides you to take into account all 4 dimensions. That will mean that, say, when designing a Practice you’ll take into account the company’s organizational structure and divide people’s competencies with respect to the real needs of the company.

Rudolf Slaba explains the advantages of the four-dimensional view: ‘It’s a guideline thanks to which you’ll not underestimate any aspect of value creation. You can make a mistake in the process itself.
If you avoid that and introduce a perfect process into a company creaking with strained staff issues, you won’t get value either.’ At the same time, a 4-dimension view gives each organization the ability to set things up the way that suits it best.

New practices reflect changes in IT management 

Since a fair time has passed since the last version, a lot has changed in how IT teams work. Thus, ITIL 4 also deals with practices that the third edition did not address, updates existing practices and unifies them into practices and functions (e.g. the Service Desk). If we take a closer look at these changes, we’ll understand better what direction IT management is taking. ‘It is important to address well-established practices such as Incident Management. But those are the basic foundations to be built on further. Priority should be given to the growth and development of the organization,’ shares ITIL expert Jan Hospes.

These changes also reflect the fact that the classical organizational structure often breaks down in favour of a more flexible functioning. IT people bring specific knowledge, but they are a fully-fledged part of business teams. This increases the need to for general management disciplines even within IT. That’s why you’ll find things like Project Management, Business Analysis, or Organizational Change Management in the new ITIL.

To sum up 

Processes are still an important part of the new ITIL. But the emphasis shifts to a complete grasp of all the aspects you need to deliver value-creating services. In the new ITIL practices you will find the best-practice principles for classic Service Management disciplines. At the same time, however, general management disciplines have been added, which a modern IT director cannot do without.