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ITIL certification guide: Mastering IT services management

ITIL certification guide: Mastering IT services management

ITIL is IT’s go-to framework for delivering IT services. From ITIL Foundation to ITIL Master, here’s everything you need to know about the latest ITIL certifications.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is near the top of almost every list of must-have IT certifications, and for good reason. ITIL practices are designed to help companies identify areas where they need improvement, providing vendor-neutral guidelines on where to make specific changes to reduce costs and increase productivity. Keep in mind: ITIL is not a tool but rather a set of best practices pertaining to IT service and lifecycle management.

For example, you may use ITIL practices to reduce helpdesk traffic by implementing self-help sections on your company's website, or to decide whether it’s more cost-effective to have a project handled in-house or by a third-party.

What is ITIL?

ITIL is a library of volumes describing a framework of best practices for delivering IT services. The ITIL has gone through several revisions in its history and currently comprises five books, each covering various processes and stages of the IT service lifecycle:

  1. Service Strategy
  2. Service Design
  3. Service Transition
  4. Service Operation
  5. Continual Service Improvement

The ITIL, currently ITIL v3, focuses on business and IT integration, and ITIL certifications can be earned at five levels. ITIL’s systematic approach to IT service management can help businesses manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale and change.

ITIL certification levels

The ITIL Qualification Scheme uses a modular credit system called the ITIL Credit System. All ITIL and ITIL-related qualifications within the ITIL Credit System are assigned a specific credit value. As those credits are applied, the applicant qualifies to test for a higher level of certification. Ultimately, a total of 22 credits is required to achieve ITIL Expert certification. There’s a separate set of requirements for ITIL Master qualification; candidates must already be ITIL Expert certified before they can achieve ITIL Master status.

There are six levels of qualifications within the ITIL Qualification Scheme that include the following:

  • ITIL Foundation, which scores candidates with 2 credits, consists of 40 multiple-choice questions. No prerequisites are required to take this examination. It deals with key elements, concepts and terminology associated with ITIL service lifecycle management.
  • ITIL Practitioner was added in July 2016 and earns candidates 3 credits toward their ITIL Expert certification. It is considered the next step after the ITIL Foundation, which is a prerequisite. An ITIL Practitioner will be able to explain how to use the ITIL framework to support business objectives, and focuses on organizational change management, communication, measurement and metrics.
  • ITIL Intermediate Level, which scores a candidate with 15 or 16 credits, is open to those who have already passed the ITIL Foundation exam and have completed an accredited training course. The intermediate level includes two paths: Service Lifecycle, with five examinations (Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement); and Service Capability, with four examinations (Planning Protection and Optimization, Release Control and Validation, Operational Support and Analysis, and Service Offerings and Agreements).
  • ITIL Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC), which scores the candidate with 5 credits, requires the candidate to have passed the ITIL Foundation exam, along with an additional 15 credits from passing ITIL Intermediate exams, giving them a minimum of 17 credits to take this exam. This is also the gateway exam to achieve ITIL Expert Level.
  • ITIL Expert Level requires the candidate to have accumulated 22 credits that have been gained by passing the ITIL Foundation, Intermediate Level and MALC exams.
  • ITIL Master Qualification requires the candidate to already be ITIL Expert-level qualified. To achieve the ITIL Master Qualification, candidates must "explain and justify how they selected and individually applied a range of knowledge, principles, methods and techniques from ITIL and supporting management techniques, to achieve desired business outcomes in one or more practical assignments."

When a candidate completes a given level of the ITIL examination, he or she is given the certification and the attributed credits. Each level of certification has its own requirements, all of which include earning a specific number of credits.

ITIL certification cost

Registration fees for ITIL certification exams vary by location, ranging from around $150 to $500. While you can self-study for ITIL exams, coursework is strongly recommended, and fees for classes, whether completed online or in a classroom setting, vary by location and institute. Training can run up from $500 for an online course to well over $1,000 for classroom-based intensive instruction, and training may or may not include exam registration fees.

When estimating total costs for ITIL certification, keep in mind that the Service Lifecycle track of the ITIL Intermediate Level certification would require five courses and five exams to complete, and the Service Capability track of the ITIL Intermediate Level certification would require four courses and four exams.

ITIL complementary qualifications

Fortunately, the ITIL Credit System provides credits for other IT certifications (called ITIL Complementary Qualifications) the applicant has passed, including these:

  • Problem Analyst, an APMG-International qualification teaches candidates how to prevent problems and incidents from happening. This qualification is worth 1.5 credits.
  • Lean IT, an APMG-International qualification, teaches candidates how to create a value-oriented, customer-centric culture, while removing waste, inflexibility and variability. This qualification carries 0.5 credits.
  • ISO/IEC 20000, an APMG-International certificate, enables companies to demonstrate excellence and prove best practice in IT management. It is worth 1.5 credits.
  • Service Catalogue is an APMG-International certification for those who already have an ITIL Foundation certificate. It teaches applicants how to control demand, publish and track service pricing and cost as well as automate service request management and fulfillment. This qualification is worth 1.5 credits.
  • IT Service Management Foundation is an EXIN and Tuev-Sued IT Service Management Foundation based on ISO/IEC 20000. It focuses on the core principles, practices and processes of a quality approach to IT Service Management and is worth 1 credit.
  • Certified Process Design Engineer (CPDE), an LCS certification, focuses on the assessment, design, implementation, integration and management of IT Service Management processes. This qualification is worth 1.5 credits.
  • BCS Specialist Qualifications in IT Service Management covers a broad range of industry practices including ITIL, COBIT, ISO/IEC 20000 and SFIA/SFIA. Six BCS-ISEB Specialist Qualifications are available: Specialist Certificate in Service Desk and Incident Management, Specialist Certificate in Change Management, Specialist Certificate in Service Level Management, Specialist Certificate in Business Relationship Management, Specialist Certificate in Problem Management and Specialist Certificate in Supplier Management. Each certificate earns 1.5 credits.
  • Configuration Management Database is an APMG-International certification that teaches candidates how to identify, control, report, audit and verify the service assets and CIs of a CMDB, and carries 1.5 credits.
  • Change Analyst is another APMG-International qualification that teaches candidates how to assess, authorize and manage changes within an IT service environment. This qualification earns 1.5 credits.
  • Sourcing Governance Foundation (SGF), an APMG-International qualification, teaches the main concepts of Outsourcing and Sourcing Governance and how to apply them. This qualification is worth 1 credit.
  • BiSL, an APMG-International qualification, makes candidates familiar with a framework that was created to establish a business information management domain. It also teaches how to actively manage, maintain and support the functionality of information systems. This qualification is worth 0.5 credits.
  • ASL2, an APMG-International qualification, focuses on the best practices for designing and carrying out effective application management, including the management, maintenance and upgrading of applications. This qualification is worth 1 credit.

Note: A maximum of six credits from ITIL Complementary Qualifications can be applied towards the ITIL Expert certification.

The AXELOS site offers information on the ITIL credit program to help candidates determine the total credit value they have attained, and provides them with general guidance on additional certificates they may want to obtain, based on their specific career objectives.

ITIL certification exam

You can find information about the framework, accredited training providers and examination institutes here, as well as information about how to map skills and experience with the relevant certifications to map a career path in ITSM.

Prior to taking any of the ITIL exams, you should be able to pass any of the sample ITIL exams that are available online. A list of online ITIL sample exams can be found here; updated as of 2014. Professional ITIL exam preparation kits can also be found online, for a fee. ITIL Prime, for example, offers access to more than 800 ITIL Foundation questions for $59.

Additionally, Axelos offers official ITIL Android OS and iOS apps:

ITIL certification management board

ITIL exams are provided at three levels: Foundation, Practitioner and Manager. The certifications themselves were previously managed by the ITIL Certification Management Board, or ICMB. Originally, the ICMB included representatives from various international organizations, including the U.K. OGC, APMG, the Stationery Office (TSO), ITIL Examination Panel and Examination Institutes (EIs).

In 2006, however, the OGC, which owned the ITIL trademark, turned over the management of the ITIL trademark and the accreditation of examination providers to the APM Group. The APMG then contracted with EXIN, BCS/ISEB, Loyalist Certification Services, PeopleCert Group and other certification bodies, accrediting them as the official examination bodies.

In July 2013, ownership of ITIL was transferred to AXELOS, which maintains the ITIL framework and accredits training and examination institutes. Hundreds of ITIL Accredited Training Organizations (ATOs) are available to deliver training, and ITIL certification exams are administered at the end of a training course or by an Examination Institute (EI), many of which work directly with the ATOs.

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