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ITIL Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

Leslie Pankowski
Leslie Pankowski

For business owners who want to protect their IT investments by hiring skilled IT professionals, an ITIL certification could be the answer.

  • ITIL has served as the standard framework for IT service and delivery management since the late 1980s.
  • Certification in ITIL has evolved to keep up with the changing demands and realities in information technology.
  • Small businesses that hire ITIL-certified employees are investing in strategic thinkers who are trained and certified to provide up-to-date IT service, management and leadership.
  • This article is for IT professionals and small business owners interested in ITIL certifications.

Are you an IT professional looking to increase your value as an employee? Or a small business owner who wants to protect your IT investments by hiring skilled IT professionals? An ITIL certification could be the answer to your needs. Keep reading to find out what ITIL is, what certifications are available and why businesses should take advantage of this framework.

What is ITIL?

ITIL, short for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, was developed in the 1980s by the United Kingdom’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). It was designed to be a set of standardized best practices for information technology (IT) services in government agencies. Over the next four decades, big and small companies in diverse industries and market sectors adopted, revised and expanded ITIL into what it is today: a comprehensive framework for managing IT service delivery.

ITIL is the standard framework accepted worldwide for managing IT service delivery. The ITIL framework defines a service lifecycle model for IT services. It prescribes specific processes and activities during each phase in the IT service lifecycle — the design, development, delivery and support of IT services. 

In today’s business world, companies and organizations need complex computing resources to keep their businesses operating and generating revenue. The ITIL framework gives companies the structure and discipline required to design, develop, deliver and manage new or improved services on time and, most importantly, on a budget. [Read related article: Technical vs. Management: Which IT Career Track Is Right for You?]

ITIL 4 overview

Over the 30+ years since its debut, different versions of ITIL have been released to stay consistent with, or ahead of, evolving business requirements. ITIL 4 launched in February 2019 and has continued to expand and evolve, prompting the discontinuation of version 3 in 2021. 

According to Axelos, the owner of the ITIL framework intellectual property and the accreditation process for approving certified trainers, ITIL 4 was designed to align ITIL with other existing IT management methods like IT4IT, Agile, DevOps and Lean, as well as to incorporate feedback from users.


Unsure whether ITIL 4 is the right credential for your career or team? Check out our roundup of the best evergreen IT certifications that can also aid IT professionals and businesses.

ITIL 4: the 7 guiding principles

Seven guiding principles form the core of the ITIL 4 framework. Think of these as the objectives that should guide your business’s IT practices. They aren’t hard rules, but rather universal suggestions applicable to any corporation or organization.

  1. Focus on value.
  2. Start where you are.
  3. Progress iteratively with feedback.
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility.
  5. Think and work holistically.
  6. Keep it simple and practical.
  7. Optimize and automate.

ITIL certification levels

An ITIL 4 certification means an IT professional is trained in a particular level of the ITIL framework and capable of providing the IT management services associated with their certification. If you’re a worker, this credential is a boon to your resume, as it shows your competence and skill. If you’re a business owner, hiring workers with this certification means you can rely on highly skilled IT professionals to serve your company’s IT management needs.

There are four certifications in the ITIL certification program:

  • ITIL 4 Foundation
  • ITIL 4 Managing Professional 
  • ITIL 4 Strategic Leader
  • ITIL 4 Extension Modules

ITIL 4 Foundation

As its name suggests, the ITIL 4 Foundation certification trains IT professionals in the fundamentals of IT service management, preparing individuals for the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations of an IT professional.

ITIL 4 Managing Professional 

The next ITIL certification level, ITIL 4 Managing Professional (ITIL MP), is a series of four modules that provides IT professionals with the practical and technical skills to grow from ITIL Specialist to ITIL Strategist. Each of the four modules has a different professional skill focus. 

  • ITIL Specialist modules:
    • Create, Deliver and Support
    • Driver Stakeholder Value
    • High-Velocity IT
  • ITIL Strategist modules
    • Direct, Plan, and Improve

An individual is required to take all four modules before they are eligible to receive an ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification. 

ITIL 4 Strategic Leader

There are two modules for the ITIL4 Strategic Leader (ITIL SL) certification. 

  • ITIL Strategist modules
    • Direct, Plan and Improve
  • ITIL Leader modules
  • Digital & IT Strategy

Note that the ITIL Strategist module “Direct, Plan and Improve” applies to both the ITIL 4 Managing Professional and the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certifications. Therefore, if an individual has already earned their ITIL 4 Managing Professional designation, they only need to complete the ITIL 4 Leader “Digital & IT Strategy” module to achieve the ITIL 4 Strategic Leader designation.

ITIL 4 Extension Modules

The ITIL 4 Extension Modules were created to offer IT professionals the skills, tools and strategies to work with emerging technologies and the evolving realities in the IT field today and in the future.

  • ITIL 4 Specialist modules
    • Sustainability in Digital & IT
  • ITIL 4 Specialist modules
    • Acquiring & Managing Cloud Services

There are no prerequisites for either extension module, so all IT professionals who want to deepen their guidance and understanding of the ITIL framework can do so. 

Did You Know?

While an IT certification is a great sign of an IT worker’s hard skills, there are also soft skills every tech professional needs, such as communication and collaboration skills.

ITIL training

ITIL training coursesarerun by accredited training organizations in a variety of formats.While Axelos has owned the ITIL framework since 2013, it also maintains ITIL accreditation for training and examination institutes. There are hundreds of ITIL-accredited training organizations (ATOs) that are approved to deliver training and administer the certification exams at the end of the training course. 

Individuals may also choose one organization for certification training and exam preparation and then take their certification exam at an approved examination institute (EI), many of which work directly with the ATOs. Training courses and exams are required to obtain certification.

The use of ITIL isn’t limited to specific industries, enterprise-level companies or the private sector. It was designed as a transferable framework and continues to evolve to maintain its applicability. ITIL is used across the United States and around the world in brand-name companies and organizations like IBM, HBSC and NASA. That means there are a lot of opportunities for people seeking ITIL-related jobs.

Some careers that use, or could benefit from, ITIL certification include the following: 

  • IT project managers
  • Mid-level and senior-level professionals in the IT sector
  • IT system administrators
  • IT service management roles
  • Professionals at companies that serve clients or customers in technology and IT services
  • IT consultants

Due to the increasing importance of technology in businesses of all sizes, as well as the applicability of the ITIL framework across industries and fields, many small and midsize businesses now recognize the value of hiring ITIL-certified employees before a lack of skilled IT professionals causes the business to take a nosedive. [These tech horror stories will give you chills.]

Why businesses should use the ITIL framework

ITIL helps align business goals and needs with IT services. It allows companies to conduct effective risk management, improve customer relations, foster the most cost-effective practices and create a dynamic IT environment that can freely grow and evolve.

These are some specific benefits of ITIL framework utilization:

  • Reduced costs for IT service development and deployment
  • Improved customer satisfaction based on better IT service delivery speed and efficiency
  • Increased productivity from IT personnel in all roles and quality improvement in work output
  • Better management metrics of services
  • Increased organizational, employee and manager flexibility in adapting services to changing business requirements

Before ITIL, many IT projects suffered budget overruns, veered off course, or failed outright due to scope creep, mismanagement and a lack of repeatable results. In the 1980s, ITIL introduced structure and discipline to IT service management. Thanks to subsequent improvements to the framework, businesses taking advantage of ITIL can rest assured their IT teams are following best practices to make the most of their IT operations.


Business owners can learn more about IT by studying these essential technology terms and keeping up with the latest small business technology trends.

How ITIL certification can support your business and career 

The ITIL framework continues to be the standard best practice in IT service and delivery management, with certification programs accessible to all levels of IT professionals. These training and certification courses help keep IT workers prepared for the evolution of IT service delivery management. Small businesses that encourage professional development for employees and prioritize retaining ITIL-certified staff are investing in the future of their organizations by protecting their IT systems and processes with skilled managers and teams equipped to handle whatever may come up.

Ed Tittel and Earl Follis contributed to this article.

Image Credit: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock
Leslie Pankowski
Leslie Pankowski
Staff Writer
Leslie Pankowski is a writer at Business News Daily. She has 25+ years of professional experience working for advertising agencies, non-profits, universities, and the City of New York. Her focus is on talent management, leadership, and employee communications. She earned her MBA at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Before writing for Business News Daily, Leslie produced content on U.S. employee workplace and health policies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as employee recruitment, engagement, and recognition programs.