ITIL v3: All you need to know about the third version of the IT framework

Anyone involved in IT service management has probably heard of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). Put simply, it is a collection of best practices that is intended to make the work of IT managers and service providers such as Managed Service Providers easier and to present examples of efficient and customer-oriented day-to-day work. In this article we focus on ITIL v3, the third edition of the IT guide.

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What is ITIL v3?

ITIL v3 is the third version of the IT Service Management Guide ITIL. It was first published in June 2007 but has been extensively revised many times since then. When someone speaks of ITIL v3 today, they are usually referring to the edition published in July 2011. This version consists of a comprehensive introduction and the following five volumes for the core areas of IT service management:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual Service Improvement

Compared to the previous versions ITIL v1 and ITIL v2, which consisted of 42 and 9 different documents respectively, the contents of ITIL v3 are summarized in a much more structured way. This is also reflected in the fact that all chapters are structured according to the same pattern for better orientation. In the five volumes, the third version of the framework describes a total of 26 core processes that are intended to serve companies as best practices but can be adapted to individual needs at any time.

Which ITIL v3 processes are there?

While the previous editions took a process-oriented approach, the main focus in the third edition of ITIL is on an overarching service life cycle, which is also reflected in the titles of the five volumes. All of the best practices presented here incorporate this cycle. First, a strategy must be developed before the actual service can be designed. The next step is to put the service into operation and then manage it to the customer's satisfaction. In order to deliver high quality in the long term, the final phase of the cycle is continuous improvement.

Even though the process-oriented approach has been softened in ITIL v3, the best practices are still listed as processes in the guide - unlike in the successor version ITIL v4, where processes are referred to as “practices”. The following 26 processes (here assigned to the five phases of the service lifecycle) can be found in ITIL v3:

Strategy Design Transition Operation Improvement
Strategy Management Service Catalogue Management Transition Planning and Support Access Management 7-Step Improvement
Demand Management Availability Management Change Management Event Management  
Service Portfolio Management Information Security Management Change Evaluation Request Fulfilment  
Financial Management Service Level Management Release and Deployment Management Incident Management  
Business Relationship Capacity Management Service Asset and Configuration Management Problem Management  
  Design Coordination Service Validation and Testing    
  Supplier Management Knowledge Management    
  IT Service Continuity Management      

In addition, ITIL v3 describes four different “functions”. These are organizational units, e.g., certain teams of a company, which perform a specific set of activities. The four functions of the third ITIL edition are:

  • Service Desk: Point of contact between service provider and users or customers
  • Application Management: Software development and maintenance
  • Technical Management: Management of the technical aspects of IT services
  • Operations Management: Day-to-day business management (IT operations management and IT facility management)

Unlike other important IT guidelines such as audit security, companies as a whole cannot be certified for conforming to ITIL. The certification for ITIL v3, etc. is person-related and consists of multi-stage training including examinations.

Is ITIL v3 still up to date?

Since 2020, ITIL v4 has been the official successor to ITIL v3, although this does not mean that the third version of the IT guide is no longer relevant. This is particularly due to the fact a lot of the content in ITIL v3 can also be found in ITIL v4.

Thus, the practices of the new edition are strongly oriented towards the processes described in the predecessors. The service lifecycle approach also continues to play a role, although it has been removed as a key principle: The Service Value Chain, which is one of the five components of the Service Value System (SVS) from ITIL v4, is more or less an extension of the ITIL v3 lifecycle.

However, the fact that ITIL v3 continues to be valid is due in particular to another reason, which the authors of the current edition have emphasized from the beginning. It's because many IT companies still need clearly structured processes such as those described in ITIL v3. Agile structures, which are the aim of ITIL v4, are becoming increasingly important in principle, but they often do not (yet) fit into everyday business life.


Instead of a complete changeover to ITIL v4, a hybrid approach is also possible. With a hybrid model, departments and projects that operate by structured processes can continue to be guided by the principles of ITIL v3. Departments and projects that are based on an agile approach, meanwhile, have the appropriate means of orientation at hand with the successor version.

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