By Michael Scarborough, PMP, Six Sigma Black Belt, ITIL Service Manager, ITIL Expert
The professional certification industry has grown significantly in conjunction with increased growth of various aspects of the information technology field. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) is a set of best practices designed to describe common approaches that organizations can apply to regular activities conducted by information technology (IT) organizations.
The current version of ITIL offers a series of professional certifications designed to attest to an individual's level of competency in specific areas that ITIL covers, or to attest to an individual's level of competency in the overall set of ITIL best practices.
As with many professional certifications, establishing a precise value to both organizations and individuals for earning a credential is difficult to precisely calculate. However, it is believed that there is some combination of both tangible and intangible factors that makes certifications a worthwhile investment of time and money for both organizations and individuals.
This article specifically discusses the value of ITIL certifications to both organizations and individuals in the context of various tangible and intangible factors. Furthermore, respondents to a survey of individuals with various degrees of ITIL certification gave specific organizational improvements that the knowledge gained while earning ITIL certifications contributed to. These specific organizational benefits are clear examples of the value of ITIL certifications.
What Are ITIL Certifications?
The official ITIL certification program currently consists of 12 certifications that attest to the holder's knowledge from a very basic level up to a level indicating significant overall mastery.
In an ITIL certification program, the first certification that individuals earn is ITIL Foundation. ITIL Foundation is an entry-level certification that indicates individuals have demonstrated a specific level of knowledge about terms, processes, and other aspects of ITIL. ITIL Foundation is very basic, and it is intended to set the stage and prepare the individual for higher-level ITIL certifications.
The ITIL Intermediate certifications are the general next step after earning an ITIL Foundation certificate. The intermediate certifications are divided into two paths: Lifecycle and Capability.
Intermediate Lifecycle Path
The ITIL Intermediate Lifecycle consists of the following five certifications:
• Service Strategy
• Service Design
• Service Transition
• Service Operation
• Continual Service Improvement
Earning any of these certifications attests that the holder has demonstrated a specific level of understanding of that aspect of the ITIL best practices. To earn any of the ITIL intermediate lifecycle certifications, individuals must pass a challenging exam that asks how they would handle very realistic scenarios that can be addressed using ITIL best practices.
As a general rule, the ITIL Intermediate Lifecycle certifications are appropriate for management and decisionmakers in an organization, as the classes that support these certifications generally take a management-level approach to coverage of the ITIL best practices.
Intermediate Capability Path
The other side of the ITIL Intermediate certifications is known as the Intermediate Capability Path. The capability path consists of the following certifications.
• Planning, Protection, and Optimization
• Release, Control, and Validation
• Operational Support and Analysis
• Service Offerings and Agreements
As with the lifecycle certifications, to earn any capability certification, individuals must pass an exam covering that specific topic.
As a general rule, the ITIL Intermediate Capability certifications are appropriate for those who regularly perform various hands-on IT activities, as the classes that support these certifications tend to take a more detailed look at ITIL best practices.
ITIL Advanced ITIL Certifications
Once a candidate has earned the ITIL Foundation certificate plus a defined number of credits from the available ITIL intermediate certifications, the individual is eligible to take a class called Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC). MALC, like the intermediate certifications, requires that the individual pass a challenging exam. Once individuals pass the MALC exam and have the required number of credits, they are awarded the ITIL Expert certificate. The ITIL Expert credential indicates that the individual has a strong, high-level understanding of the ITIL best practices and how they're used to help organizations.
ITIL Master is a specialized level of certification beyond ITIL Expert for individuals who have in-depth practical experience with implementing ITIL best practices. In order to achieve ITIL Master, an individual is required to describe and defend real-life projects they have completed using ITIL best practices.
In order to assess the value of ITIL certifications to individuals and organizations, a survey was created and targeted to individuals who have earned various ITIL certifications. The purpose of the survey was to assess both the tangible and intangible value of these certifications, and it focused on various ITIL Intermediate certifications and ITIL Expert. The value of ITIL Foundation was not assessed because that is a basic, common, entry-level certification. The value of ITIL Master was not assessed because it is a new certification that is relatively unknown in the market at the time of this survey. The survey consisted of five questions.
The survey was sent to 117 people known to have earned at least one ITIL intermediate certification. Many of the respondents have earned multiple ITIL certifications, including ITIL Expert.
Overall, the survey was designed to be simple, easily completed within a few minutes, and aimed towards identifying whether or not there was some benefit of ITIL certifications to individuals and organizations.
Analysis - The Value of ITIL Certifications to Individuals
Responses to the survey showed clearly that earning intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications is valuable to individuals.
Of the 117 participants, 76.5 percent indicated that earning ITIL intermediate and advanced certifications made them more marketable compared to others in the job market. This is significant value because of recent economic conditions and the need for individuals to show that they have the credentials and experience that are significantly better than those they're competing against for limited jobs.
Of the respondents, 58.8 percent indicated that the ITIL intermediate credentials resulted in an improved ability to compete with others in the job market. This statement was intended to assess whether or not the pursuit of ITIL intermediate and advanced certifications resulted in some skills that made respondents more competitive than others. Clearly, there is an effect here, given that over 50 percent of the respondents indicated that due to pursuit of ITIL intermediate and advanced certifications they were better able to compete with others in the job market.
Individuals occasionally pursue ITIL certifications as a means to qualify them for specific roles in an organization. The expectation was that a positive response to this statement would be higher; however, the survey indicated that over 50 percent of the respondents qualified themselves for a specific role by earning advanced and intermediate ITIL certifications. This represents significant value and speaks to the extent to which organizations value the knowledge and experience gained when an individual earns advanced ITIL certifications. Clearly, employers respect these certifications if they are willing to assign key roles to people based upon earning these certifications.
A regular criticism of ITIL certifications is that they do not in and of themselves generate new knowledge in individuals. The survey results showed the opposite of this belief because 70.6 percent of respondents indicated that they developed specific beneficial knowledge and expertise, which is a clear indication of value to individuals in terms of learning new and useful information.
Respondents also overwhelmingly indicated that earning advanced and intermediate ITIL certifications resulted in direct application to work activities and projects. Of the respondents, 76.5 percent showed that these certifications held value for them in the form of being able to directly apply knowledge learned in pursuit of the certification to specific work activities.
Another key aspect of the responses to this question is that all respondents indicated that at least one aspect of individual value was present for them. In other words, none of the respondents indicated that the ITIL advanced and intermediate certifications lacked value.
Analysis - The Value of ITIL Certifications to Organizations
There is much debate in the IT world about the value of certifications to organizations, and this debate often includes the value of ITIL certifications to organizations. Value has intangible aspects, and it's often difficult to adequately assess value. This survey assessed several aspects of the value of ITIL certifications to organizations by asking respondents how earning these certifications helped their employers.
Forty-seven percent of respondents indicated that their employers experienced improved efficiency in terms of cost and time, while 55 percent indicated improvements in overall effectiveness. From a standpoint of efficiency and effectiveness, efficiency is a matter of an organization conducting its activities while minimizing waste. Effectiveness is a matter of conducting the right activities to support business activities. Clearly, organizations found value in terms of efficiency and effectiveness since they encourage employees to earn intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications.
The next two statements also assessed efficiency and effectiveness, but in different ways. First, improved overall organizational quality is primarily an assessment of efficiency, and 41 percent of the respondents indicated value to their employers in this area. Improved alignment within the business is an indicator of effectiveness, or doing the right things, and 52 percent indicated that overall business alignment improved as a result of their pursuit of intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications. This is significant because IT organizations regularly struggle with efficiently using limited resources and budgets, and often suffer from regular conduct of activities that the business does not find valuable. Clearly, individuals earning advanced and intermediate ITIL certifications helped their employers in this area and, therefore, clearly have value to organizations.
The next statement asked respondents if earning advanced and intermediate ITIL certifications improved the perception of IT within the business. Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated that it did. Clearly this issue is not as important an issue as overall efficiency and effectiveness, but it was important enough that over onethird of respondents indicated improvement in this area. Some IT organizations suffer from a negative perception by the business, which can limit overall IT effectiveness. The knowledge gained by earning ITIL certifications can help organizations overcome negative perceptions of IT that are often held by the business.
Often, businesses have to compete with other businesses for work, and demonstrating a measure of knowledge and expertise with ITIL best practices can result in one organization winning work or a contract over less experienced organizations. Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated that their earning the advanced and intermediate ITIL certifications resulted in a business ability to pursue new work or contracts. The clear value statement is that when an organization's employees develop knowledge of ITIL best practices through earning intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications, it can have a direct impact on an organization's revenue.
Only 23.5 percent of respondents felt that the knowledge they gained provided their employers with an overall form of risk management. A generally held belief in the IT industry is that employees earning certifications is one form of risk management available to organizations. Clearly, participants in this survey did not see as strong an effect here as in other areas assessed in this survey.
Finally, 47 percent of respondents indicated that the knowledge they gained allowed them to directly address one or more specific issues, projects, or activities. The benefit for employers here is clear; their employees learned something when they earned these certifications that they could apply directly to activities at work. Certification is often held to be theoretical; however, this survey indicates true value to employers in the form of developing in their employees the ability to accomplish important and significant things for the organizations.
Additionally, 100 percent of the respondents indicated that the costs, in terms of time and money, to earn intermediate and advanced ITIL certification was worthwhile.
Analysis - Specific Organizational Improvements
Respondents to the survey were given the ability to enter free-form responses detailing specific organizational improvements that have occurred due to the knowledge gained in the pursuit of intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications. There were numerous specific improvements noted by the respondents. Some of the responses to this question included:
• Massive process implementation and improvements.
• We have used ITIL for process development and documentation supporting ISO 27001.
• The knowledge I gained from the ITIL certifications helped me in standardizing and putting together processes across our IT organization in order to improve our effectiveness in serving our customer base.
• Improved overall organization health and ability to work within IT budgets that were not increasing for several years.
• Due to the new rare skill set available to the business unit with my certification, the officers responsible are able to pursue organizational changes in alignment with ITIL framework, for better efficiencies and effectiveness. Personally, I am also able to convince others of the process changes needed to bring efficiencies in the responsibilities that I own with more conviction.
• Re-organization of our IT department to better facilitate service management in the business - New Project proposal and filtering processes - Additional testing and validation improvements - Additional business support and change/release buy in
• IT department transparency. The IT department is now more of a partner with the business. The business knows what IT is doing.
• Implementation of change management and improvement in alignment with business.
• We centralized 11 regionally dispersed service desks into one and increased the coverage to 24/7 resulting in reduced costs to provide commonly expected service desk functions.
• I don't use ITIL to help my employer, but I do consult with our customers in helping them with their organizational improvements in all process areas.
• Have formed a new IT Service Management team that I am leading. Have onboarded remaining IT support teams onto common Incident Management process. Working on Problem and Change Management. Have stood up CMDB.
• My company has recently established an internal 'center of excellence' for ITIL. I am a member of its steering committee.
• Transition a very siloed model into a service desk (depot) model. Currently integrating incident management with problem management, and designs have been set in place for access management to transition into the service desk.
• The organization was able to generate additional revenue and reduce information technology expenses through following ITIL best practices.
• My department was better able to get control of requests of the IT department. This made our customers happier and ended up with fewer requests that weren't being handled. This reduced delays experienced by the business and saved them money. I learned about this and was given specific examples of how to address this in Global Knowledge's ITIL certification classes.
• We were able to align several initiatives that were not going well by implementing aspects of governanceas described by ITIL.
• The organization is responsible for various services. We were able to more effectively manage diverse services including everything from desktop support, to mainframe systems, to cloud computing in a consistent manner that resulted in predictable costs and quality for the business.
This survey collected numerous responses that indicated specific and real actions that had value to organizations that were directly traceable to an employee's experience earning intermediate and advanced ITIL certifications.
What Does This Mean?
Simply put, this survey demonstrated that ITIL certifications hold significant value for both individuals and employers. That value can be demonstrated by clear benefits to individuals as well as clear, documentable benefits to organizations. In addition, these benefits are repeatable across individuals, industries, and environments.
We intend to conduct this survey periodically in the future and continually improve it. Ideally, we'll expand this to a broader audience and will further tailor the survey questions to elicit responses that allow a continued determination of whether or not ITIL certifications generate value for both individuals and employers.
About the Author
Michael Scarborough has worked in information technology for over twenty-two years in various roles including hands-on operation of IT systems, leadership of complex projects, establishing multi-platforms automation, and adoption of service management best practices. He has helped numerous organizations in various industries adopt ITIL best practices and is a PMP, an American Society for Quality Six Sigma Black Belt, and ITIL Service Manager, and an ITIL Expert. Michael currently helps large and small organizations make significant improvements through adoption of ITIL best practices, and regularly delivers ITIL training at all levels on behalf of Global Knowledge.