ITIL 4 points to the need for more AI and automation in ITSM

02.18.2019 | By Mark Speyers

It can’t have escaped your attention that an updated version of ITIL – ITIL 4 – is coming. Well, to be more precise – it’s already here, with the first publication “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 edition” released on the 18th February ahead of the formal ITIL 4 launch on the 28th February 2019. People will, no doubt, have lots of questions related to what’s changed in the shared IT service management (ITSM) best practice since the ITIL v3 and updated 2011 editions. In particular, what’s been added in relation to new approaches such as DevOps and technology design and delivery models such as cloud.

There are of course many perspectives, or lenses, to view the updated ITIL 4 approach through – some people will be interested in the replacement of the ITIL service lifecycle with the ITIL service value chain. Others might be interested in the detail of new approaches to incident management, say. But, for me, one of the most important aspects of ITIL 4 is the call out of automation.

Or, as the world moves on in technology terms, the use of different technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) – to automate tasks that were previously manual (or even to introduce capabilities that were previously too difficult, if not impossible, without automated assistance).

This blog looks at the focus on automation that’s inherent within the new ITIL 4 Foundation publication.

Automation and ITSM

We work in IT, so automation is nothing new for your average ITSM professional. But, in some ways, we could be accused of succumbing to the “shoemaker’s children go barefoot” effect – where we’re too busy providing shoes (OK, automation) to others to sufficiently see to our own family’s needs.

Of course, there are many automation-based capabilities currently employed with ITSM ecosystems – from workflow automation (and everything that comes with this in ITSM tools), through discrete automated capabilities such as password reset, to the use of orchestration (maybe via third-party tools) to automate repetitive infrastructure tasks.

However, there are still more opportunities for even greater automation of ITSM practices and the significant benefits this would realize. For instance, much of the IT industry has already grabbed automated cloud management capabilities with both hands. Plus, the automated elements of DevOps (and the overlaps with the cloud).

Now AI and automation offer even greater abilities to further automate what has traditionally been high-volume, low-value ITSM and IT support tasks – continuing to reduce the required manual effort, with the effect of:

  • Increasing speed of execution – where the AI and automation work at a far quicker pace than people.
  • Increasing service and support availability – with the AI and automation providing for 24×7 availability.
  • Reducing operational costs – where AI and automation are not only quicker and more available, it’s also cheaper relative to the human labor that would otherwise be needed.
  • Improving the employee experience – thanks to the increased speed, higher availability, and better outcomes offered by AI and automation.
  • Reducing human errors – because, while the AI and automation can of course still make wrong decisions based on what’s known, it will perform better than its human equivalents.


As with the interest in ITIL 4, the ITSM industry spent much of 2018 looking at how a new wave of technological capabilities could help to improve IT service delivery and support. With example use-case scenarios that are gaining traction with ITSM tool vendors and their customers including:

  • “Digital colleagues” (also called bots, chatbots, virtual assistants, cognitive assistants, digital agents, and other names) – bringing dynamically-delivered self-help to those who need assistance.
  • Initial ticket processing – from ticket categorization, through prioritization, to resolution-group assignment.
  • Providing context-based information and knowledge – to both end users (who are seeking support) and IT support staff (who are seeking to quickly help others).
  • Analytics – using the technology to better understand large data sets.

These and other AI-enabled capabilities are a great opportunity to change the way that work is automated in ITSM – making work, and life, easier for everyone.

But how is ITIL 4 reflecting the growing opportunities of AI and automation?

ITIL 4 and AI and Automation

A quick scan of the new ITIL 4 Foundation book offers up an early call out for automation – where ITIL 4 builds on the nine guiding principles first shared in the 2016 ITIL publication “Practitioner Guidance.”

These principles are now included ITIL 4 – albeit in a revised form (there are now only “seven guiding principles of ITSM”) – and it’s here that we see ITIL 4 focus on the need for greater automation:

  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

Some of these seven guiding principles flowed through from the original nine (in some cases absorbing others), others have been tweaked, but the seventh – optimize and automate – is brand new for ITIL 4.

Optimize and Automate

ITIL 4 describes the “optimize and automate” guiding principle using the following:

“Resources of all types, particularly human resources (HR), should be used to their best effect. Eliminate anything that is truly wasteful and use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of. Human intervention should only happen where it really contributes value.”

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 edition” (2019)

Which not only promotes the need for automation but also alludes to the need for more than traditional “heavy lifting” automation. Thanks to the inclusion of “use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of” the more astute reader will also think of the potential of AI to improve IT service delivery and support operations and outcomes. With this including the “heavy thinking” through AI as well as the “heavy lifting” through both automation and AI.

ITIL 4 and AI and Automation – Beyond the 7th Guiding Principle

Both AI and automation – although the latter is mentioned far more times – are repeatedly referred to within the wider ITIL 4 Foundation book. But don’t expect the ITIL 4 Foundation book to have all the answers when it comes to how AI and automation can be used and how best to adopt it – this simply isn’t what the ITIL 4 Foundation book is aimed at. It never has been and probably never will be.

But for me, the addition of the new seventh guiding principle is a great start in recognizing the need for more AI and automation in ITSM. It just makes so much sense to free up highly-capable ITSM professionals to other higher value-add work instead.

What do you think about AI and automation’s inclusion in ITIL 4? Would you like to see more helpful content related to ITSM use cases for AI and ITSM, and how best to succeed with AI in particular? Please let me know in the comments.

If you would like to find out more, then please join with me for our upcoming webinar , where industry analysts Roy Atkinson and Stephen Mann, and service and support managers will talk about how AI can help with the pressures and expectations of modern IT support.

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