Is getting to ITIL Expert level worth it?

Is getting to ITIL Expert level worth it?

Is getting to ITIL Expert level worth it? And why do 90% of people taking ITIL Foundation level training go no further?

ITIL® (the IT Infrastructure Library) and its associated certifications have been around since the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of IT professionals have benefitted from the training and ITIL certifications, but has the certification and training brought similar benefits to the organisations typically sponsoring these programs?

In a recent survey the following statistics were uncovered:

  • 79% of people who had reached ITIL Expert level indicated that training and certification helped them to develop their skills so that they could better perform their job, and be more productive, and measurably helped the IT organisation improve overall productivity.
  • 80% of ITIL Experts say that achieving this level of ITIL expertise led to better implementation of IT Service Management processes within their organisation.
  •  91% of ITIL Experts state that ITIL advanced certification is a competitive differentiator. They say that the certification helps them gain confidence and makes them stand out amongst non-certified people.
  •  83% of the respondents say that their expertise is more valued by management after they became ITIL Experts. 87% say their expertise is more valued by peers inside or outside the organization.

Almost all the ITIL Experts stressed the importance of the training that was part of the certification experience. The training allowed them to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the value of good practices and increased their capability to lead improvement initiatives.

IT Service Management is something that all IT organisations do deliberately or otherwise. If the purpose of the IT organisation is to provide a ‘service’ to the business, then IT Service Management is something that needs to be performed anyway. And if it needs to be done, then why not do it properly through qualified ITIL professionals? Through recent research, 160 ITIL Experts explained how they make significant contributions to the success of their organisations. If the research results are anything to go by, these IT professionals attribute much of this success to their ITIL training and certification in no uncertain terms, thus revealing the significant value of taking ITIL training further than just the Foundation level.

Before ITIL Version 3, the ITIL Certification scheme was fairly simple: Foundation – Practitioner – Manager. People seemed to know implicitly that real competence was gained through the Manager’s course – the Red Badge, and that the Foundation and Practitioner courses were just stepping stones along the way. But with the V3 Certification scheme things have become much more complicated. Moving your way through the V3 scheme poses two very big challenges:

  • the number of courses you need to take to reach the 22 points that give you ITIL Expert status which means an enormous commitment in time, and
  • The cost of reaching ITIL Expert level.

Only having the ITIL Foundation level certificate is very restrictive, both for the individual and the organisation.

For the individual, they will not be able to get the better roles they may wish, and in interview situations, would not be able to demonstrate the depth of knowledge perhaps required. In my role at Pink Elephant I have interviewed many potential consultants. I can categorically state that the people with the ‘Red Badge’ qualification – the old v2 Manager’s course – stand head and shoulders above the rest. Closely followed by the new breed of ITIL Experts. People with only Foundation level are simply not in the same league – even though they may have many years ‘practical’ experience.

For the company, people with only a Foundation level qualification simply don’t have the competence to make ITIL realise all the benefits that it can give.

It is still a fact that around 90% of people who have taken an ITIL Foundation qualification have progressed no further up the Certification scheme. The absence of full statistics from APMG makes it difficult to know whether this has been exacerbated by the transition to V3 – all the evidence seems to shows a relatively low take up of the Intermediate certificates. When one considers that Accredited Training Organizations could enter their trainers directly into the exams without attending training courses and that huge swathes have done all the Intermediate exams in order to be able to teach them, one wonders whether the real number of exam passes is distorted.

The Foundation level, which is about basic understanding (Bloom’s 1 & 2), expressly states:  “IT IS NOT INTENDED TO ENABLE THE HOLDERS OF THE CERTIFICATE [Foundation Certificate] TO APPLY THE ITIL PRACTICES FOR SERVICE MANAGEMENT WITHOUT FURTHER GUIDANCE”. It isn’t compulsory to attend a training course before taking the exam, so there are a significant number of people who take the exam through Prometrics or Pearson Vue, either after attending an unaccredited course or through some form of self-study. Interestingly, the statistics show that there is a distinct variance in pass rates between those who have attended an accredited course and those who haven’t.  So clearly (good) training does help.

But here are some interesting points:

  1. The Foundation exam is designed to be passed by the majority of people since it is only the first step on a journey.  So it is only a minor achievement for most candidates – 90% don’t continue on the journey.
  2. Although it is only a basic step, many people place an enormous weight to it; hence the queries: “I’ve passed my ITIL Foundation, what letters can I put after my name?” and the frequent claims about “ITIL certified” staff numbers.  Having staff with only the Foundation level certificate does not give you competent ITIL staff in this context.
  3. Do organisations and individuals understand that by investing in a 3-day Foundation course the delegates are only gaining a basic awareness and NOT any capability?
  4. Does the market (i.e. employers) recognise and place any value on the Intermediate courses? Obviously not.
  5. Do potential interviewees, with only the Foundation Certificate, understand that when being interviewed by someone with any sort of extensive ITIL knowledge, they will be exposed.

The fact that only 90% follow any further ITIL education is a very worrying statistic. Maybe we, as Authorised Training Organisations, should shoulder the responsibility of not educating the market, to the fact that the Foundation is simply the first step of the ladder. The course is certainly a necessity, and it does give a very good overview of IT Service Management à la ITIL, but from a 20,000ft view. Organisations shouldn’t think that sending people on the Foundation course will enable the attendee to come back to the workplace and be able to make ITIL realise the benefits it undoubtedly gives.

We see many examples of organisations who train only to Foundation level, then don’t understand why they are not making the difference ITIL promises. We also meet many “ITIL Consultants” [Contractors] who have been placed by Agencies, (that know no better), in roles where they are employed to help the organisation adopt ITIL – and they are woefully ill-prepared.  I was once introduced to an organisation’s “ITIL Guru” – this person had attended one of our Foundation courses two weeks earlier. Incidentally this Guru was working for a large Consulting Group helping this organisation to improve its IT Service Management.

In answer to the question posed in the title of this paper: people don’t go any further than Foundation level because they think this is all they need, and that to go any further is too much of a commitment in time and money, and that the returns they would expect to get back from this commitment wouldn’t give them a decent ROI. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and a well thought out investment in ITIL training will reap benefits a hundred fold.


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Gijs-Jan Huisman

Regional Director EMEA +44 (0)7850 776 090