As a proven provider of Outsourced ITIL® IT Support and Service Desk Staff, the Aptude team works to stay on top of ITIL® nomenclature and best practices. And if you’re a manager or executive leader who has to make decisions within an ITIL® framework, then it’s imperative you speak the same language as your peers and understand foundational best practices Knowing the following fifteen ITIL® 4 definitions will help you communicate effectively and gain a better grasp of ITIL® terminology and philosophy.

Definition: Service

According to ITIL 4, Service is “a means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customers having to manage specific costs and risks.”

The important words in this definition are value, outcomes, costs, and risks. Value is what the customer gets out of the service, such as reducing costs, gaining revenue, or improved client experience. Outcomes are results that the business wants to achieve that can be tied to a specific value. Costs are the known and unknown costs associated with delivering the service that gets the outcome. Finally, risks are a possible event that could derail the service delivery and thus the outcome and value. What IT delivers, ideally, is service that has value.

Definition: Service Desk

According to ITIL 4, a Service Desk is “the point of contact between the service provider and all its users.”

Remember that ITL is an IT framework, so here the users are the stakeholders and employees in your organization and the service provider is the IT service desk. The Service Desk asks as a conduit of communication between the end users who need service and value and the IT providers who can deliver it.

The focus on service is why the term “service desk”, rather than “help desk”, is used for IT support.

Definition: Escalation

According to ITIL 4, Escalation is “the act of sharing awareness or transferring ownership of an issue or work item.”

In normal Service Desk operations, escalations are common if not expected, since proper ticket management should result in discovering problems that require root cause analysis and resolution. That’s not to say that reducing the number of ticket escalations is a bad idea, though. To reduce unnecessary escalations, look for ways to beef up your knowledge base and training around areas that seem to be a problem for your level 1 and level 2 agents.

Definition: Incident

According to ITIL 4, an Incident is “an unplanned interruption to a service or reduction in the quality of a service.”

In normal Service Desk operations, an incident is something that doesn’t happen that should have happened, or something that happened that was unexpected. A laptop that won’t start up is an incident, as is a failed backup process.

A series of incidents that recur over and over again might turn out to be a problem, which is the next definition.

Definition: Problem

According to ITIL 4, a Problem is “a cause, or potential cause, of one or more incidents.”

Problems are underlying causes of incidents, especially incidents that reoccur. For example, let’s say that the server hosting an important company-wide application goes down. That outage would naturally create numerous incident tickets from users who can’t access that app. Resolving the root problem by getting the server back up should resolve the incidents related to that problem. For issues less easily identified, careful trend analysis, escalation, and Root Cause Analysis is necessary.

Definition: Service Request

According to ITIL 4, a Service Request is a “request from a user or user’s authorized representative that initiates a service action which has been agreed as a normal part of service delivery.”

In Service Desk operations, this is what happens when a user requests to get a license for an application, to reset their password, or purchase a new laptop. Requests are repeatable and inevitable, and the better process you have for managing these, the better you’ll do.

Definition: Knowledge Management

According to ITIL 4, Knowledge Management is, “the practice of maintaining and improving the effective, efficient, and convenient use of information and knowledge across an organization.”

With a Knowledge Management Practice in place, you can more effectively plan, maintain, and optimize the knowledge base resources within your service desk team. A good outsourced service desk team will not only follow knowledge management you’ve already written, but help you build new knowledge and best practices based on what they find as they work in the queue.

Definition: Reactive Problem Management

According to ITIL 4, Reactive Problem management is the practice of responding to problems after they occur and determining the root cause of problems so they can be resolved after the fact; this is in opposition to proactive problem management, which is concerned with preventing further incidents from a known problem.

Definition: Four Dimensions of Service Management

According to ITIL 4, the Four Dimensions of Service Management are, “the four perspectives that are critical to the effective and efficient facilitation of value for customers and other stakeholders in the form of products and services.”

These dimensions are:

  • Organizations and People
  • Information and Technology
  • Partners and Suppliers
  • Value Streams and Processes

These dimensions include political and social factors that introduce risk, such as political factors, legal factors, technological factors, and economic factors.

Definition: Known Error

According to ITIL 4, a Known Error is “a problem that has been analysed but not been resolved.” An example of a known error is a problem that is waiting to be fixed, such as an application that has a bug that the development team is working on but hasn’t pushed to production yet. Errors and incidents are due to a known problem, but the problem can’t be resolved in the moment and neither can the incident.

Known errors commonly lead to workarounds, which is the next ITIL 4 definition.

Definition: Workaround

According to ITIL 4, a Workaround is “a solution that reduces or eliminates the impact of an incident or problem for which a full resolution is not yet available. Some workarounds reduce the likelihood of incidents.”

An example workaround is continually patching old software to work on an outdated piece of hardware instead of spending the time and money to upgrade to a new cloud platform.

Workarounds can lead to technical debt, which is the next ITIL 4 definition.

Definition: Technical Debt

According to ITIL 4, Technical Debt is “the total rework backlog accumulated by choosing workarounds instead of system solutions that would take longer.”

At Aptude, we spend a fair bit of time helping organizations resolve technical debt by either supporting legacy applications so the in-house team doesn’t have to, or eliminating the technical debt entirely by executing projects like migrating from on-prem to O365 or other cloud-based platforms.

Definition: Design Thinking

According to ITIL 4, Design Thinking is “a practical and human-centered approach used by product and service designers to solve complex problems and find practical and creative solutions that meet the needs of an organization and its customers.”

Design thinking is, simply put, a way of solving problems that is user-focused and human-friendly. Design thinking aims to create solutions that are desirable, feasible, and valuable.

Definition: Customer Experience (CX)

According to ITIL 4, Customer Experience (often abbreviated to “CX”), is “the sum of functional and emotional interactions with a service and service provider as perceived by a service consumer.”

The push to optimize the Customer Experience isn’t just a marketing exercise: CX has real business value. New research suggests that customer experience will become the primary differentiating factor for businesses. Savvy businesses are using UX/UI methods, customer research, real time feedback, and NPS scores to discover what their customers want and deliver that experience in personalized, targeted ways.

Definition: Capability

According to ITIL 4, capability is “the ability of an organization, person, process, application, configuration item, or IT service to carry out an activity.”

For example, as an organization, you may want to be able to service 1000 tickets a day with 3 support agents, but your team’s capability to deliver first call resolution (FCR) at that pace and maintain quality isn’t there. Capability is like the energy that runs services; without it, even the best-laid plans won’t come to fruition.

Yes, Aptude Can Do That.

For over 20 years, Aptude has helped companies better manage their IT Support, ITSM, and legacy application support. ITIL-based support teams can ramp up in a myriad of models in as little as 2-3 weeks and will touch base as often as you need to discuss metrics and review feedback in an iterative process.

Get Tier 1 through Tier 4 IT Service Desk Agents who can help with…

ITIL® IT Support, including incidents and requests processing for a variety of applications

IT and Non-IT related Service Desk Initiatives Support via multiple languages including: English, Spanish, or Portuguese

Production Support and Application Maintenance – corrective maintenance, bug fixes, production support, and coordination among Levels (internally or externally)

Production Enhancements – adding new functionality such as integrations, interfaces, applications, and reports


*Definitions sourced from Axelos. Copyright © AXELOS Limited 2012. All rights reserved. Material is reproduced with the permission of AXELOS. ITIL® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited