What is ITIL Service Operation? Functions, Processes, and Best Practices

Sophie Danby June 15, 2023
- 9 min read

ITIL service operation is the fourth stage of the service lifecycle. It's responsible for the day-to-day support and maintenance of all IT services. Done well, it can protect the live environment, restore service quickly in the event of incidents, and investigate the root cause of preventable incidents.  

In the following article we will see how service operations work, the benefits it can bring to your organization, and its main functions and processes. Implementing this knowledge will help you materialize the three previous stages and make sure your support processes are strong and effective on a daily basis.

Ready to learn more about service operations? Let's get started.

ITIL service operation definition

Service operation is the stage of the ITIL lifecycle that looks at everyday support. Its purpose is to carry out and coordinate the activities and processes required to manage and deliver services at agreed levels to business users, customers, and stakeholders. It can maintain and improve business satisfaction through the effective and efficient delivery and support of agreed IT services. 

This stage ensures that the access to IT services is provided according to the security policy and guarantees that the support model is designed to resolve service faults quickly and safely. It uses Event and Problem Management to provide more proactive support offerings. 

ITIL v3 service operation

ITIL v3 positions service operations in the fourth stage of the lifecycle. Its mission is to manage the support of services transitioned into the live environment effectively, efficiently, and safely.

ITIL 4 service operation

ITIL 4 has expanded the service lifecycle to the service value system, or SVS. Service operation sits in the SVS within the Service Management practices.

Service delivery vs. service operations  

Though they might sound similar, service delivery and service operations are not exactly the same. The former is the delivery of IT services and includes transition, management, and improvement activities. Meanwhile, the scope of service operations is the processes, functions, organization, and tools used to underpin the ongoing activities required to manage and support services.

6 benefits of ITIL service operation

Done well, service operation has the following benefits:

  • Faster times to resolution through effective Incident Management.
  • Reduced duration and frequency of service outages due to Incident Management driving the fix effort and Problem Management reducing or eliminating preventable incidents.
  • Reached security policy goals and objectives by the Access Management process enforcing the security protocols defined in the design phase of the service lifecycle.
  • Quicker and more effective access to standard services.
  • Leaner processes and less prone to human error with automated operations.
  • A more proactive support model, through Event Management and Problem Management practices that allow to catch incidents through trend patterns, events, and alerts before they become apparent to end users. 

The 4 ITIL service operation functions

There are four functions involved in the service operation stage:

Let's have a look at them in more detail

1. Service Desk

The service desk is the single point of contact for all IT needs. It's the "shop window" for IT to the rest of the business - the face of IT that everyone sees and interacts with. It handles incidents, escalates incidents to Problem Management for further investigation, manages service requests, and answers questions.

2. IT Technical Management

IT Technical Management is the function responsible for supporting IT hardware and maintaining a stable technical infrastructure. Its mission is to support the business by providing effective and resilient technology and maintaining the IT infrastructure.

3. IT Application Management

IT Application Management is the other side of the coin. It is the function responsible for supporting IT software and maintaining business applications. Its mission is to support the business by providing effective and resilient technology and maintaining all IT software and applications.

4. IT Operations Management

IT Operations Management aims to execute the ongoing activities and procedures required to manage and maintain the IT infrastructure to deliver and support IT services at the agreed levels. 

The 5 ITIL service operation processes

The service operation processes are:

  • Event Management
  • Incident Management
  • Request Management/Fulfillment
  • Problem Management
  • Access Management

Next, we're going to take a look at the service operations processes in more detail.

Event Management

Event Management is responsible for managing an event through its lifecycle. It involves detecting events, making sense of them, and filtering them in terms of information versus needing action and determining the appropriate control activities.

Incident Management

Incident Management is all about speed. The process resolves incidents as quickly as possible with as little advice impact as possible while ensuring that no IT fault is lost, ignored, or forgotten.

Request Management/Fulfillment

Request Fulfillment or Management (depending on which version of ITIL you are aligned to) is the process that manages service requests through the entirety of their lifecycle. 

Problem Management

If Incident Management is the speed, Problem Management is the detail. It is the process that investigates the root cause of one or more incidents, provides a framework for permanent resolution, and suggests workarounds for problems that cannot be fully resolved. 

Access Management

Access Management is the process that enables users to be able to use a single service or group of services safely and in line with the appropriate rights management. It looks after the execution of policies and actions defined in the information security process in the design phase of the service lifecycle. 

ITIL service operation roles and responsibilities

The roles involved in this stage are:

Role Responsibilities
Service desk manager Manages the service desk and acts as an escalation point for any issues or complaints.
Service desk analyst Is part of the service desk team and logs, prioritizes, and resolves incidents, faults, and service requests. They typically provide tier 1 and tier 2 of support.
Incident manager Effectively implements the Incident Management process and performs the corresponding reporting.
Problem manager Manages problems throughout their lifecycle.
Request Management team Manages and fulfills all service requests.
Major incident manager Assumes control of all major incidents and manages them to the conclusion.
Access manager Ensures user accounts have the appropriate access levels and align with the information security policy.
IT operations team Manages the day-to-day operations, including automation, events and alerts, and data center management.
Application Management team Provides tier 3 of support for all software issues.
Infrastructure Management team Provides third-line support for all infrastructure and hardware issues.

Three best practices to improve ITIL service operations

Service operations are one of the most visible parts of the ITIL lifecycle. It's where the service desk and technical support live, so it's essential to get it right. 

Here are three top tips for doing service operations well:

  • Keep your incident and request forms simple –  We all love a gadget in IT, which sometimes means we overcomplicate things. When incident and request capture forms that are too complex, the user will circumvent the process and go straight to their favorite techie. On the other hand, if it takes too long to log the incident, chances are the techie will fix the issue but not capture it, meaning that the effort wasn't registered, and knowledge isn't being shared. 

  • Use proactive Problem Management to up your game – Everyone forgets about proactive management. In IT, we're great at looking at what went wrong and trying to prevent a repeat performance, but we're so focused on fixing things and getting on to the next task that we forget to look up and think of the big picture. Proactive behavior looks at trends to identify pain points and devise a plan to fix them. It also uses your people to take a more holistic view of problems and identify potential solutions. 

  • Lean into Event Management and monitoring – Use automation to streamline IT support, making it more efficient and ultimately less prone to human error. Using events and alerts and automating the response to them in runbooks means you will be able to resolve issues before they become visible and adversely impact the rest of the business.

ITIL KPIs for service operation

Some KPIs that measure the success of service operations include:

  • Incident Response Time
  • Incident Resolution Rate
  • First-time Fix Rate
  • Number of Escalations per incident
  • Problem Resolution Rate
  • Access Management Incident and Request Resolution Rate
  • Request Fulfillment Rate
  • Percentage of events responded to within SLA

Service operation certification

The most relevant service operation qualification is the AXELOS certification. In particular, the Service Operations (SO) module is one of the certifications within the ITIL® v3 Service Lifecycle workstream. 

It focuses on the operation and support of IT services and covers the models, processes, policies, and documentation that will enable delegates to support services effectively. Ideal candidates include roles that work in the lifecycle's operation stage, such as service desk incident and problem managers. 

In short

Service operation aims to manage, maintain, and protect BAU service operations. It is the fourth stage in the ITIL service lifecycle. During it, the cycle enters real-life day-to-day activities, and at the same time supports a more proactive model.

Service operation functions include the service desk, IT Technical Management, IT Application Management, and IT operations. They take care of operating and improving routine work responsibilities and tasks and making sure any possible issue is addressed in the most efficient way possible.

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