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Back to Basics: Why DO the ITIL Foundation Certification?

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I was actually asked this question recently by a former colleague working in the IT Asset Management arena, in the context of whether the certification would help them in terms of IT contracting.

I had to think long and hard about my answer, and having learned the hard way in previously trying to get contract work, it does tend to be something that recruiters expect contractors to have, particularly in the ITSM arena.

What’s the real value of ITIL Foundation Certification

I decided to track down the trainer who got me through my Foundation to get his views.

Neil Wilson is an ITIL expert and accredited trainer.  He says:

“The harsh reality is that organisations want it [ITIL], want to start practicing it, but don’t necessarily want to pay for it.

“They can choose who they want.

“It’s a foot in the door, and it gets you on the shortlist.”

He went on to give examples of recent class attendees who have spent many years in the IT industry, but who have never formalised their experience, and have found themselves having to face the prospect of studying.

“Whether we agree with the game, we have to have bits of paper and qualifications.”

I’m too old for this learning lark

This was the crux of my discussion with my colleague – and I am not going to lie, to cram all that stuff in for the Multiple-choice test on top of life, and in my advancing years was not a pleasant prospect.

But in my class, there were several people like me who had faced the spectre of redundancy and saw this as something necessary to help at least get your CV through the first set of scans.

Neil Wilson explains the basics.

“My advice for people who are worried about it – there is no short cut around it.

“You just have to get your head around it, whether that be classroom based or via self-study.”

It culminates in a one hour exam, 40 multiple choice questions, with 26 or more to pass.

“There is an argument for having this format as an appropriate way of testing people’s knowledge and understanding.

“The qualification gets this broad perspective of what the issues are – how do you test that?  With an exam.”

Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned"

Unlearn what you have learned

While it sounds a little Yoda™ -like in utterance, it is a valid piece of advice.

Most professionals working in or on the periphery of ITSM/ITAM will have an understanding of the basics in terms of terminology and basic process flow.

And so they should – remember we are talking best practice, here – not quantum physics.

BUT – to get through the exam you perhaps need to put aside what you know of real world situations and just learn what you need to PASS the exam.

Look at it like re-taking your driving test once you have established all those bad habits after you initially passed (we ALL have them!)

Isn’t that a bit defeatist?

Well not really – the Foundation Certificate is just that.  It gives the candidate a good grounding in the terminology and the concepts of ITIL, and at all times it constantly emphasises the fact that you go on a journey, and the need to adapt what you are learning to your own environment.

Is there anything I need to do beforehand?

There are some decent materials out there that can at least give you a ready reference for terminology – which in most cases is half the battle for the exam.

One of the things I found was at The ITIL Training Zone – where they offer ITIL Mind Maps and, more recently, ITIL on a Page.

I was able to catch up with their Head of Online Education, Claire Agutter at the Service Desk and IT Support Show 2012 to learn more.

She explained:

 “The mind maps were something that I found useful and we made freely available, as an effort to build up a trusted training brand.”

“People tell us they take these with them on courses!”

So is it worth it?

There are a couple of ways to look at this:

  • ITSM Credibility

For anyone working in the ITSM arena, there is little doubt in my mind that having a good understanding of the ITIL basics is going to help the team as a whole.

There are alternatives for companies who might balk at putting teams through the certification process.

Remember to balance the theory with common sense and practice.

  • Marketability

At the risk of sounding mercenary – anything, these days, that edges you closer to the start line in the race for jobs/better positions is a good thing.

Let’s be realistic – we work to make money to live.  If having at least the certification means you might be able to negotiate a better starting rate on contracts, or puts you in the frame to move up through the ITSM job structure in your organisation, then it is no bad thing.

  • Choose what works for you.  Classroom learning is an expense and takes up time, but it puts you in an environment where you have no choice but to soak it all in.  Self-study will give you a little more flexibility to study in your own time, but can be equally stressful when it comes to putting the time aside to focus on it.  If you have no self-discipline to do that, then be honest with yourself from the start!

Has it helped me?

For me, gaining my ITIL certification meant I could approach a change in role in terms of process consultancy with a little more comfort.

In my previous roles I could get by with my versions of the books and some background knowledge, happy in the knowledge we had Process Implementation Managers who handled all that other stuff.  I just needed to argue my case for the tool vs process.

But for my next role it was roles reversed – the focus was on process consultancy, with my technical expertise then helping us to develop the tool accordingly – the deeper dive into the basic foundation of ITIL gave me that balance.

I personally think it is worth the 3 days and a couple of nights of pain (if you do a typical course) to have the certification under your belt.

What you do with it afterwards, or more importantly what it can do for you…?  Well that’s another story.

Image credit

Ros Satar

Ros Satar is a Blogger and Analyst for The ITSM Review. Her journey in ITIL/ITSM began in 2005 when she jumped into the deep end of Configuration Management. When not knee deep in paper and having a love/hate relationship with her many gadgets, she can be found putting in time at various sporting publications.

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15 Responses to " Back to Basics: Why DO the ITIL Foundation Certification? "

  1. the truth says:

    Not worth it bottom line. Is just another corporate giving the green light to make money out of IT professionals. Is enough to have a B.S or Master and still recrutiers and companies look for win certification…mcipt or mcse you name it

    • Claire Agutter says:

      If I was given the choice, I’d rather get an ITIL Foundation at the start of my career than a BS or Master (I presume these are the university qualifications).

      ITIL Foundation can be gained with very little investment, and provides recruiting organisations with a baseline for a candidate’s level of service management knowledge.

      For the delegate, the ITIL Foundation allows them to understand the basics and decide if service management is a career path they want to pursue.

  2. Farah Remtulla says:

    Great article, Ros. I agree that there is some great merit behind the foundations. I think the root behind ‘not worth it’ needs to be examined; I’m willing to bet many of those who feel they receive little to no value are those who had mis-aligned expectations of the course objectives to begin with.
    However, at the same time, knowing full well that most organizations who choose to invest, if at all, in formal ITSM training – will choose to send all their resources to foundation training. The challenge then becomes, how to dissimenate enough info to engage the student and have them walk away with ‘seeds’ they can plant in the hopes that they’ll convince their organizations they need to do more yet how to get past the required content so that they have the terminology and concepts needed to pass the test?

    This spells to me more of a problem around adoption and organizations not seeing the true benefits of investing in training beyond the basics and perhaps a marketing problem around communicating the intent the foundations seeks to serve.
    Perhaps it is because there is somewhat of a disconnect between what outcomes the foundations provides versus the outcomes organizations are desiring – and that is what needs to be taken into consideration – is there a need for another ‘foundations’ that separates itself from the test, and dives into introductory approaches that satisfies those outcomes?

  3. Chris Evans says:

    My personal experience is that most people do the ITIL foundation for one of the following reasons

    1. To get into the ITIL Qual scheme
    2. To throw on their CV for job seeking purposes
    3. Because their boss said so.

    None of these is a particularly wonderful motivator but it is the reality of things. I would also wager that if you ask a vast number of foundation students a week or two after passing what they remember, the response will be spotty at best and therein lies the problem.

    The foundation course is excellent but it has a LOT of information in it. You can usually tell the foundation students in the training establishment as they are the ones with the red eyes, drinking straight out of the coffee vending machine 🙂

    What this means is that for those who have come along for options 1-3 above, it becomes an exercise in cram, cram, exam, forget which defeats the point in taking the training and gives no value to them or their organisation.

    Personally I really enjoyed the course and it confirmed my belief that this ‘ITIL stuff’ was worth looking into further. For process-nerds like me it is definitely worth doing and a gateway to future education and so definitely has its place.

    As with all things ITIL the question of the value of the Foundation starts with … it depends……and in this case the dependency is on the approach of the candidate.

    • Drewie14 says:

      Nice post. Having recently got into I.T PM I think this will definitely benefit me going forward. Would you recommend self studying and JUST paying to sit the exam ?

      • Chris Evans says:

        I personally believe that self studying and passing the exam should only be used if you need that piece of paper to get you in the door for a job. If you truly want to learn something then I think the classroom-based approach sharing this experience with your peers is a far better way to go and you will take a lot more out of it and are far more likely to remember the content

        • Drewie14 says:

          I agree that a classroom environment is far more conducive. I feel the money saved from simply sitting the exam would benefit me; as well as having it on my CV. However, I’d very much like to be able to practically refer to it which is where studying in a classroom environment makes sense.

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