ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI)

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Definition of ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI)

ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is the fifth and final stage of ITIL Service Lifecycle under ITIL’s IT Service Management Framework (ITSM). It aims to deal with measures to be adopted to improve the service quality by learning from past successes and failures. Continual Service Improvement also aligns and realigns IT Services to the changing business requirements by identifying and implementing changes for improvements. For doing this, it takes the similar approach described in Deming Cycle (PDSA Cycle). The ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) describes the best practices for achieving incremental and large-scale improvements in services quality, operational efficiency, and business continuity. It effectively describes and utilizes the concept of Key Performance Indicator (KPI), which is a metrics-driven process, for reviewing, evaluating, and benchmarking performance of services.[1]

The CSI Practice relies upon five major guiding principles defined in the CSI book:

The figure below illustrates the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Continual Service Improvement (CSI) seven-step process. The individual steps overlayed by the more general Deming (plan-do-check-act) Cycle. It also shows how the cycle fits into the Data-to-Information-to-Knowledge-to-Wisdom (DIKW Pyramid) structure of knowledge management

Seven-step improvement process, as defined in ITIL CSI
source: Geant.Org

ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) Approach[2]

The CSI Model follows a six-step approach for reviewing, evaluation, planning, and implementing the Improvement process. These approaches are nothing but some pre-defined questions, for which the CSI process tries to find answers.

  • Step 1 – What Is The Vision?: CSI is all about the Business, so when looking at the CSI Model the first step is to clearly understand the Business vision, strategy, goals and objectives. It is also important to understand ITs strategy, goals and objectives, and to ensure that they support the Businesses.
  • Step 2 – Where Are We Now?: In order to be able to identify if you have improved, it is important to know where you started from. Answering this question is about performing an initial assessment, or measurements, in order to create a baseline upon which improvement effort success can be measured. Assessment can be done on availability and/or performance of IT Services. Assessments can also be done around processes such as a process maturity assessment. If you don’t have any basic measurements or metrics today you may need to start collecting these for three to six months and then get agreement on a baseline number.
  • Step 3 – Where Do We Want To Be?: Set realistic targets for the improvement initiative. This may require setting short-term, mid-term and long-term targets. Targets can be set for availability measures for IT Services or a new maturity level for processes. Keep in mind that setting targets should be based on business requirements, and not on business wishes. If a customer says they want 99.999% availability, be sure that this is what they actually need to support the desired business outcomes they need to achieve. Also remember that for process maturity, the key is again to understand the value of a process to the business. Not all processes are equal and some processes will deliver more value to the business than others. The target should not be to have all processes at a level five maturity. You may find that being at a level three is all you need to deliver value. Create your Measurement Framework of Key Performance Indicators so that later on you can measure if you have achieved your targets.
  • Step 4 – How Do We Get There?: This is the process improvement projects that are identified, agreed on and funded. Keep in mind that Senior Management often does not have the luxury of long projects. They are interested in getting quick improvements, so don’t overlook the quick wins that can be implemented around IT Services and/or processes
  • Step 5 – Did We Get There?: Using the Key Performance Indictors defined in Step 3, continue to monitor, measure and report on your achievements. *Step 6 – How Do We Keep The Momentum Going?: Market your successes to Senior Management as well as the rest of the organization. It is important to use successes to gain more buy-in for additional improvement initiatives.

The CSI Model

The Seven Step Improvement Process[3]

The focus of Continual Service Improvement is on service improvement to support business processes. To accomplish this, Continual Service Improvement uses a seven-step process plan for improvement which is crucial for CSI and other stages in the ITIL lifecycle. The main purpose of this process is to define and manage the steps required to identify, define, gather, process, analyze, present and implement the improvements which have been made over a period of time. The 7 step improvement process is essential in supporting CSI and operates across the entire service lifecycle. It focuses on identifying the improvement opportunities, not merely for processes and services, but for all the disciplines implemented as a part of the IT Service Lifecycle.

Scope of the Seven-Step Improvement Process
The scope of the CSI seven-step improvement process contains the following areas:

  • The seven-step improvement process includes analysis of the performance and actual capabilities of the services and processes throughout the lifecycle, partners, and technology.
  • It includes continuously aligning the portfolio of IT services of the organization to the present and future business requirements.
  • It makes the best use of whatever the technology that the organization possesses and tries to acquire and utilize new technology when a business case demands it.
  • To determine the capabilities of the personnel in the enterprise and to inquire if the right people with the relevant skills are working in appropriate positions.

Value of the Seven-Step Improvement Process
With the help of aforementioned seven-step Improvement processes in ITIL Continuous Service improvement, current and future business requirements are met by constant monitoring and analyzing service delivery. Indeed, it also enables repetitive assessment of the present situation against business requirements and identifies the opportunities available for improving the provision of service to the customers.

Principles and Basic Concepts of the Seven-Step Improvement Process
Continual Service Improvements should center on increasing efficiency, maximizing the effectiveness, reducing the cost of service, and underlying IT service management. And the only way to accomplish the task is to ensure that the improvement opportunities are identified throughout the service lifecycle.

  • The service providers operate in a very competitive market and they need to assess their services against the expectations in the market persistently.
  • New delivery mechanisms such as cloud computing can increase the efficiency of the service and need to be considered for implementation.
  • The service provided must be compared to the present market offerings to ensure that the service adds actual business value to the clients, so that the service provider remains competitive.
  • The services must be regularly reviewed to keep up with the latest technological advances to ensure that the services they are delivering are the most efficient.

Stages in the Seven-Step Improvement Process

The below mentioned seven steps constitute what is known as a knowledge spiral. The knowledge gathered from one level becomes the input to the other level. It moves from operational management to tactical management and finally strategic management. Feedback from any stage of the service lifecycle can be used to identify improvement opportunities for any other stage of the lifecycle. The stages in the 7 step improvement process are listed below:

The 7 Steps in the CSI Process
  • Identify the approach for improvement: Prior to implementing an improvement strategy, it’s necessary to understand the necessity for continuous improvement. We must take into account the final goals we have set for the business and see how the IT organization can assist in achieving those targets through continuous improvements. Whilst accomplishing this, consider future and present plans as well.
  • Define what should be measured: A comparison should be made amid what we can ideally measure and what we can actually measure. Gaps should be identified and a realistic measurement plan should be incorporated to support the strategy for improvement.
  • Collect the essential data: Data is gathered through persistent monitoring. The process of monitoring can be done either through manually or technology can be utilized to the fullest to automate the entire process and simplify it.
  • Process the data: Once the data is collected through continuous monitoring, it is then converted into the form required by the audience. This can be considered as a conversion of metrics into Key Performance Indicator (KPI) results and change the available data into information.
  • Analyze the information and data: The multiple sources of data are combined to transform the information into knowledge, which is further analyzed to find the gaps and their impact on the overall business. The information is further evaluated considering all the relevant internal and external factors. It also helps to answer questions regarding something that is good or bad and is it expected and in line with the targets.
  • Proper presentation and utilization of information: The information which is gathered and analyzed needs to be presented in a proper manner with the right amount of detail so that the information is comprehensible and provides the required amount of detail to support informed decision making.
  • Implement the improvements: A change implemented with continuous improvement sets a new baseline for the entire process. The knowledge obtained should be combined with the previous experience and are used to make informed decisions and necessary improvements. The improvements which are made must focus on optimizing and correcting the services, processes, and tools.

The 7 step improvement process is a vital process of CSI and thus identifies the opportunities available for improving services, tools, processes, etc. The process initiates service measurement, service reporting, and improvement. This helps to define the service baseline and processes, metrics, KPIs, critical success factors, and corrective measures are taken to identify and improve the gaps in the IT service management. ITIL CSI desires a commitment from the people working throughout the service lifecycle. It requires enduring attention to monitoring, analyzing, a well thought plan, and reporting results aiming towards improvement.

The Deming (PDCA) Cycle

The integration of the PDCA cycle and the seven-step improvement process is as follows:

Deming Cycle
  • Plan
    • 1. Identify the strategy for improvement
    • 2. Define what you will measure
  • Do
    • 3. Gather the data
    • 4. Process the data
  • Check
    • 5. Analyse the information and data
    • 6. Present and use the information
  • Act
    • 7. Implement improvement.

The goal in using the Deming cycle or PDCA cycle is steady, ongoing improvement. It is a fundamental tenet of Continual Service Improvement (CSI). For the application of CSI to services and service management processes. At implementation all four stages of the PDDCA cycle are used. With ongoing improvement, CSI draws check and act stages to monitor, measure, review and implement initiatives. PDCA should be repeated multiple times to implement Continual Service Improvement (CSI). Handling of cultural change is required to implement CSI for improvement. It should be noted that the PDCA cycle is a fundamental part of many quality standards including ISO/IEC 20000.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management roles are created to facilitate the continual service improvement (CSI) of procedures, metrics, policies, and documentation. First, there are those that contribute articles. To build a knowledge repository, solutions articles are a must. Generally, when technicians resolve a ticket, they transcribe the steps they took as an article. Any subject matter expert or end user in the organization can create solution articles.

Once articles are submitted, the appropriate experts review and approve the articles. Upon approval, the knowledge manager publishes the article in the knowledge base. The role of these subject matter experts is to review and approve articles to maintain high quality solutions articles in the knowledge base.

The knowledge manager is a process owner with a deep understanding of knowledge management practices. The knowledge manager makes sure that the process of collecting, reviewing, approving, and grouping solution articles in the knowledge base is performed effectively.

For example: A user raises a request in the service desk for information on how to remotely configure a VPN from home. If a knowledge article on VPN configuration is already available in the knowledge base, the user can follow the steps in the article and avoid raising a ticket altogether. The following are the roles involved in the life cycle of a knowledge article.

  • Article contributor: This can be anyone in the service desk, including a technician or a subject matter expert. In this scenario, if a technician notices that many users request the same information on VPN configuration, the technician can write an article on VPN configuration and submit it for review.
  • Subject matter expert (SME): Subject matter experts are those that have expertise and knowledge in their specific areas or departments. An SME will review and amend the submitted article as needed. If the article submitted meets the standards in terms of technical accuracy, language, and relevance, it will be approved. If not, it is rejected.
  • Knowledge manager: The knowledge manager decides in which category approved articles will be published so that users can easily find the articles they need. The category "Remote work incidents" is chosen for this article on VPN connections. Once the article gets published, it gets tracked periodically to monitor its performance through reports to ensure the relevance of the content is maintained and its quality is improved when possible.

DIKW Model for Knowledge Management
The data, information, knowledge, and wisdom (DIKW) model explains how IT service desk teams can generate knowledge based on their everyday activities. This also shows how the transformation of data into information, knowledge, and wisdom occurs along with the relationship between them. This model is also known as the DIKW pyramid or DIKW hierarchy.

  • Data: Data is the collection of discreet facts about events in the form of numbers, characters, and specific or relative values that the organization can gather. The key activities to be performed at this stage are:
    • Identifying a reliable source to get data
    • Archiving and deleting the appropriate data
  • Information: This stage is about adding context to data. The key activities to be performed in this stage are:
    • Converting data into information while maintaining data integrity
    • Managing information the right way by making it easy for end users to search and use.
  • Knowledge: Knowledge is derived from experience. It may involve expertise, values, and judgments of members of the IT service desk team such as the knowledge managers, subject matter experts, technicians, or end users. Knowledge created in this stage facilitates smart decision-making.
  • Wisdom: Wisdom is the culmination of data, information, and knowledge. It adds value to knowledge management. This value is created though dynamic planning, problem solving, strategic planning, and discernment.

Example scenario: Zylker, an electronics company with over 1,500 employees, is on a recruitment drive. Over the weekend, many new talented individuals were recruited for different teams. But at the start of the week, when the IT team onboarded the first employee and assigned them to a team, the file management (FM) application failed and none of the teams were able to access any files in the organization. While the other teams were virtually having an extended weekend, the IT team had to quickly look into the cause of the failure.

For the above situation, let's breakdown the incident and organize it into a DIKW hierarchy for knowledge management.

  • Data: The IT teams received an incident ticket from the application monitoring tool 'TOMCAT_THREADS_EXHAUSTION'
  • Information:: The application monitoring tool sheds more light on the ticket with "File server ; Connector port:8332 [Tomcat Busy Threads Percentage:100% , Threshold :90%] Giving information about the alert helps IT teams make sense of data. In this case, the FM server memory usage has been maxed out.
  • Knowledge: Here is where the analytic skill set of the IT team is needed. After checking the logs of the FM server, the team found multiple parallel requests from the browser client requesting data of all the members of the team where the new employee was just assigned. The team then checked the knowledge articles that describe the background processes that occur when a new employee is assigned to a team. They learn that a complete background refresh occurs for the data of all members of a team when a new employee is assigned to it. The background refresh tries to update data of the team members in browser client cache. These requests flooded the FM servers and led to a downtime.
  • Wisdom: Wisdom comes from experience and learning what to do when faced with situations like the one described above.

As an immediate fix, the service desk team removed the unnecessary requests from the browser clients and got the service back up and running. As a permanent fix, the team removed the background refresh logic by fetching only the newly added user data and not the entire team member list.

The Activities of Continual Service Improvement[4]

  • Reviewing management information and trends to ensure that services are meeting agreed service levels 
  • Reviewing management information and trends to ensure that the output of ITSM processes are achieving thedesired results 
  • Conducting maturity assessments against the process activities and roles to highlight areas of improvementor concern 
  • Conducting internal audits verifying compliance 
  • Conducting external and internal service reviews to identify CSI opportunities 
  • Reviewing analysed data 
  • Presenting recommendations to senior management for improvement 
  • Helping prioritise improvement opportunities 
  • Leading managing and delivering cross functional and cross divisional improvement projects 
  • Building effective relationships with the business and IT senior managers 
  • Influencing all levels of management to ensure that service improvement activities are receiving the necessarysupport and are resourced sufficiently to implement solutions

Objectives and Scope of Continual Service Improvement

The Objectives of Continual Service Improvement Service improvement must focus on increasing the efciency, maximizing the effectiveness and optimising the cost ofservices and the underlying IT service management processes. The only way to do this is to ensure that improvementopportunities are identied throughout the entire service lifecycle.The primary purpose of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is to continually align and re-align IT services to thechanging business needs by identifying and implementing improvements to IT services that support businessprocesses. CSI looks for ways to improve process effectiveness, efficiency and cost effectiveness. Other objectives include:

  • Review, analyse and make recommendations on improvement opportunities in each lifecycle phase:
    • Service strategy
    • Service design
    • Service transition
    • Service operation
    • and CSI itself!
  • Identify and implement individual activities to improve IT service quality and improve the efficiency andeffectiveness of enabling ITSM processes
  • Improve cost effectiveness of delivering IT services without sacrificing customer satisfaction
  • Ensure applicable quality management method is used

The Scope of Continual Service Improvement[5] The CSI Implementation process may vary and the correct way to implement it rely upon the organization's goal; it may be long term goals or short time dependent on the nature and policy of the organization. Generally the scope looks into three areas of ITSM.

  • ITSM Processes
  • IT Services
  • The Service Lifecycle

Cartlidge & Lillycrop(2007) thinks it is very hard to decide from where to start, but one of the above three areas can be taken as a starting point. Case ITIL (2006) suggests the organizations to address the pain points first for getting value of Investment (VOI) as well as gaining the business and functional group support. Case (2009) opines some quick wins like low hanging fruits can be experienced during the implementing process.

  • ITSM Processes- Where Do we start?: Organizations are not aware of from where to start the implementation of CSI in business. They can approach through change management, Incident Management and problem management by going into mature documenting process. Case (2009) argues change management as a control process and helps in attaining a maturity level for organizations protecting the production environment with the efficiency and effectiveness the process requires. Request for Change (RFC) can be a quick win if one doesn‟t exist, or change advisory board highlighting the possible changes, procedures to implement changes, creating risk models and so forth.
  • IT Services- Where do we start? Case (2009) states that it is crucial to choose right IT services once the ITSM process is implemented in our business, to ensure the business value is delivered. But the problem is to identify the right services but can be simply done through identifying the services falling out to meet the satisfaction levels or which are continuously giving a threat. In case of absence of service level data a discussion is to be carried on with the business highlighting the services that are deemed mission critical. Impact assessment is to be conducted either to give continuity to the service or discard the service.
  • Service lifecycle-where do we start ? Starting the improvement initiatives of processes organization will find our many turning points for making improvements in the service lifecycle itself. Thus it is crucial that organization keeps tracks of the communication and feedbacks between different service lifecycle phases. Organizations should look for improvement opportunities associated with the business requirements Case (2009) and Nickols (2010).

Ongoing feedback loop in CSI Service Levels
Ongoing feedback loop in CSI Service Levels

Processes of ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI)[6]

As per ITIL v3, the following are the Four Main Processes of ITIL CSI process group, and the image below illustrates how they conformed to the 7-steps of Continual Service Improvement.

Processes of CSI

  • Service Review: Responsible for reviewing business and infrastructure services on a regular basis. The aim of this process is to identify opportunity areas and search for more economical ways of offering services.
  • Process Evaluation: Responsible for evaluating processes on a regular basis to identifying areas where the targeted process metrics are not met. It also performs some regular tasks, such as benchmarking, audits, and reviews.
  • Definition of CSI Initiatives: Used to define specific initiatives aimed to improve the quality of services and processes. The steps are planned based on the results of service reviews and process evaluations.
  • Monitoring of CSI Initiatives: Used as a way to verify if the improvement initiatives are proceeding according to the plan and to introduce corrective measures if required.

See Also


  1. What is ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI)? Cerguidance
  2. CSI Model - ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) Approach Pink Elephant
  3. The Seven Step Improvement Process of ITIL CSI [ of-itil-csi-and-the-7-step-improvement-process invensis]
  4. The Activities of Continual Service Improvement UCISA
  5. Scope of Continual Service Improvement Nabin Lamichhane
  6. Processes of ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) Certguidance