What is IT Service Management (ITSM)

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IT service management – commonly abbreviated to ITSM – is an organizational capability designed for the delivery and support of IT services and the business services that rely on them. It includes all the activities involved in designing, creating, delivering, managing, supporting, and improving the services.

What ITSM Is and Isn’t

ITSM – with the clue in the name – is about managing IT services but, more importantly, it’s also about managing IT “as a service.” Which means that rather than delivering and managing IT across the common separate IT domains – network, compute, storage, and third-party services –ITSM involves the delivery and management of end-to-end IT services. For example, the provision of a managed desktop service rather than treating it as separate IT components – say a PC, network connectivity, Internet access, personal productivity applications, antivirus, peripherals, etc. These IT services are ultimately what areused or consumed by employees (or customers) – who will care very little about how the corporate IT organization constructs and provides them.

Importantly, ITSM is so much more than just IT support and the IT service desk or IT help desk – which is sadly a common misconception, especially when propagated by articles written by people who don’t really know enough about ITSM.However, it might be that an organization only ever takes their ITSM best practice adoption as far as the IT service desk. But this doesn’t mean that ITSM only equates to IT support.

Another common piece of ITSM “misdirection” is when people automatically think – probably due to process-based training – of ITSM as the commonly-adopted ITIL® processes. Such as incident, problem, and change management. There’s more on what ITIL is shortly. However, ITSM is so much more than just the processes, with ITSM “thinking” an important part of designing and delivering IT services and support that meet business needs. It’s why the updated version of ITIL has replaced processes with “management practices.” There’s more on this here.<<link to the ITIL 4 page>>.

Ultimately, when understanding what ITSM truly is, it’s important to rise above the collective processes – or the mechanics of ITSM – to realize that ITSM is really about making your organization’s IT, and business operations and outcomes, better.

There are also many other phrases, and formal approaches (in addition to ITIL), associated with ITSM that are worth knowing– these are covered later.

ITSM – a Definition

ITIL 4® – the most adopted ITSM best practice framework – describes ITSM, or more specifically “service management” as:

“A set of specialized organizational capabilities for enabling value for customers in the form of services.”

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

Where a service is defined as:

“A means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.”

For an ITIL definition of ITSM, this is what was included inthe previous version of ITIL, ITIL v3 (2011 Edition):

“The implementation and management of quality IT services that meet the needs of the business. IT service management is performed by IT service providers through an appropriate mix of people, process and information technology.”

Source: AXELOS, “ITIL Glossary, ITIL v3 2011 Edition” (2011)

You can hopefully see how much ITSM, or servicemanagement, has been refocused between 2011 and 2019 with an emphasis on the delivery of value to stakeholders in ITIL 4.

ITSM – Understanding SimilarPhrases and Formal Approaches

Firstly, an organization might be “doing ITSM” but not realize it. It might have purchased a ticketing, IT help desk, or ITSM tool and has unknowingly bought into the tool’s built-in ITSM best practice. Or an organization might be operating age-old support practices, where no one knows (or is concerned about) their origin.

Then there are various other phrases and approaches that are associated with ITSM and related best practice. These include the aforementioned ITIL and its framework of ITSM best practices. Depending on the geographical regions concerned, it’s thought that circa 60% of IT organizations have adopted some elements of ITIL (or at least state that they have).

Examples of similar phrases:

  • Service management – this has replaced the term “ITSM” in ITIL 4 and ISO/IEC 20000 (see below) in particular to reflect the use of the best practice framework and the international standard outside of IT.
  • IT Operations – while a larger set of capabilities than ITSM, much of what
    ITSM capabilities deliver can also be referred to as IT Operations.
  • Enterprise service management – this is where ITSM is used outside IT (by other business functions), defined as:“the use of ITSM principles and capabilities in other business areas to improve performance, service, and outcomes.”
  • Service integration and management (SIAM) – this can be defined as: “an approach to managing multiple suppliers of services. The SIAM model integrates services (including support) from both internal and external service providers to deliver end-to-end services that meet business requirements.” It can be thought of as a blend of ITSM, supplier management, and other practices.

Examples of formal approaches:

  • ITIL – according to AXELOS, “ITIL is the most widely accepted approach to ITSM in the world.” It’s a framework of ITSM (now service management) best practice, with its latest version ITIL 4 released in 2019.
  • COBIT – according to ISACA, “COBIT is a framework for the governance and management of enterprise information and technology (I&T), aimed at the whole organization.” It was updated from COBIT 5 to COBIT 2019 in late 2018.
  • ISO/IEC 20000 – this is the international standard for service management. There was an update to the standard in 2018, with it now labeled ISO/IEC 20000: 2018.
  • VeriSM – according to the IFDC, “VeriSM is a service management approach, specifically tailored to support organizations to help them succeed in the world of digital services.”
  • IT4IT – this is marketed as a standard, like ISO/IEC 20000 above, with it released by The Open Group in 2015 to focus on defining, sourcing, consuming, and managing IT services (across the value stream).

It should be noted that these approaches aren’t mutually exclusive – with an organization able to pick and choose what best suits their business needs from one or more of the above (and other) approaches.

Example Benefits of ITSM

There are many benefits available from ITSM that relate to: the approach as a whole, specific ITSM capabilities (such as incident management), ITSM tool use, and the continual improvement of operations and services. For example:

  • A better employee/customer experience. Best practice ITSM capabilities and tools help IT organizations deliver against rising employee/customer expectations of IT service delivery, support, and customer service.
  • Increased efficiency, with reduced operational costs.Thanks to optimized capabilities, including ITSM-tool-delivered workflow, automation, and alertingo remove unnecessary manual effort and rework. This benefit can also be increased through the adoption of self-service and self-help capabilities for employee self-sufficiency.
  • Improved effectiveness.Through best practice capabilities, including a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool,organizations can – using IT support as an example – ensure that all employee issues and requests are dealt with in line with agreed service levels and employee expectations.
  • Greater visibility into operations, performance, and improvement. The use of a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool, in particular, providesa better understanding of what has been achieved and what hasn’t.
  • More opportunities for improvement. The ITIL continual service improvement (CSI) capability – now just continual improvement in ITIL 4 – provides a platform for improvements to be identified, managed, and delivered. With this helped by the greater insight afforded by ITSM tools.
  • A better understanding of the services needed and provided. With ITIL and other ITSM approaches offering guidance on strategy, through design, to delivery.
  • Increased accountability. Responsibility and accountability are assigned both within business functions and across business functions when needed.
  • Improved governance.ITSM processes and tools can deliver much needed internal controls and provide greater insight into what has happened.

Some Key ITSM Capabilities (or Processes or Practices) Explained(better as a table?)

  • Incident management“The practice of minimizing the negative impact of incidents by restoring normal service operation as quickly as possible.”
  • Service request management“The practice of supporting the agreed quality of a service by handling all pre-defined, user-initiated service requests in an effective and user-friendly manner.”
  • Change control(previouslycalled change management in ITIL v3)– “The practice of ensuring that risks are properly assessed, authorizing changes to proceed and managing a change schedule in order to maximize the number of successful service and product changes.”
  • Problem management“The practice of reducing the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents, and managing workarounds and known errors.”
  • Service catalog management“The practice of providing a single source of consistent information on all services and service offerings, and ensuring that it is available to the relevant audience.”
  • Service configuration management“The practice of ensuring that accurate and reliable information about the configuration of services, and the configuration items that support them, is available when and where needed.”
  • Knowledge management“The practice of maintaining and improving the effective, efficient, and convenient use of information and knowledge across an organization.”
  • Service level management“The practice of setting clear business-based targets for service performance so that the delivery of a service can be properly assessed, monitored, and managed against these targets.”
  • Deployment management (was called release and deployment management in ITIL v3) “The practice of moving new or changed hardware, software, documentation, processes, or any other service component to live”
  • IT asset management“The practice of planning and managing the full lifecycle of all IT assets.”
  • Availability management – “The practice of ensuring that services deliver agreed levels of availability to meet the needs of customers and users.”
  • Capacity and performance management – “The practice of ensuring that services achieve agreed and expected performance levels, satisfying current and future demand in a cost-effective way.”
  • Service financial management – “The practice of supporting an organization’s strategies and plans for service management by ensuring that the organization’s financial resources and investments are being used effectively.”

Definitions source: AXELOS, “ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition” (2019)

What ITSM Means in Reality (In Terms of ITIL Process Adoption)

While ITIL v3 (2011 Edition) is comprised of 26 ITSM processes and four functions (and 2019’s ITIL 4 has a total of 34 management practices), manyorganizations have adopted only a handful of the ITIL v3 processes. With this in line with the ITIL philosophy of “adopt and adapt” – whereby organizations should employ only what they need and tailor it to their specific business needs.

Five of the top ITIL/ITSM process adoption levels, for those organizations that employ ITIL, can be approximated as follows:

  1. Incident management ~ 95%, along with service request management/fulfillment (although not all IT organizations differentiate between incidents and requests)
  2. Change control/management~ 80% (now called change control as an ITIL 4 management practice)
  3. Service catalog management (and self-service)~ 80% in terms of technology adoption
  4. Knowledge management ~ 80%
  5. Problem management ~ 60%, although many organizations are only reacting to problems rather than undertaking proactive problem management activity.

It’s presently too early to see how these approximated adoption levels will change with the release of ITIL 4.

Some Example ITSM Roles

Generic ITSM roles

This is normally guided by ITIL which has traditionally offered up four generic ITSM roles:

  1. Process owner
  2. Process manager
  3. Process practitioner
  4. Service owner.

How ITIL 4’s move from process focus to Practice focus will impact these generic roles, but for now most IT organizations that have adopted ITIL will reflect them – at least in some way – in their definition of ITSM roles.

These generic roles are not necessarily related to specific job titles, with the ITIL-adopting organization selecting suitable job titlesbased on their existing employee management policies. Plus, roles don’t necessarily map directly to employee headcount, and a single employee can hold more than one role.

Specific examples of the above are:

  1. Process owner – Head of Service Delivery
  2. Process Manager – Service Desk Manager
  3. Process Practitioner – Service Desk Analyst
  4. Service Owner – Managed Desktop Services Manager (although this might, in reality, be titled otherwise, especially if multiple services are owned).

There are more examples provided in the table below.

Examples of Process/Practice Specific ITSM roles

Each ITSM capability (or process or practice) has its own specific role:

ITIL v3 Process
(or Function)
ITIL 4 Practice Example ITSM Roles (taken from ITIL v3)
IT Service Desk (function) Service desk Service Desk Manager

Service Desk Supervisor

Service Desk Analyst

Problem management Problem management Problem Manager

Problem Management Team Member (varying titles)

Change management Change control Change Manager
Availability management Availability management Availability Manager
Capacity management Capacity and performance management Capacity Manager
Service level management Service level management Service Level Manager
Service asset and configuration management Service configuration management Configuration Manager

Configuration Analyst

Configuration Administrator/Librarian

Financial management for IT Service financial management Financial Manager

Finance Analyst


Commonly Available ITSM Tool Capabilities

ITSM tools vary in terms of which capabilities they include for customers, with it too early for such tools to have incorporated the new ITIL practice name changes and additions. Thus, using ITIL v3 process nomenclature, the commonly available ITSM tool capabilities include (from an ITIL process/practice perspective):

  • Availability management
  • Capacity management
  • Change management
  • Event management
  • Financial management for IT
  • Incident management
  • IT asset management
  • IT service continuity management
  • Knowledge management
  • Problem management
  • Release anddeployment management
  • Request fulfillment
  • Service asset andconfiguration management
  • Service catalog management (and service portfolio management)
  • Service Level Management

With other important non-process-based capabilities such as:

  • Automation and increasingly machine learning

Reporting and analytics