For those who work in the IT support industry, you often hear terms such as “ITIL” and “ITSM” when discussing IT service management but most people are not always clear on what these concepts mean. So what’s the difference between ITIL vs ITSM? In this article, I will give you a better understanding of both ITIL and ITSM and how each can contribute to the success of your IT organisation/department.

Let’s start with a quick overview of what these terms stand for:

What is ITSM?

ITSM is an acronym for IT service management. It covers the theory around how you manage the information systems and teams that deliver value to your customers. If you’re delivering an IT system or solution, then there is a great chance you are doing ITSM. ITSM includes IT processes such as change management to minimise business disruption, incident management to manage solutions to issues when they go wrong or managing a budget to ensure you can pay the bills when they arrive. People who use the term ITSM tend to think of IT as a means of delivering valuable services to their customers, rather than as a way to manage technology and systems.

What is ITIL?

ITIL is an acronym for IT Information Library. It is the name of the world’s most widely recognised framework for best practices when it comes to delivering IT services. It is a registered trademark of AXELOS, which owns a range of best practice solutions and their corresponding publications and exams. ITIL has been adopted by many organisations, and there are millions of certified ITIL practitioners worldwide. It is the overarching library of best practices that can be used to help create and improve ITSM processes.

What’s the difference between ITIL vs ITSM?

IT service management (ITSM) is what you do to manage the services you deliver to your customers and more to execution and the “how” of delivering IT services.  ITSM defines what needs to be done in terms of the people, processes, technology, organisational structure, and integrations necessary to deliver high-quality IT services in a cost-effective manner.

The ITIL framework mostly defines the “what” in terms of defining effective IT best practices that relate to meeting business objectives.

Because there are some overlaps between the two, many mention both in the same breath. IT service management adopts many of the same ideas and core beliefs that define ITIL. In fact, ITSM is considered a product of the framework.


Benefits for ITSM

Every I.T department will have in place ITSM processes in some way or another or they would barely function at all. ITSM ensures that incidents, service requests, problems, changes, IT assets are managed in a streamlined way and most of these processes will in some way already revolve around ITIL best practices

Effective ITSM processes can have positive effects on an IT organisation’s overall function. Here are a few key benefits of ITSM:

  • Lower costs for IT operations
  • Higher returns on IT investments
  • Minimal service outages
  • Ability to establish well-defined, repeatable, and manageable IT processes
  • Efficient analysis of IT problems to reduce repeat incidents
  • Improved efficiency of IT help desk teams
  • Well-defined roles and responsibilities
  • Clear expectations on service levels and service availability
  • Risk-free implementation of IT changes
  • Better transparency into IT processes and services

Benefits of adopting ITIL

Organisations that adopt their ITSM around ITIL often find that they:

  • Better align IT services to the business and clients’ needs.
  • Improve the quality of the IT services
  • Improve the availability and capacity of services, continuity of service and the security of services.
  • Minimises disruption to the business.  
  • Better customer satisfaction.
  • Lower the cost of delivering IT.

You don’t have to adopt ITIL to manage your IT services effectively and efficiently, but it can certainly help.

Filter out and use what fit your needs

IT organisations that make use of ITIL decide for themselves which aspects to adopt. Many IT organisations choose to adopt only the operational processes’ These processes include incident management, problem management and change management. On their own, these do provide some value, of course, but they are only a small part of the whole ITIL framework. However, you’ll get the best value from ITIL by taking a lifecycle approach to ITSM. There will be a best practice recommendation for all of your current It processes you have in place.  If your current process works then leaving it may be a better option. You should only adopt the parts of ITIL that you need and that fit your environment and filter out those aspects you do not.

Additional Frameworks to Explore

Although ITIL isn’t the only framework for implementing best practices for ITSM, it is the most widely recognised framework in the world. The smartest organisations tend to use other standards or best practice frameworks in combination with ITIL. This can be very effective as each approach brings something different to the mix. For example:

  • COBIT is a very good framework for governance, audit, and compliance. It is much stronger than ITIL in these areas, and the two work very well together.
  • Agile and DevOps help to ensure the IT organisation quickly delivers new business functionality. They often conflict with ITIL because of cultural differences between the people who adopt them, but they can fit together very well if the organisation understands the value provided by each.
  • Lean IT can be used to drive continual improvement and the elimination of wasted effort. It is a great fit with ITIL’s continual improvement.

IT support departments that only provide Incident Management are often referred to as a Help Desk or ticketing solution.  When you start deploying more services you can start using more of the ITIL framework.  IT support organisations that follow the majority of ITIL best practices are typically referred to as a Service Desk solution. Although some ITIL recommendations might not be practical for every organisation, when building an IT Service Management solution, ITIL best practices are a good place to start.

For organisations that are building or expanding their IT service management offerings, it is important to understand the difference between ITIL and ITSM. Service Management solutions are constantly evolving to meet customer needs as they mature. Some ITIL recommendations might not be practical for every organisation, however; when providing IT Service Management, ITIL best practices are a good place to start.

In short – When it comes to ITSM vs ITIL, ITSM is how you manage the services you deliver to end-users, and ITIL teaches you the best practices for ITSM.

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