What Is ITSM? Everything You Need to Know About IT Service Management

Posted by on November 08, 2016


Table of Contents

What Is ITSM?

ITIL vs ITSM: What's the Difference, and Why Does it Matter?

Understanding the ITIL Service Lifecycle

8 Rock-Solid Steps to Elevate ITSM Success (with SlideShare)

What Is ITSM?

When you are completely new to IT service management (ITSM), it's hard to know where to even begin, let alone how to be successful. In this blog post, we'll break down the definitions of potential unfamiliar terms—like ITSM, ITIL and more terminology. And, most importantly, we'll share eight very doable steps we recommend taking to elevate your ITSM, and deliver outstanding IT service throughout your organization. 

ITSM & ITIL: What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

To remain relevant in our fast-paced, ever-changing technological world, businesses have to adopt and perfect modern, agile methods to efficiently manage the delivery of IT services to its business customers. Two acronyms are often used when discussing how to meet customer’s exponentially increasing demands: ITSM (information technology service management) and ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library).

First of all, what's the difference between ITSM and ITIL? Simply put, ITSM is the practice of delivering IT services and support to internal customers through the use of people, processes, and technology. ITIL is a best practices framework governing how ITSM is delivered.

Which came first, ITIL or ITSM?

Some people believe that ITIL was the original driver to ITSM. In actuality, ITSM was the precursor. In fact, the concept of service management originated in industries such as manufacturing supply chain management. This happened well before IT began thinking about ITSM this way. Traditional IT was designed to service early mainframe environments—they were siloed, reactive, and without formal processes. ITSM is the result of technology vendors and product suppliers needing a better way to help customers implement and use the technology they had purchased. The solution is a modernized ITSM, encompassing processes and procedures that are used to plan, design, deliver, and control IT service delivery to business users.

The British government is to thank for the origins of ITIL. They were dissatisfied with the quality of IT services being provided in the early 80s. So, the Office of Government Commerce was given the responsibility of developing a new framework for efficiently managing the use of IT resources within both the private sector and government. Originally called GITIM (Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management), more current versions bear little resemblance to the original framework. Today, ITIL is a world-renowned, best practice framework. It's been adopted by both the public and private sector to align IT services with on-going business goals.

When ITIL’s version 2 was released in 2001, it became an instant success. ITIL V2 the most popular IT best practice framework in the world. It wasn’t until 2007 that a second version, ITIL V3 followed, emphasizing IT and business alignment. A 2011 version was referred to as a "tune up" of ITIL V3. In February 2018, ITIL 4 was released

Understanding the ITIL Service Lifecycle

Made up of five basic publications, each of the below IT Service Lifecycle stages is an integral part of the overall best practices framework. The ITIL Service Lifecycle publications and processes include:

Service Strategy

This aspect of the ITIL Service Lifecycle outlines business goals and requirements needed to service customers. It includes the following ITIL processes:

  • Service Portfolio Management
  • IT Services Financial Management
  • Demand Management
  • Business Relationship Management

Service Design

This stage offers guidance for designing, changing, and improving services. Perhaps you're wondering—what is a service? This is defined as a measurable service, governed by a SLA, and consumed by business end-users in order to perform their jobs. This service design stage encompasses:

  • Service Catalog Management (the service catalog is a published list of services available to end-customers)
  • Service-Level Management
  • Availability Management
  • Capacity Management
  • IT Service Continuity Management
  • Security Management
  • Supplier Management

Service Transition

The Service Transition processes guide the activities necessary for building and deploying IT services, including:

  • Change Management
  • Service Asset and Configuration Management
  • Release and Deployment Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Service Validation and Testing
  • Transition Planning and Support
  • Change Evaluation

Service Operation

The Service Operation stage identifies and defines key processes related to the service desk, technical management, application management, and IT operations teams effectively delivering services. This stage involves:

Continual Service Improvement (CSI)

This stage of the ITIL Service Lifecycle guides the plan for IT service improvements using a metrics-driven approach. To get the benefits of Continual Service Improvement (CSI), it is important to define the key performance indicators (KPIs) for each service or process. The four primary processes relating to CSI are:

  • Service Review
  • Process Evaluation
  • Definition of CSI Initiatives
  • Monitoring of CSI Initiatives

8 Rock-Solid Steps to Elevate ITSM Success

ITSM and ITIL have a symbiotic relationship and are inextricably intertwined. ITIL provides guidance on how to work more effectively. ITSM is the way IT manages the delivery of services to business users. This next section features a visual eBook. In this section, we will discuss eight steps to help you leverage ITSM and ITIL to deliver exceptional IT services.

8 Rock Solid Steps to Elevate ITSM Success from Cherwell Software

1. Evaluate Your Current ITSM Maturity Level

Change can be disruptive. Before changing your current people, processes, or business technology, it is important to assess your present situation.

  • In your enthusiasm to implement change, don’t overlook personnel. They will ultimately drive and implement changes, and couldn't be more important. Are the right people in place? Will any be resistant to change? Now is the time to deal with employment issues.
  • What processes do you have in place to manage the services you deliver? Are they standardized and repeatable?
  • Consider the technology you currently rely on to deliver your IT services. Does it support the culture and needs of your organization? If you have to change you business to fit the technology, that's a sign of a poor match.
  • Have you completed the service definition process, clearly defining all of the services that your customers expect? Also, are you offering too many or non-essential services? Doing so can over-complicate things or consume valuable resources.
  • In your organization, you have service-level agreements (SLA) between IT and your end-customers. These describe the expectations for the service provided. Your organization also likely has organization-level agreements (OLA), which are between IT and other internal departments providing services to achieve SLA. Does these SLA and OLA meet the needs of your customers? 

All of these are valid questions that should be asked and answered before proceeding. In other words, before you make any changes, find out what needs to be changed. Change for change’s sake alone is counterproductive to the efficiency of your business. Document these gaps before you move on to step two.

2. Define (and Communicate) Your ITSM Goals

It's essential to set achievable short- and long-term goals that align with the needs of your business. Think about where you see your business in a month, in a year, in five years, and so on. Your goals comprise the road map that defines the future of your business. 

One of the main goals of ITSM is to implement the right people, process, and technology so you can deliver business-aligned services to your customers. In order to achieve this goal, you may, for example, make incremental improvements to staffing or technology. Or you may take on major process overhauls. Start by defining your long-term goals, and then pave the way to achieving those goals by setting short-term objectives. Using the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) will help you achieve quick and quality wins along the way. 

SMART goals are:

  • Specific. They clearly define your goal.
  • Measurable. Goals establish tangible metrics to measure progress.
  • Actionable. Ensure the goal is attainable given your resources and capabilities.
  • Relevant. Set goals you are and your team are capable of achieving, given the available skills and resources
  • Time-Bound. Ensure you have enough time to achieve the goal, and set deadlines that will prompt urgency and motivation

With all goals and objectives, it is important to identify the measurements and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to demonstrate progress and success. Clearly defined and well-communicated goals help employees and leaders understand IT’s intentions and forestall resistance to pending change.

3. Obtain Management Buy-in

Don’t overlook the role and importance of upper management. People at this level can help you secure time and resource commitments, as well as encouraging support from peers. If you are able to clearly explain the value of service management to the business, it'll help you gain management support. Make sure to detail how it impacts the bottom-line. Keep goals clearly defined, and include a timeline for implantation as well. 

Without management's buy-in, your project will be dead in the water. It’s a simple truism, if the CIO and management approves and supports your endeavors, so will the rest of business. In order to maintain ongoing support, communicate successes—even small wins—to both the leadership team and your peers.

4. Develop Your Plan of Attack

  • Before implementing any IT change, take the time to gain a better understanding of ITSM best practices and methodologies. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. While ITIL is a widely accepted IT framework, other alternatives  may suit your industry and the needs of your particular business better. Some of those options include Six Sigma, COBIT, Lean, Agile, ISO, and DevOps, each a viable business solution.
  • Consider training and certifications in ITIL or the methodology of your choice prior to undertaking the implementation of ITSM processes. The rewards will be quantifiable. If you and your team use the ITIL framework, it's important to understand all its intricacies. That include the benefits of the ITIL framework, such as reducing business risk, improving customer satisfaction, cutting costs, and maintaining service during change. Grasping what's involved in the framework will help you better integrate your people, processes, and technology, while aligning both IT and business goals to help grow business and revenue.
  • Evaluating your business goals, departmental budgets, resource constraints, and organization culture can help you determine which processes work for you. The ITIL guidelines are just that, guidelines. It is not necessary to follow them exactly as presented. It is up to you to adopt processes that meet your individual company needs.

Unfortunately, poorly defined and unenforced processes can create disagreement between IT organizations and business leaders. There is no simple solution to define and implement IT service management processes. But, you can reduce discomfort by carefully selecting processes based on their fit for your business needs.

5. Assemble a Winning Team

Every successful organization relies on a group of talented people who directly or indirectly contribute to the effective delivery of a product or service. Having the right people in the right positions is imperative to success. Some of the steps you can take to ensure you are effectively using your people resources include:

  • Identify the people you already have on board and their skill sets.
  • Document what roles your business needs to succeed.
  • Align the people you already have and the roles they can fill.
  • Identify gaps.
  • Remove or reassign people who do not fit your needs.
  • Add people with skill sets that can fill in the gap.

Having the right people is essential to achieving your goals. Be sure that your people are not only committed, but also qualified and comfortable with your business culture. Ask yourself if they are the right people for the job, and don’t forget to define their roles and responsibilities. Everyone need to know what they are supposed to do. This includes service managers, ITSM team members, service sponsors, and associated process owners.

6. Automate Sensibly, and Automate Often

In today’s fast-paced business environment, it is impossible to improve service management without automation. Once the right processes are identified, and the right people are in place, automation is the next logical step. One word of caution: Don’t automate so much that you lose sight of your primary goal, which is customer’s needs for personalized service. Consider the advantages of data-driven automation’s ability to generate an action based on intelligence:

  • Manual human error is significantly decreased.
  • Any number of repeatable processes can be implemented and easily maintained.
  • Both productivity and predictability increase dramatically.
  • There is an overall improvement in customer experience.
  • Costs go down, in a direct benefit to the bottom line.

7. Select the Right ITSM Software

To automate the delivery of services to your end-customer and provide the most modern user experience, you will want to implement an ITSM software solution that incorporates service desk, IT asset management, and IT self-service functionality. There are several elements to consider when choosing the best solution to fit your business needs. Regardless of your industry vertical, organization size, and specialized needs, the solution should:

  • Be intuitive and user-friendly
  • Consolidate ITSM functionality into a single system
  • Automate ITSM processes
  • Support integrations

With the right ITSM solution you can:

  • Boost productivity
  • Minimize the impact of issues
  • Reduce overall operating costs
  • Adhere to compliance and industry regulations
  • Increase team accountability and productivity 

Matrices should be developed to measure both the successes and the failures of each process. After defining  parameters, manage all of the measurements in a single place. That way, you can use the information to define trends and make changes to continuously improve your processes.

IT success is not an accident. It is the considered, deliberate implementation of IT service delivery excellence. This is not achieved overnight, but rather as a series of coordinated transitional steps to achieve a desired improvement. With proper planning, communications, and implementation, ITIL or a similar framework and ITSM can position your company for growth and profitability.

Find out how to implement an effective ITIL-based approach to IT service delivery, in our white paper, ITIL Made Easy: ITSM Processes and Best Practices.

Download White Paper


This article was written by Jarod Greene, a former Vice President of product marketing at Cherwell, as well as a former Gartner ITSM Analyst. Greene has 12+ years of ITSM industry experience, with insight into the market from vendor, end-user, customer, and analyst perspectives. 

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