The Difference Between ITSM and ITIL

Posted by on October 30, 2018


One of the most common questions we hear from people that are new to the world of IT service management (ITSM) is: "What's the difference between ITSM and ITIL®?"

The most basic answer is that ITSM is the actual practice, or professional discipline, of managing IT operations as a service, while ITIL is a set of best practices that provide guidance for ITSM—but that just covers the basics. In fact, there's a lot more we can learn about the differences between ITSM and ITIL by looking at the history of IT organizations and how IT has evolved over time.

That's what we're doing in this week's blog post. We'll talk about how IT has changed from its earliest days to adopting the ITSM paradigm and how ITIL developed out of a need for standardization across ITSM organizations. We'll also cover the basic processes of ITIL and the service lifecycle, and offer some solutions for organizations that want to start taking advantage of ITIL best practices.

What Is ITSM?

To begin, the ITIL 2011 glossary provides a good definition of ITSM as "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." The definition also recommends that reader look at the service management definition, which reads, "A set of specialized organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services."

To help put this into context, let's look at how the role of IT within organizations has transformed over the past decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, it became apparent that information technology would play an increasing role in the way humans do business for years to come. Computers, printers, networks, and telephones, along with the peripheral devices used to control them and the software that makes them function, would all become the responsibility of IT departments everywhere.

In the early days of information technology, IT departments were seen as necessary along with the associated expense rather than a value driver within the organization. There were few documented processes that governed the role of IT department employees, and the role of most IT departments was reactive (implementing break-fix solutions for users) rather than proactive (strategically implementing new services to drive value for the organization).

Reactive IT departments had mixed perceptions within organizations—as you rely on IT to keep things working, and you primarily interact with them when things are broken or you need something. Without standardized processes and streamlined communication, it was often difficult for IT departments to service their organizations effectively by resolving issues in a timely fashion or providing what we would call "good customer service."

Today, IT organizations have evolved in the way they deliver value to the organization. The ITSM paradigm has emerged as the common approach for how IT organizations deliver services and provide support. At its core, the idea of ITSM means managing IT as a set of services. It reflects the understanding that IT professionals should align their objectives with the strategic objectives of the enterprise and work to deliver value to customers. It also reflects the idea that IT exists to deliver service to its customers—both lines of business or similar departments and the employees within them.

READ MORE: A CIO's Guide to Rethinking IT Service Management 

ITSM Delivers IT as a Service

Today, ITSM is a professional discipline that encompasses all of the activities and duties involved in designing, creating, delivering, and supporting the lifecycle of IT services within an organization. In ITSM, the definition of a "service" includes virtually everything that the IT organization is responsible for: office applications, hardware like computers, monitors, and printers, additional software installation and licensing agreements, Change Management, and Incident Management are all part of the services provided by IT organizations.  

The concept of delivering IT as a service has significant implications for how IT organizations are perceived by the enterprises in which they operate. When IT departments provide effective support services for the business, they are perceived as helpers that proactively address problems and help improve business efficiency. The role of IT has also broadened beyond reactive break-fix support. IT professionals now play a greater role in designing, testing, and deploying services aligned with the strategic objectives of the business.

ITSM Processes and Automation Drive Organizational Efficiency

The goal of ITSM is to effectively design, build, deliver, and manage IT services for the organization, but an underlying reason for service management is to align the goals of ITSM with those of the company and to promote a good relationship between the IT department and its users. Here are just a few ways that this is achieved through ITSM practices:

  • ITSM professionals engage in strategy generation to ensure that the goals of IT are aligned with the goals of the business.
  • ITSM professionals understand the need for continuous improvement—they may track certain metrics to assess the performance of the IT organization and set targets for future improvement.
  • ITSM professionals understand the need to plan and design services effectively, ensuring that they can meet capacity and availability requirements set by the organization.
  • ITSM professionals understand the importance of streamlined communication between the business (users/customers) and the IT organization, and may have implemented a ticketing system, Incident Management, or request system, or a more complete service desk solution to facilitate two-way communication between IT and users.
  • ITSM professionals understand the need to drive efficiency through automation and self-service—they identify and automate time-consuming tasks, and create knowledge base articles that can help users engage in self-service and reduce the number of tickets.
  • ITSM professionals understand the need to minimize business interruptions—they may follow a formal Change Management process to ensure that changes are conducted responsibility and do not affect the availability of critical services.

ITSM is what happens when IT departments focus on their relationship with the business, align their activities with what the business wants, and look to create continuous improvement and drive efficiency in all of their activities. This multidisciplinary approach to IT  focuses on increasing the efficiency of the people, processes,and technology that make an organization function at its best.

What Is ITIL?

In the 1980s, the United Kingdom experienced a growing dependency on IT throughout its departments, but without a standard set of practices for managing those services, it soon became clear that different departments were creating their own management practices for IT services. A lack of standardization meant that individual departments were spending time and effort creating their own procedures which may not be optimized or integrated with what others were doing—there was a need to develop a set of best practices for ITSM.

ITIL began as an acronym for the "Information Technology Infrastructure Library" which was published between 1989 and 1996 as a volume of 30 books, each one describing the best known practices for a specific process of ITSM. ITIL v2 was released in 2000 and 2001 as a set of nine books, with each of the original 30 processes having been grouped into a set with its most related processes. Then, in May 2007, ITIL v3 saw a complete refresh of the system with the 30 processes refined to a set of 26 processes and four functions covered in five books, each of which corresponds to one stage of the service lifecycle. Further clarifications and refinement of ITIL v3 were provided in ITIL 2011. Along the way, the full name was dropped and ITIL became the official name as opposed to an acronym. A new version, ITIL 4, is scheduled for release in early 2019.

A minimum set of ITIL best practices are contained in ISO 20000 Part 11. This is used by organizations that desire or need a certified standard with clearly defined requirements that must be met. ITIL can therefore be used in to meet the requirements set out for ISO 20000 certification.

ITIL Processes Reflect Best Practices for ITSM

We can understand ITIL as a regularly updated set of best practices for ITSM. For IT organizations that want to adopt the paradigm of IT as a service, the ITIL framework provides a set of processes and best practices that can be implemented by the IT organization to help provide better services to users, meet goals for service capacity and availability, and ensure that the actions of the IT organization effectively support the business objectives of the organization.

While ITSM is a professional discipline that concerns itself with the effective design, deployment, and management of IT services, ITIL is a framework that IT professionals can use to implement best practices for ITSM within their organizations and move towards a more effective IT organization that delivers exceptional value to the enterprise.

READ MORE: ITIL Made Easy: Best Processes and Best Practices 

What Is the ITSM ITIL Framework?

Under ITIL 2011, the discipline of ITSM is broken down into five stages, each corresponding to one stage of the IT service lifecycle. The five stages of the IT service lifecycle are service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement. Each stage is covered is one of the five ITIL books, and each is comprised of many processes and sub-processes that together form the set of best practices for managing that stage of the service life cycle:

Service Strategy: Service strategy entails the development of a strategy for the IT organization to serve its customers, typically the business to which it belongs. Service strategy begins with assessing the needs of the business and customers, then determines what services the IT organization will offer and what capabilities it should develop to meet the needs of the organization.

Service Design: Service design includes the creation, design, and modification of new and existing IT services. In this stage, IT organizations design new services for the organization and implement changes to existing services.

Service Transition: Once a service has been designed, the next step is for it to be built and deployed. This development of capabilities and deployment happens in the service transition stage. ITIL's Service Transition book also includes processes for ensuring that changes to existing services are executed in a coordinated fashion that minimizes business interruptions.

Service Operation: Service Operation is an important stage of the ITIL life cycle whose goal is to ensure that services offered by the IT organization are delivered effectively and efficiently. Service Operation includes all four functions associated with ITIL: Technical Management, Application Management, IT Operations Management, and the service desk.

Continual Service Improvement (CSI): The goal of continual service improvement is to ensure that the organization captures data, information and knowledge from its successes and failures, and uses them to continually improve the efficiency of its processes and service offerings.

Formalizing ITSM Service Management Processes with ITIL

The ITIL framework offers a template for modern IT organizations to implement ITSM effectively and start delivering more value to their organizations through effective and efficient service life cycle management for all IT services.

The ITSM paradigm emerged out of a need to align the goals of the IT organization with the needs of the business. ITSM and the concept of IT as a service led to the rise of help and service desks—a single point of contact between the IT organization and the business, where users could make IT related requests and report issues. ITSM grew as a professional discipline as more organizations attempted to formalize their own best practices. Even today, organizations may have some service management processes that are consistent with ITIL and others that aren't, or they may develop their own processes that suit their unique circumstances.

The ITIL framework emerged in the 1980s as a set of best practices for ITSM. ITIL brought standardization and widespread use of best practices to IT organizations around the world and it remains the leading standard for IT organizations worldwide when it comes to effective and efficient management of the IT service life cycle. ITIL is like a playbook for ITSM—it offers guidance in the most effective ways espoused by leading professionals around the world.

As IT organizations mature, they should move towards an ITIL-compliant model of ITSM that follows best practices to maximize value for the organization.

ITSM Solutions for ITIL and related Compliance

ITSM software solutions exist to help organizations implement their own best practices for IT Service Management. Cherwell Service Management is a comprehensive Service Desk tool that offers out-of-the-box compliance with 11 ITIL processes. Our flexible platform enables our partners to meet their changing needs in IT while keeping with the best practices and recommendations. Cherwell's ITIL capabilities help enable organizations that need to comply with the ISO 20000 standard.

With respect to software license compliance and associated audits, organizations regularly face expensive true-ups due to their inability to effectively track software installation and use. Cherwell's Software Asset Management tool offers organizations unprecedented control and oversight of their software licenses with hardware and software inventory reporting, cost-saving usage analysis and most importantly, license compliance management.

For organizations that need to comply with ISO 27001 standards for Information Security and that wish to enhance the protection of their information assets, Cherwell's Information Security Management System (ISMS) offers a unified dashboard for managing security risks and compliance with policies, as well as facilitating compliance with the new European GDPR

Ready to unleash the power of effective and affordable IT service management? Look no further than Cherwell Service Management.

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