ITSM principles defined

ITSM Defined

There are many definitions of ITSM. A good starting point is with what ITIL – the most popular body of service management best practices – defines ITSM as. This is taken from the previous version of ITIL and the ITIL 2011 Glossary:

“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 latest version of ITIL – ITIL 4, which was released in 2019 – has elevated the focus from ITSM to service management, which it defines as:

“A set of specialized organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.

In many ways, this latter definition gets closer to what ITSM is. Rather than it being about managing technology via a set of best practice processes, it’s a set of capabilities that improve business operations and outcomes.

ITSM is ultimately about better business.

A logical next step is to look at ITSM through a benefits lens, such that its use – in generic terms – can be seen before digging deeper into what it entails.

The Benefits of ITSM

IT Service Management offers benefits on multiple levels. It can help individuals to discharge their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively. It can help IT service providers to deliver better IT services and support to employees and external customers. And it can help businesses to better use technology as both an enabler and competitive differentiator and provide better products and services to customers.

In terms of the individuals (and the teams they work) in benefitting, ITSM provides defined responsibilities and better ways of working (that employ industry best practices) that are enabled by Technology. These are “ITSM tools” – software solutions that digitally enable the key ITSM processes.

For example, to help ensure that business operations and employees have access to the IT services they need, the use of ITSM in the form of an IT service desk and incident management and service request management practices provides fit-for-purpose service and support capabilities. This entails better-handled IT issues (termed “incidents” in ITIL), with quicker resolutions that provide increased availability of IT and business services which, in turn, lead to better business operations and results.

The use of ITSM tools, in addition to the best practice processes, help too – providing technology-enabled capabilities that increase efficiency further through repeatable processes that minimize human effort (and costs).

Importantly, this is more than the use of digital workflows and automation. It’s also capabilities that empower users and enable ITSM practices that include self-service/help, service catalogs, knowledge management, and reporting and analytics.

The business-level effect of people, process, and technology improvements through ITSM best practice adoption can be significant and include:

  • Reduced IT and business costs
  • Improved quality of IT services and support that positively affects employees and customers and business outcomes
  • Increased competitive advantage through better IT enablement enablement
  • Increased agility/speed of change to meet new business needs
  • Improved governance, risk management, and compliance
  • A focus on continual improvement
The Benefits of ITSM

The Management Capabilities of ITSM

In the same way that there are many definitions of IT Service Management, there are different opinions as to what it includes. ITIL 4 includes 34 management practices. All of these can be considered relevant to ITSM.

However, the reality is that some ITSM practices are adopted more widely than others. In fact, ITIL recommends an “adopt and adapt” approach where organizations use only what they need and tailor it to their circumstances.

There’s a total of 34 ITIL 4 practices. But for someone new to ITSM, it’s best to focus on the ITSM practices that have the greatest traction.

The Management Capabilities of ITSM
  • “To maximize the number of successful service and product changes by ensuring that risks have been properly assessed, authorizing changes to proceed, and managing the change schedule”
  • A change is “The addition, modification, or removal of anything that could have a direct or indirect effect on services.”
  • “To align the organization’s practices and services with changing business needs through the ongoing improvement of products, services, and practices, or any element involved in the management of products and services”
  • “To minimize the negative impact of incidents by restoring normal service operation as quickly as possible”
  • An incident is “An unplanned interruption to a service or reduction in the quality of a service”
  • “To plan and manage the full lifecycle of all IT assets, to help the organization: maximize value, control costs, manage risks, support decision-making about purchase, re-use, retirement, and disposal of assets, and meet regulatory and contractual requirements”
  • An IT asset is “Any financially valuable component that can contribute to the delivery of an IT product or service”
  • “To maintain and improve the effective, efficient, and convenient use of information and knowledge across the organization”
  • A knowledge asset is “This is an organization’s specific information resource that is important for that organization’s operations and value co-creation”
  • “To reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents, and managing workarounds and known errors”
  • A problem is “A cause, or potential cause, of one or more incidents”
  • A workaround is “A solution that reduces or eliminates the impact of an incident or problem for which a full resolution is not yet available”
  • A known error is “A problem that has been analyzed but has not been resolved”
  • “To ensure that accurate and reliable information about the configuration of services, and the configuration items that support them, is available when and where it is needed”
  • A configuration item is “Any component that needs to be managed in order to deliver an IT service”
  • “To support the organization’s strategies and plans for service management by ensuring that the organization’s financial resources and investments are being used effectively”
  • “To set clear business-based targets for service levels, and to ensure that delivery of services is properly assessed, monitored, and managed against these targets”
  • A service level is “One or more metrics that define expected or achieved service quality”
  • “To support the agreed quality of a service by handling all pre-defined, user-initiated service requests in an effective and user-friendly manner”
  • A service request is defined as: “A request from a user or a user’s authorized representative that initiates a service action which has been agreed as a normal part of service delivery”

The Many Sources of ITSM Best Practice

Globally ITIL is the most popular body of ITSM and service management guidance. AXELOS, the custodian of ITIL, states that:

“ITIL 4 provides the guidance organizations need to address new service management challenges and utilize the potential of modern technology. It is designed to ensure a flexible, coordinated and integrated system for the effective governance and management of IT-enabled services.”

But while ITIL might be the most popular body of ITSM guidance, there are many other sources of ITSM best practice available. For example:




“A framework for the governance and management of enterprise information and technology, aimed at the whole organization.”

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A free standard for “lightweight” ITSM, meant to provide value and customer service excellence in a simple and pragmatic way.

read more


ISO/IEC 20000

An international standard that provides the requirements needed for an organization to “establish, implement, maintain, and continually improve a service management system.”

read more



A “tool for aligning and managing a Digital Enterprise,” this is a standard from The Open Group.

read more



“A service management approach for the digital age that helps service providers to create a flexible operating model to meet desired business outcomes.”

read more

Each of these approaches is independent of the others. Organizations can benefit from learning from various practices, and combining the multiple approaches that fit their ITSM needs.


How ITSM Differs from ITIL (and the Other Best Practice Approaches)

Given that ITIL is the most popular body of best practice guidance, it makes sense to compare IT Service Management to ITIL. However, the same differences will apply across all of the bodies of best practice named above (and any others).

The key point to appreciate is that ITSM is a generic, overarching approach to managing IT service delivery and support whereas ITIL can be considered a specific “flavor” of ITSM. Where the various authors have shared what they deem to be the best set of service management guidance at the point of publication. Plus, with ITIL 4, the guidance is now more focused on service management and not just ITSM.

If we start with the fact that ITIL is a set of service management best practices, then immediately it’s more than ITSM. Second, as shown by the earlier list of alternatives to ITIL, not all ITSM best practices are ITIL. If you’d like something more practical, then ITIL can be considered an ant whereas IT Service Management is an insect. Such that an ant is an insect, but not all insects are ants.


ITIL, formally known as the “IT Infrastructure Library” was first created in 1989 to help with the UK Government’s dissatisfaction with governmental IT – with the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, now the Office of Government Commerce, tasked with creating a framework of IT management best practices to help.

What ITSM offers

Even over three decades later, the ITSM guidance offered by ITIL is intended for organizations to take only what they need and to tailor it to their exact needs. This is often called the ITIL “adopt and adapt” approach, reflecting that ITIL isn’t a standard where organizational adoption is assessed against a number of prescribed needs.

ITIL 4, the latest version of ITIL, has reinvented the focus of the body of best practice guidance. Not only is it now positioned to apply to all service-provider organizations (and not just IT service providers), but it has also “moved the dial” in terms of the focus on value, i.e. on outcomes rather than operations and outputs.

At the heart of the ITIL 4 service management best practice is the ITIL service value system. This is shown in the diagram below, with demand for services being turned into value using the ITIL 4 “components” in the center.

The ITIL 4 Service Value System

At the center of the ITIL 4 service value system is the Service Value Chain, which the ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition publication describes as

“an operating model which outlines the key activities required to respond to demand and facilitate value realization through the creation and management of products and services.”

The ITIL 4 Service Value Chain

Each of the six central elements within the Service Value Chain can be used to create “value streams” that define how value is created by particular ITSM capabilities.

Each element can be reused within any given value stream as demand is turned into value. A common example of this is that many value streams will have multiple instances of engagement.

Benefitting from ITSM in Practice

Your organization can use whatever it needs from the ITIL management practices to improve how it delivers and supports IT services. This could be to reduce costs, to improve efficiency, or to be all three of “better, faster, cheaper.”

For example, the use of ITSM best practices and the associated tool capabilities help to speed up and eliminate the unnecessary manual elements of processes.This improves efficiency and reduces costs. It also frees up IT staff to focus on more important work.

The IT service provider benefits of the efficiency and cost gains also positively impact operations and outcomes at a business level. This could be a significant reduction in the adverse impact of IT issues that are now being resolved more quickly (through incident management) or avoided (through problem management, availability management, capacity management, change enablement, or service configuration management) – with this reducing downtime.

This also delivers better operations and outcomes (on top of the efficiency and cost gains). For example, service-based thinking provides insight into the true business impact of IT issues, even where the affected technology component is distanced from the point of service/technology consumption.

This improved insight through better reporting and analytics also facilitates the ability to undertake trend analysis for the identification of issues and improvement opportunities.

Finally, although there are many more ways that ITSM will benefit your organization, the best practice processes and enabling technology helps to reduce or eliminate what Lean thinking terms “wastage.” There are various ways that wastage is tackled through ITSM, for example:

  • The defined roles and responsibilities of ITSM reduce both duplication of effort and the need for rework
  • Change enablement best practices reduce the change failures that incur rework (as well as business disruption)
  • Knowledge management reduces the need for people to “reinvent the wheel” (as well as delivering quicker solutions)
  • IT asset management and capacity management help to minimize the need for unnecessary new technology purchases.
ITIL Explained

What to Look for in an ITSM Tool

 What to Look for in an ITSM Tool

ITSM tools help ITSM practices to work in an optimized manner across all three of “better, faster, cheaper.” A key element of this is how the ITSM processes can be automated as digital workflows, but there’s so much more to look for too:

Automation capabilities

Digital workflow routing, notifications and alerts, approvals, queue management, and service level monitoring plus orchestration capabilities

Omnichannel access and communication capabilities

telephone, email, walk-up, self-service, chat, and automated provisioning and remediation

Knowledge management

Enabling both ITSM staff and the employees/customers they serve and support

Collaboration capabilities

For intra and inter-team working (including across business functions for needs such as employee onboarding)

Reporting and analytics capabilities

Providing easy and granular insight into performance and improvement opportunities

Non-functional capabilities

Related to performance, integrations, scalability, upgradability, security, and total cost of ownership

Finally, there might also be the need for ITSM to be extended across the organization in the form of “enterprise service management” or the digital enablement required by digital transformation.

How Enterprise Service Management and Digital Transformation are Built on ITSM

How Enterprise Service Management and Digital Transformation are Built on ITSM

Savvy organizations have long known that ITSM best practices and enabling tools are also beneficial to other parts of the organization such as human resources, customer service/support, facilities, finance, legal, procurement, and security teams. This has created what the IT industry has termed “enterprise service management” where ITSM capabilities are extended to other business functions to improve their services, operations, experiences, and outcomes.

It’s worth noting, however, that while this is often called “enterprise service management,” organizations are more likely to call this sharing of ITSM capabilities either “service management” or “digital transformation.”

As to the ITSM capabilities that are shared with other business functions, the greatest traction is seen with:

  • Incident management
  • Service request management
  • Asset management
  • Continual improvement
  • Knowledge management
  • Problem management
  • Change enablement
  • Service catalog management and/or self-service
  • Relationship management.

Finally, the top drivers for extending ITSM to other business functions are seen as:

  • Process standardization and optimization
  • Digital transformation enablement
  • Employee productivity improvement
  • Employee experience improvement
  • Cost reduction

This shows that the need for enterprise service management isn’t driven by cost reduction but by better business operations and outcomes.

Finally, ITSM – via enterprise service management – can also play a key role in digital transformation. Not only ensuring that IT service delivery and support is fit-for-purpose for the new products and services and improved customer engagement mechanisms that employ technology, but also delivering the better processes and digital enablement that are needed for back-office digital transformation.

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