What is ITSM?

ITSM stands for IT service management. It’s how IT teams manage the delivery of their services to customers. ITSM includes all of the activities and processes involved in designing, creating, providing, and supporting IT services. 

At the core of ITSM, there’s this idea that IT is a service and should be delivered as such. It also aims to improve IT customer service and maintain alignment with business objectives. 

ITSM is not just IT support. ITSM teams oversee a range of workplace technology. From laptops to servers and software, ITSM reaches beyond solving day-to-day problems. IT teams are responsible for end-to-end management of these services.


ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is not the same as ITSM — though they are sometimes used interchangeably. 

ITIL is actually one of the most popular frameworks within the ITSM discipline. It’s the most commonly-used approach to ITSM and works as a set of practices that help align IT services with business needs. 

It’s important to note that ITIL is not a set of rules, but rather a form of guidance for IT teams. ITIL can aid organizations in transformation and growth as it informs the development of a robust IT infrastructure that can handle change. 

ITSM is how IT teams manage the delivery of IT services to customers. A team’s approach can certainly be tailored to fit with ITIL practices. ITIL details a systematic approach to ITSM based on IT best practices. When applied correctly, it helps companies improve customer relations, be more cost-effective, and align their IT services with their business needs.

Why is ITSM Important?

To begin, having a structured ITSM approach results in higher levels of efficiency and productivity. It also standardizes service delivery, reduces costs and risks, and ultimately enhances the customer experience

Some other benefits of ITSM include: 

  • Alignment of teams with business priorities 
  • Enablement of cross-department collaboration 
  • Bringing IT and development teams together with streamlined approaches 
  • Empowering IT teams to improve continuously and share knowledge 
  • Allowing for faster response times and better prevention of incidents 
  • Increasing visibility and understanding of IT services
  • Helping to better manage expectations 

By having a clear ITSM plan, your business will be positioned for expansion and transformation while getting the most out of your IT services.

ITSM Frameworks

For ITSM there are multiple frameworks, some of which are geared toward the unique IT needs of certain industries, like healthcare, government, and telecommunications. We already mentioned that ITIL is the most popular framework, but there are others that businesses can use which may be better suited to their needs.

Some common frameworks are:

ITSM Processes

ITSM processes typically include 5 stages, as defined in ITIL. The stages — known as the “service lifecycle” — are laid out in 5 key books within ITIL. More specific processes fall into the realm of each stage. We’ve listed these to give you a better idea of the work involved in every step of the lifecycle. 

The 5 stages of the service lifecycle are: 

1. Service Strategy

This is the planning phase — the foundation of a company’s ITSM process development. It involves getting ready to deliver services that meet business priorities. Everything from services offered to required assets are determined at this point. 

The processes covered in this stage are: 

  • Strategy management
  • Service portfolio management
  • Financial management
  • Demand and capacity management
  • Business relationship management 

2. Service Design

In this stage, the IT services an organization will offer are outlined and designed based on what the business demands. It involves the creation of new services as well as the improvement of existing services. 

The elements of IT design include: 

  • Design coordination
  • Service catalog management
  • Risk management
  • Service level management
  • Capacity management
  • Availability management 
  • IT service continuity management 
  • Information security
  • Compliance 
  • Architecture management
  • Supplier management 

3. Service Transition

This is the point where services and their processes need to be finalized, tested, and optimized for workflow. This is where change management, as well as evaluation and risk management, comes into play.

Other aspects of this phase are as follows: 

  • Project management
  • Knowledge management
  • Service asset and configuration management 
  • Release and deployment management 

4. Service Operation

Here, the tried and tested designs — whether new or modified — are implemented in a live environment. There are likely to be hiccups during this time as customers start using the services. This phase involves monitoring processes and workflows and ensuring service delivery continuity. 

As per the ITIL framework, some of the key components in this stage include: 

  • Incident and request fulfillment management 
  • Problem management – Managing all IT issues, identifying causes of problems, minimizing impact, and solutioning
  • Technical management – Involves technical experts providing explanations throughout lifecycle and managing IT infrastructure 

5. Continual Service Improvement (CSI) 

As the name suggests, this stage is all about refinement and optimization of processes. It’s ongoing because there’s always room for improvement. Defined KPIs and metrics play a critical role in pinpointing areas that require change or enhancement. 

A few of the main processes of CSI are: 

  • IT service review
  • Process evaluation 
  • CSI initiatives management 

ITSM Software & Tools

When it comes to choosing ITSM tools, there are a variety of options. There are software suites that support entire ITSM processes: ticketing, service, incidents, upgrades and changes, etc. These suites are usually focused on aiding workflow management and are marketed as ITIL or ITSM solutions. 

There are also options that apply to specific niches. Before you select the solution for your business, here are some tips:

  • Identify key processes and dependencies. 
  • Select a deployment option — on-premises or SaaS.
  • Determine “needs” versus “wants” for your ideal tool.
  • Consider and plan for future needs, not just the present.
  • Evaluate the vendor of the ITSM tool, not just the tool itself.
  • Talk to ITSM experts. 

As for the tools, there are more than 100 that claim to be for ITSM and ITIL. Some, but not all, are certified. This means they’re approved by Axelos to use the trademark and an ITIL process compliant logo.

Some of the top ITSM tools include: 

  • Atlassian Jira Service Desk
  • Cherwell Service Management
  • ServiceNow
  • Freshworks Freshservice 
  • TOPdesk
  • Zendesk

ITSM Certification

You can earn an ITSM certification. However, you must first know the framework you’re going to use, as most programs are based on a particular framework. You can also be certified in ITSM as a discipline, and even in specific ITSM tools, like ServiceNow and SysAid. 

For the various ITIL certifications, check out Axelos’s website.

Updated: March 07, 2022

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