IT Service Management (ITSM)

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IT Service Management (ITSM) is a process-based IT management framework intended to align the delivery of IT services with the needs of our customers. ITSM involves a paradigm shift from managing IT as stacks of individual components to focusing on the delivery of end-to-end services using best practice process models.[1]

IT Service Management (ITSM)
source: UC Berkeley

Other Definitions of IT Service Management (ITSM)

ITIL defines ITSM as a set of specialized organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.

ITIL Glossary defines 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, processes, and information technology.[2]

Wikipedia provides a customer-focused definition of ITSM as a discipline for managing information technology (IT) systems, philosophically centered on the customer's perspective of IT's contribution to the business. ITSM stands in deliberate contrast to technology-centered approaches to IT management and business interaction.[3]

“Also termed service management thinking, service management is a systematic method for managing the offering, contracting, and provisioning of services to customers, at a known quality, cost, and design experience. Service management ensures the desired results and customer satisfaction levels are achieved cost-effectively and is a means by which the customer experience and interaction with products, services, and the service provider organization are designed and managed. Service management is also a transformation method for any organization that wishes to operate as a service provider organization.” [4]

The Origins of ITSM[5]

Many will point to the introduction of ITIL in 1989, with a set of best practice books, as the starting point for ITSM. However, there was much that preceded ITIL that could be considered ITSM – from both inside and outside the IT community. So ITSM and service management are older than ITIL, although the term “IT service management” was not commonly used pre-ITIL. Much of the early IT-based ITSM thinking (albeit often referred to as IT operations or similar), and support, came from technology vendors/suppliers through the need to help their customers to use their technology. For example, in early large-scale mainframe environments, it would be common to find configuration management, change management, problem management, capacity planning, availability management, and disaster recovery used to optimize operations. Outside of IT, the concept of service management was, and still is, relevant to all service providers. The 1984 book “Service Management: Strategy and Leadership in the Service Business” by Richard Normann, often referred to as one of the foundations of service-based thinking and service management excellence, is another source of service management, and thus ITSM, advice. So while ITSM owes a huge debt to ITIL, its origins can be found in both traditional IT operations’ best practices and the wider service provider community.


ITSM is an acronym for IT service management. It simply means how you manage the information systems that deliver value to your customers. Even if you’ve never heard the term ITSM, if you’re running IT systems, then you are doing ITSM. ITSM could include activities like planning and managing changes so they don’t cause disruption to the business, fixing things 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—but even if you have a complete technical focus, your work still needs to be managed, and that’s what we call ITSM.

ITIL is the name of the world’s most widely recognized framework for ITSM. ITIL 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 organizations, and there are millions of certified ITIL practitioners worldwide.

ITSM Processes[7]

ITSM processes typically include five stages, all based on the ITIL® framework:

  • Service Strategy: This stage forms the foundation or the framework of an organization's ITSM process building. It involves defining the services that the organization will offer, strategically planning processes, and recognizing and developing the required assets to keep processes moving. Service strategy for any organization includes the following aspects:
    • Strategy Management: Assessing the organization's market, offerings, and competition, and developing a strategy for IT services.
    • Service Portfolio Management: Managing the service catalog to ensure it has the right IT services, within the defined level of investment, to cater to customers.
    • Financial Management: Managing the organization's budget, accounts, and bills.
  • Demand and Capacity Management: Understanding and anticipating the demand for the defined IT services, and ensuring that the organization has the capacity to meet customers' demands and needs.
  • Business Relationship Management: Identifying the needs of end users, ensuring that the right services are developed to meet their requirements, to maintain a positive relationship with customers.

The five stage processes of IT Service Management
source: Strengthening SOA With ITSM & ITIL Governance

  • Service Transition: Once the designs for IT services and their processes have been finalized, it's important to build them and test them out to ensure that processes flow. IT teams need to ensure that the designs don't disrupt services in any way, especially when existing IT service processes are upgraded or redesigned. This calls for change management, evaluation, and risk management. No transition happens without risks and it's important to be proactive during transitions.
    • Change Management and Evaluation: Controlling the life cycle of any IT changes, including operational, strategic, or tactical changes.
    • Project Management: Planning and managing major release activities.
    • Knowledge Management: Maintaining a shared IT knowledge base within the organization.
    • Service Asset and Configuration Management: Maintaining and managing IT assets that are required for the offered IT services, and their configuration items (CIs).
    • Release and Deployment Management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling the deployment of various releases to ensure minimal disruption to existing services.
  • Service Operation: This phase involves implementing the tried and tested new or modified designs in a live environment. While in this stage, the processes have already been tested and the issues fixed, new processes are bound to have hiccups—especially when customers start using the services. IT teams, therefore, need to closely monitor processes and workflows and be proactive in ensuring continuity in service delivery. The ITIL® framework defines the following as some of the main processes in the service operation stage:
    • Incident and Request Fulfillment Management: Ensuring that all IT incidents are resolved at the earliest and service requests are attended to within the agreed service level targets.
    • Problem Management: Managing all IT problems, minimizing the impact of IT incidents that led to the problem, and coming up with a solution or a workaround.
    • Technical Management: Managing the IT infrastructure with the most appropriate technical expertise and support.
  • Continual Service Improvement (CSI): Implementing IT processes successfully shouldn't be the final stage in any organization. There's always room for improvement and new development based on issues that pop up, customer needs and demands, and user feedback. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics play a significant role in identifying areas that need improvement or change. For a better understanding, read this blog on the important KPIs for any organization. The following are a few of the aspects of CSI:
    • IT service review: Reviewing offered services and the IT infrastructure to identify any areas that may require improvements.
    • Process evaluation: Monitoring processes constantly and evaluating them to ensure that the benchmark is maintained.
    • CSI initiatives management: Defining and monitoring CSI initiatives to ensure that the CSI activities are being carried out as per the plan, and to fix any hiccups that may occur along the way.

ITSM Implementation[8]

ITSM implementation is all about integrating people, products, and processes. Here is some expert advice to help you place your ITSM program on a fast track. Given below are the techniques and approaches which can put your ITSM program on a fast track.

  • Take the right approach: Being agile: There are multiple approaches to ITSM, such as ITSM agile, lean ITSM, evolution methodology, outsourcing of ITSM, and collaboration within ITSM. An agile or iterative and incremental approach deals with logically clubbed requirements of ITSM processes and tools. A practical example of ITSM agile is one process per iteration, starting with service desk and incident management and moving on to change and release in the second iteration. This ensures that the outcome of each work package is immediately seen and corrections can be made in the next iteration.
  • Create the right culture: Implementing ITSM is all about cultural transformation and not just IT transformation. According to a Gartner report, about 60% of change initiatives fail as a direct result of a fundamental inability to manage their social implications. If you have individuals who are not on board with ITSM, create a political action plan to identify and educate them. Make them part of the core team to let them be advocates of the program. Conduct ITIL workshops with the project sponsors and executive group to identify the most resistant leaders, understand their individual need and map it with ITIL best practices to help them understand the benefits.
  • Identify the right stakeholders: Service management is about serving 'customers' (employees or the users within your organization) in the best possible way. To achieve this, identify the right customers and involve them right from the beginning to understand their requirements, expectations, and pain areas. Understand the current business of these users; do not enforce any process just because it is mentioned in ITIL books. For example, in the banking and financial sector a user may want to start with a strong event and access a management process driven by compliance needs. For a user from the retail industry, it may be important to apply the incident and request management processes in phase one of the ITSM plan.
  • Build the right team with predefined roles: An ITSM implementation may be threatening as it exposes shifts in roles. It’s therefore important to sell the ITSM strategic plan to all stakeholders, to reinforce their position rather than weaken it through detailed responsibilities.
    • Establish project core team members including the project manager, development partner, and process consultants.
    • Create a cross-functional team pooling people from operations support, applications development, business owners, and end-users.
  • Choice of tool - How to get it right: Service management tools play an important role in the success of all ITSM implementations. The right service management tools and techniques can be selected through a Statement of Requirements (SoR) which is analyzed using the [MoSCoW prioritization framework
    • Determine how many users would log in to the service desk at any time and design the hardware with three to five years of scalability.
    • Determine if change management reports are the most critical requirements or if you can trade off with an integrated inter-process workflow in the tool.
    • Do you want to offer the Employee Self-Service portal as a value-added service?
  • Set the expectations right with focused communication and awareness-building exercises: It's critical to understand the impact of ITSM at each level within the organization and the value each stage brings to the program. Early engagement, well-planned communication, and comprehensive training programs are fundamental steps to success.
  • Focus on the right outcome: Define KPIs, CSFs, and reports: The best way to expedite your ITSM implementation is to keep measuring your results at every stage as outcomes and metrics govern perceptions and drive actions. What is not measured cannot be improved and what is not improved will not be valued.
    • Appoint a 'Continuous Service Improvement (CSI) Manager' who will be responsible for process optimization and improvements. The role should be planned right at the beginning and be established once the process is rolled out.
    • There can either be one CSI Manager or multiple process owners who can act as the CSI managers for their processes.

ITSM Implementation Challenges[9]

The extent of difficulties associated with implementing IT service management depends upon the current state (baseline) maturity of the business enterprise and IT organizations. For those that are at lower maturity levels, this may mean a fundamental shift in the ways in which business enterprises and IT organizations operate. Major difficulties may include:

  • Cultural shift and organizational change: For organizations that may have lower maturity levels, ITSM implementation may actually lead to a fundamental shift in the way in which IT delivers its services to the customers and how customers engage IT in providing specific services. Fundamental shifts leading to transformations do not happen overnight and need a consistent and steady approach to incrementally and iteratively improving the services provided by IT organizations.
  • Technology management vs. IT service management: In many established organizations (not necessarily mature ones), IT is still viewed and managed as a back-office cost center. In most cases, such technology management cultures encourage teams and departments within an IT organization to operate in silos (silo-ed engineering and development, silo-ed technology management, silo-ed request management, silo-ed reporting and communication, silo-ed visions and leadership, and silo-ed supplier management). Mature service organizations manage their respective technologies in order to integrate with the business needs. Such a shift from being a technology management organization to a service-oriented organization usually is a major one and requires transformations in the way that IT thinks, plans, and delivers its services to its customers. IT components (software, hardware, applications, network, servers, etc) need to be managed to ensure that the respective services that these components support are appropriately managed to meet the business needs. You need one weak link to break the value chain. One weak component is all you need to cause an outage to a business-critical service. End-to-end service management is the only effective and efficient way to guarantee that all components that implement a given business service are managed consistently to ensure that business services are managed such that related business process needs are met. When teams and departments within an IT organization do technology management, they do so in silos and that may lead to a creation of a potential weak link. For IT organizations to migrate from being a technology management organization to one that manages services may sometimes be a challenging task.
  • Balancing resources between fighting fires and new developments: The chances are that if you are a lower maturity level organization the majority of your resources are engaged in fighting fires most of the time. When initiatives like business service management implementation are undertaken, special attention should be given to the number of additional resources that may be necessary to successfully deliver on new initiatives. In most cases, consultants may be an appropriate option. Higher maturity levels will enable organizations to dedicate more resources to new developments and to have fewer resources needed to keep the lights on.
  • Lack of in-house business service management and ITIL® expertise: Whenever transformational efforts are undertaken, it is critical to have subject matter experts advise and assist in implementing related components. For effective and efficient implementation of business service management, it is critical that ITIL experts are appropriately identified, acquired (if necessary), and engaged.
  • Multiple independent silos and varying maturity levels: In most medium-to-large size organizations, there may be multiple independent business-aligned IT organizations and each may be at a different maturity level. How should IT Service Management implementation be planned and executed to ensure that associated complexities and risks are appropriately managed and that focused business service improvements are implemented?
  • Efforts required to improve service management processes: Mature service management processes provide the necessary foundation required to ensure that business services are managed effectively. Improving service management processes may mean major impacts on the way people and teams within an IT organization perform their day-to-day jobs in managing technologies.
  • Longer turnaround times: In ITILv3, there are over 25 service management processes. Traditional service management implementation practices offer process-centric approaches. Service management process improvement focus may take longer times to mature thereby pushing the anticipated business service management driven business benefits further down; business benefits require that service chains for business processes are managed end-to-end.

ITSM Best Practices[10]

Following IT Service Management best practices need to find a place in your IT department. Below is a list of a few best practices for ITSM implementation, that have been gathered from successful ITSM deliveries around the world.

  • It’s All About Your Clients: Organizations usually define "risks" and "costs" based on their client list or customer requirements, as end-users are often the ones paying for the services. While implementing ITSM, it is important for your organization to assign values and importance to your individual products and services relative to your customers within or attached to your company.
  • IT Service Management is NOT Only ITIL: Whenever there is a mention of IT Service Management best practices, most people assume it is about the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). While ITIL is probably the most widely-used iteration of ITSM best practices, it rarely is used in isolation. Most businesses use ITIL in tandem with other best practices methodologies like ISO 20000, TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework), Application Service Library (ASL), Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), CoBIT, and Six Sigma, depending on their needs. Customizing your implementation plan is a good idea.
  • Learn Your Frameworks: ITIL brings together the vital documentation required for improved management decisions and ITSM provides the tools that enable the deployment of these best practices to serve your unique business needs. ITSM constitutes of the following key processes and you should ask your MSP or ITSM provider whether they offer these services before signing a contract:
    • IT Service Support
      • Change management
      • Configuration management
      • Incident Management
      • Release Management
      • Problem Management
      • Service Desk
    • IT Service Delivery
      • Availability Management
      • Capacity Management
      • IT Service Continuity
      • Service Level Management
      • Financial Management
    • ITSM Implementation Framework
      • Assessment
      • Design
      • Planning
      • Implementation
      • Support
  • Stop Waiting for the "Perfect Time" to Implement: There is no such thing as the "perfect time" to implement ITSM—or a "perfect process." ITSM requirements vary from timeline to timeline, business to business, and user to user. Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re worried about its negative impact on your ongoing processes, consider evaluating whether you have suffered a desired outcome hijack and lost a client due to a certain process being absent, poorly developed, or ignored. Try a pilot process and build on from there, as processes with lower maturity increase in accuracy and predictability when upgraded, but start now.
  • The 80/20 Rule: Originally coined in the 1800s by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule, when applied to ITSM, states that if evaluated 80% of your processes are useful, while 20% are vital. If you’re a Service Delivery Manager, you may notice that 20% of your users cause 80% of recurring incidents. If you’re an Infrastructure Manager, you may have noticed 20% of your infrastructure causes 80% of your service outages. Basically, the 80/20 rule is a guideline for you to prioritize and streamline the processes of the most value to you, and you would be well advised to use it. Your business may incur significant risks if you automate everything without maintaining the requisite knowledge of how to do things manually when something breaks.

Benefits of ITSM Processes[11]

Benefits of implementing ITSM processes range from IT-specific to Business-level benefits like:


  • Increased IT efficiency and productivity through defined roles and responsibilities
  • Process implementation based on best practices
  • Increased support to counter-regulatory and compliance challenges
  • Increased visibility and understanding of IT services
  • Reduced incident lifecycles


  • Better understanding of business needs
  • Higher IT service availability levels for higher business productivity
  • Increased value and cost efficiency
  • Manage expectations better
  • Reduced impact of incidents on the business

See Also