ITSM vs. ITIL: What’s the Difference?

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If you’re not sure whether you need ITSM or ITIL®, then I’m pretty sure you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not an “either/or” decision. IT service management (ITSM) is what you do to manage the services you deliver to your customers, even if you don’t actually use that term. ITIL is a best practice framework for ITSM, and you should think about adopting some ideas from ITIL to help you work more effectively.

difference between ITIL and ITSM

Here’s what you need to know about ITSM and ITIL, and how each can contribute to the success of your IT organization.

 

Difference between ITSM & ITIL

Let’s start with a quick overview of what these terms stand for:

  • 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 completely 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.

 

Benefits for ITIL

It is likely that some—probably many—of the ITIL best practices would prove beneficial to your organization. Organizations that adopt ITIL often find that they:

  • Improve the alignment of IT to their business, providing services that better meet the needs of their customers.
  • Improve the quality of the IT services they deliver by understanding the required levels of availability, security, capacity, and continuity, and then planning solutions that are able to deliver these.
  • Lower the cost of delivering IT by reducing wasted effort and focusing on getting things right the first time.

You don’t have to adopt ITIL to manage your IT services effectively and efficiently, but it can certainly help. Some organizations simply create their own set of processes for running IT, and this can work. But it’s hard to develop something original that matches the years of experience that have gone into the development of the ITIL best practice framework that has now been adopted by many thousands of organizations.

Adopt and Adapt to Fit Your Needs
IT organizations that make use of ITIL decide for themselves which aspects to adopt. Many IT organizations choose to adopt only the operational processes, such as incident management and change management. On their own, these do provide some value, of course, but they are only a small part of the whole ITIL framework. However, you’ll get the best value from ITIL by taking a lifecycle approach to ITSM. This covers everything from your overall IT strategy through the design, transition, and operation of services; and it incorporates continual improvement into everything you do.

When your organization has made the decision to adopt a best practice framework, a smart strategy is to understand which approach will be a good fit for your organizational culture and to incorporate it into your own management system in a sympathetic way. I have worked with many organizations that start our relationship by telling me they tried ITIL a few years ago, but it didn’t deliver any value. When I investigate what happened, I usually discover they attempted to adopt a rigid set of processes, with no understanding of how they would fit within the culture of their organization. As a result, people would ignore the new processes—so the money spent on the project ended up being wasted. The right way to use ITIL is summarized in the phrase “adopt and adapt.” You only adopt the parts that you need, and you adapt the ideas to fit your environment rather than slavishly following the guidance.

 

Additional Frameworks to Explore

 

The smartest organizations tend to use other standards or best practice frameworks in combination with ITIL. This can be very effective as each approach brings something different to the mix. For example:

  • COBIT is a very good framework for governance, audit, and compliance. It is much stronger than ITIL in these areas, and the two work very well together.
  • Agile and DevOps help to ensure the IT organization quickly delivers new business functionality. They often conflict with ITIL because of cultural differences between the people who adopt them, but they can fit together very well if the organization understands the value provided by each.
  • Lean can be used to drive continual improvement and elimination of wasted effort. It is a great fit with ITIL continual improvement.

If you run IT services, you owe it to your customers to adopt ideas that will make you effective, efficient, and agile. So maybe it’s time you had another look at ITIL to see what it has to offer.

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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Stuart Rance

Stuart Rance

Stuart is a consultant, trainer and author, who helps clients use service management and information security management to create value for themselves and their customers. He is a Chartered Fellow of BCS (FBCS CITP), and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Stuart is the author of ITIL Service Transition, 2011 edition, co-author of the ITIL V3 Glossary, and lead author for the new cyber resilience publication from Axelos, the owners of ITIL. Read more of Stuart's blogs here: https://www.sysaid.com/blog/blogger/listings/stuart-rance.