An Introductory Guide to IT Service Management (ITSM)

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What is ITSM?
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When your business starts relying on IT, you must recognize your IT team’s value. If an IT initiative isn’t providing value, you likely shouldn’t have pursued it in the first place. You could also be struggling with managing it. So how exactly should you be managing IT initiatives? One way is to use IT service management (ITSM). 

In this post, I’ll define ITSM, why it’s important, and what benefits you gain from it. I’ll also look at how it compares with ITIL and DevOps. First, let’s answer the question: What is ITSM? 

What Is ITSM?

ITSM is a strategic way for the IT team to deliver IT services in a cost-efficient and secure manner. IT services include applications, big data analytics, support, or anything to deliver customer value. These customers can be internal, i.e., your employees. But they can also be external, i.e., your business’s customers. 

ITSM emphasizes IT-business alignment. In turn, this allows you to focus processes, talent, and resources on delivering valuable services. ITSM practitioners often use frameworks as guides when implementing it. 

I’ll talk about some of those frameworks in a bit. But first, let’s see why ITSM is important.

Why Is ITSM Important?

Without ITSM, your IT and business goals wouldn’t be aligned. Every IT initiative with negligible value to your business is an unnecessary expense. In addition, it can expose your business to unnecessary risks. Moreover, each new equipment item or software adds to your organization’s attack surface. Thus, it shouldn’t be there if it doesn’t add value. 

What’s more, the absence of ITSM can also foster inefficient processes. This is often due to poor visibility of existing IT assets, causing underutilization. In turn, these inefficient processes can cause wastage, delays, and revenue loss. IT-business alignment and efficient processes aren’t the only reasons to do ITSM. To further highlight the importance of ITSM, let’s discuss its other benefits. 

4 Major Benefits of ITSM

Most IT Service Management processes directly or indirectly deliver all the benefits outlined below. But, to appreciate each benefit, I’ll highlight one process and how it provides that benefit. 

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ITSM significantly lowers costs!
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1. Lowers Costs

IT initiatives that lack planning and support can amount to unnecessary costs. ITSM lowers costs by ensuring initiatives bring value to the business within budget. One way you can avoid unnecessary costs is by applying project management. This process lets you define a project’s scope, resource requirements, and budget. Additionally, you can use it during implementation to ensure you’re following of those specifications. These practices can eventually help you avoid unexpected costs. 

2. Fosters Innovation

Your company is teeming with employee insights, ideas, and other forms of knowledge. This wisdom is unique to your company and can be a fountain of innovation. Unfortunately, a lot of that knowledge remains undocumented. As a result, it can be hard for other people in your organization to know about them and put them to use. However, you can leverage this particular asset through knowledge management. In essence, this process helps you document, store, manage, and draw from your knowledge assets. You can use this information to drive your innovative ventures.

3. Improves Customer and Employee Satisfaction

Downtimes can disrupt and prevent customers from receiving deliverables on time. As such, they’re detrimental to employee and customer satisfaction. ITSM keeps employees and customers satisfied by decreasing downtimes. One way you can reduce downtimes is by implementing incident management. Essentially, this process ensures incidents are addressed quickly, preventing disruptive downtimes. 

4. Reduces Risk

Poor IT asset visibility can expose your organization to cyber threats. If you’re unaware of certain assets in your network, you won’t be able to patch any vulnerabilities they might have. Basically, ITSM mitigates risk by improving visibility in your IT environment. One way you can improve visibility is by implementing IT asset management. This process lets you discover and track software, hardware, and other IT assets. In turn, you can manage and secure those assets. 

People new to ITSM often ask how it compares with ITIL and DevOps. Let’s move on to that topic now.

ITSM vs ITIL vs DevOps

Since this is an article on ITSM, let me explain how the other two entities compare with it. I’ll start with an ITSM vs ITIL comparison and then proceed with an ITSM vs DevOps comparison. 

ITSM vs ITIL

ITSM and ITIL are closely associated with one another. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a framework for implementing IT Service Management. In essence, you can think of it as a guide and a set of best practices for ITSM. ITIL has documents, training, certifications, and consulting to learn and adopt ITSM.

We’ll talk about other ITSM frameworks later. But, because ITIL is the most popular, ITSM and ITIL are often used interchangeably. But sometimes you shouldn’t switch them. You can think of it this way: To streamline your IT services, you’ll want to use ITSM. But how? You’ll need a guide for that. And ITIL is just one of these guides.

ITSM vs DevOps

DevOps is often contrasted against ITSM because of its close association with ITIL. What’s wrong with being closely associated with ITIL? Many ITIL practitioners use ITIL as a rulebook and follow it to the letter. Hence, ITIL is often viewed as rigid and slow. On the other hand, DevOps promotes flexibility and speed. It also bridges gaps between developers and IT operations teams.

However, the perceived differences between ITIL and DevOps should fade away in time. ITIL 4, the latest iteration of ITIL, emphasizes an adapt-and-adopt approach. If you want to use ITIL 4, you can adopt those practices that apply to your organization. You can also adapt existing processes as you see fit. This takes away the perceived rigidity of ITIL. More importantly, ITIL 4 already incorporates Agile and DevOps principles. So it now also promotes fast and flexible processes. So, the ITSM vs DevOps face-off shouldn’t last much longer.

Speaking of processes, let’s talk about some of the more common ITSM processes.

5 ITSM Processes That Streamline IT Services 

A graphic image of a contraption getting some lubricating oil from a can of ITSM.
Streamline IT services with ITSM.
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Earlier, I said that ITSM consists of processes. Several processes comprise an ITSM-enabled environment. But let’s focus on the common processes and outline the main benefits you’ll gain from them.

1. Change Management

Change management covers organizational transformations and transitions. It ensures that these transformations and transitions are well-planned and implemented smoothly. Change management entails detailed planning in coordination with all stakeholders. In addition, it also offers the following benefits when you affect change through it:

  • Eliminates uncertainty 
  • Reduces unnecessary costs and risk
  • Promotes collaboration among your business units 

2. Asset Management

Asset management covers all IT assets, including hardware and software. It ensures proper discovery, tracking, and management of all IT assets. That said, asset management offers the following benefits:

  • Improves visibility over your IT environment
  • Reveals vulnerabilities in your IT assets and IT environment
  • Maximizes IT use and spending

3. Project Management

Project management covers any endeavor involving value creation. The endeavor can be a software development project, a hardware deployment, a network construction, etc. It ensures predictable, efficient, and timely project completion. As such, project management offers the following benefits:

  • Keeps IT project costs within budget
  • Boosts customer satisfaction since deliverables arrive on time 
  • Minimizes risk of failure

4. Knowledge Management

Knowledge management covers the body of knowledge in your company’s possession. It ensures that knowledge is properly generated, shared, managed, and leveraged. As such, knowledge management offers the following benefits:

  • Fosters innovation
  • Informs decision-making
  • Preserves intellectual capital even when an employee leaves

5. Incident Management

Incident management covers all unplanned service interruptions. These interruptions may cause a simple reduction of service quality or complete disruption. Incident management also addresses incidents and resolves them as fast as possible. It offers the following benefits:

  • Reduces downtime and the financial/opportunity losses that come with it
  • Boosts customer satisfaction by meeting all SLA requirements
  • Improves productivity

Earlier, I mentioned several ITSM frameworks are available for use. Here are 3 of the most popular ones. 

ITIL isn’t the only framework for implementing ITSM. In this section, I’ll add a bit to what I already discussed about ITIL. I’ll also discuss two more frameworks that are popular among ITSM practitioners

ITIL

ITIL is a value-focused framework. This is reflected in what ITIL calls the Service Value System (SVS), introduced in ITIL 4. It calls for the integration of various components in an organization and directs them to work cohesively in creating value. ITIL also defines four dimensions that must be in place to deliver ITSM in a cost-efficient and effective way. These four dimensions are organizations and people, information and technology, partners and suppliers, and value streams and processes.

Look into ITIL if you need a framework for improving efficiency and value creation. 

COBIT

Control Objectives for IT or COBIT is a framework that’s more focused on governance and risk reduction in enterprise IT. Although mainly known as the framework US companies use for complying with SOX, it can be used by other organizations. SOX is a federal law and stands for Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It mandates US publicly-traded companies to institute controls for financial record keeping and reporting. 

COBIT is a good framework if you’re trying to use ITSM with more focus on governance, privacy, and risk reduction.

MOF

Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) is a framework that aims to establish efficiency and effectiveness in IT service life cycles. MOF divides the IT lifecycle into three phases: Plan, Deliver, and Operate. Each phase consists of what MOF calls Service Management Functions (SMFs). SMFs, in turn, consist of processes, people, and activities for delivering IT services that align with business requirements. MOF documentation sometimes gives practical recommendations that involve Microsoft products. So if you’re a Microsoft customer, it can be easy for you to apply some of those recommendations immediately.  

Before I offer my final thoughts, let me share some software tools you can use for your ITSM initiatives. 

ITSM Software and Tools

ITSM software and tools are software applications that simplify ITSM tasks. They provide a centralized interface, automation capabilities, and other features. Two of the three software I share below—ServiceNow and Zendesk—are built for enterprises. The third, GFI HelpDesk, works best for SMBs. Generally, enterprise software costs thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. But solutions for SMBs like GFI HelpDesk may only cost a few hundred dollars.

ServiceNow IT Service Management

ServiceNow is a cloud-based platform comprising many ITSM-related packages. These packages include incident management, change management, problem management, knowledge management, and others. ServiceNow leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies for chatbots that reinforce IT staff to reply to queries.

Zendesk Suite for Enterprise

Also a cloud-based platform, Zendesk is primarily known as a customer service solution with strong ITIL underpinnings. It also features a ticketing and messaging system delivered through web, mobile, and social media user interfaces. Zendesk also leverages AI and ML technologies to power chatbots similar to the ones used in ServiceNow.

GFI HelpDesk

Designed for SMBs, GFI HelpDesk is a self-hosted helpdesk system. It enables customers to contact you about issues and queries through easy-to-use interfaces. They can file a ticket through a web-based tool or communicate with you through a live chat. Customers also have the option to search for answers from a knowledge base. This is a collection of knowledge assets documented by your staff. 

That’s it for now. Let’s wrap things up.

Final Thoughts

In this article, I introduced you to the various ITSM concepts. I discussed how it could help your organization lower costs and foster innovation. It can also improve customer and employee satisfaction and reduce risk. I also explained how it compares with ITIL and DevOps. 

We talked about 5 ITSM processes: change management, asset management, project management, knowledge management, and incident management. And you now know their benefits to your business. I gave you a brief introduction to 3 popular ITSM frameworks: ITIL, COBIT, and MOF. I ended by sharing 3 ITSM tools that you might find handy. 

If you have further questions about ITSM, I encourage you to check out the FAQ and Resources sections below. You should find some relevant answers there. 

FAQ

Can you recommend a particular technology that can enhance my ITSM initiatives?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one technology that can bolster IT Service Management initiatives. AI-powered ITSM tools can, for example, automatically collect relevant data for shorter ticket resolution times. This can save time and boost the efficiency of your service desk. 

Servicedesk vs Helpdesk—Which is best for ITSM?

Generally, helpdesks are best suited for tactical and reactive use cases focused on resolving short-term issues. Servicedesks, on the other hand, are more suitable for strategic and reactive use cases focused on solutions to long-term IT problems. Read this helpdesk vs servicedesk post for a more detailed discussion. 

What’s another reason to study ITIL?

An ITIL certification is one of the most coveted certifications in the IT world. An ITIL certification can boost your resume, especially if you intend to build your career in the tech sector. It can also open doors to higher salaries and better positions. 

What are other areas in IT suited for frameworks like COBIT and ITIL?

Information security or cybersecurity are areas in IT that can be enhanced when you apply best practices based on frameworks like COBIT and ITIL. One of the tips in our article about cybersecurity and IT strategy, for example, is the importance of using standard frameworks for this purpose. 

What ITSM solutions are businesses turning to due to the increased adoption of remote work? 

Businesses and other organizations are now discovering the importance of cloud-based ITSM tools with built-in employee engagement capabilities in enabling IT support availability. An IT support team that’s available anytime is crucial for remote work environments. You can read more about service management and remote work here.

Resources

TechGenix: Guide on the World’s Most Widely Used IT Frameworks

Discover the most widely used frameworks and standards in IT

TechGenix: Article on COBIT 2019

Know more about one of the leading governance frameworks for IT—COBIT 2019.

TechGenix: Article on COBIT

Take a deeper dive into this detailed guide on COBIT

TechGenix: Article on Small Business IT Support

Learn how small business IT support enables recurring revenue. 

TechGenix: Guide on Cutting Down IT Support Ticket Volume

Unravel the secret to reducing your IT support ticket volume

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