When it comes to ITIL vs. ITSM, most articles try to identify which is the chicken and which is the egg. Historically, the idea of IT service management came first, and it got its start in manufacturing supply chain management as technology moved from mainframe silos and expanded to include hardware and software from multiple vendors. ITSM focused on the people, processes, and the technology involved in IT service delivery. It was a strategic approach for improving the way organizations delivered IT.
ITIL originated with the British government in the late 1980s as they looked for better ways to implement ITSM. ITIL isn’t the only ITSM framework; organizations also use COBIT, ISO 20000, and the Microsoft Operations Framework. The ITIL methodology, however, is widely lauded for its focus on aligning IT services with business objectives.
As you think of how to best run your help desk and your IT department, think of ITSM as a list of services you deliver. Then, think of ITIL as one way you can deliver them. Even though ITIL is almost three decades old, it’s still being reimagined and revamped, and it’s flexible enough to be used by any IT department.
ITIL at a Glance
ITIL is driven by the idea that services should focus on the end user and on helping your business deliver better services, not on the hardware or software you’re fixing. The latest version of the ITIL framework visualizes IT service management as having five main components:
- Service strategy – understand the services end users need and how to best deliver them
- Service design – coming up with cost-effective and operationally efficient ways to deliver those services
- Service transition – bringing the service from concept to implementation
- Service operation – dealing with the ongoing delivery and management of the service
- Continual service improvement – seeking better ways to deliver services, or coming up with better services altogether
When you conceptualize your ITSM processes through the lens of ITIL, you’re not just reacting to events as they happen. You’re thinking about what the business needs to accomplish – or what users need to do their jobs – and you’re asking yourself how to deliver those services in the most cost-effective and user-focused way.
Consider times when someone opens a support ticket because they’re locked out of their computer after typing in the wrong password too many times. When you think with ITIL, you don’t take it one ticket at a time. You look at the service of password reset overall. You start with a service strategy question: how can we make it easier for people to access their accounts securely?
You then move into service design and identify your goal, which is a low-cost method for password reset that relieves call volume. You may then choose to transition to a tool like single sign-on (SSO) to cut down on help desk calls and make it easier for users to login without memorizing complex passwords. Once it’s deployed, you shift to operation, which involves how the help desk interacts with SSO every day. As you seek more convenient or more secure login methods as part of continual service improvement, you may consider adding biometrics or 2FA to your sign-on process.
ITSM vs. ITIL is a false choice. ITIL is merely a way of doing ITSM, and it’s a way that keeps your organization focused on business needs, service efficiency and continuous improvement.