Last updated on: July 11, 2019

What is IT service management (ITSM)?

IT service management (ITSM) is the process of designing, delivering, managing, and improving the IT services an organization provides to its end users. ITSM is focused on aligning IT processes and services with business objectives to help an organization grow.

What is the difference between ITSM and ITIL?

ITIL® is a framework of best practices and recommendations for managing an organization's IT operations and services. It was commissioned by the UK Government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the mid-1980s. ITSM processes, when built based on the ITIL® framework, pave the way for better IT services and improved business. To summarize, ITIL® is a set of guidelines for effective IT service management.

86% of service desks use the ITIL framework. However, the use of ISO/IEC 20000 (29%) and DevOps (11%) has increased in recent years.

Source : ServiceDesk Institute

Benefits of efficient ITSM processes

Irrespective of the size of business, every organization is involved in IT service management in some way. ITSM ensures that incidents, service requests, problems, changes, and IT assets—in addition to other aspects of IT services—are managed in a streamlined way.

IT teams in your organization can employ various workflows and best practices in ITSM, as outlined in ITIL®.

Effective ITSM processes can have positive effects on an IT organization's overall function.

Here are the 10 key benefits of ITSM:

Find how our ITSM software fits your business needs

Start your 30-day free trial
Get your free ITSM resource pack

ITSM processes

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

ITSM process lifecycle

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:

Service design

This stage's main aim is planning and designing the IT services the organization offers to meet business demands. It involves creating and designing new services as well as assessing current services and making relevant improvements. There are several elements to IT service design:

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.

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, but 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: 

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 better understanding, read this blog on the important KPIs for any organization. The following are a few of the aspects of CSI: 

How to effectively implement ITSM processes and workflows

The following steps are best practices that can help simplify the implementation and efficient use of ITSM processes and workflows:

ITSM implementation checklist

Audit your current ITSM operations and identify the gaps

Before implementing ITSM processes in your organization, it's best to identify your organization's early goals and then work your way up. When it comes to implementing IT service management workflows, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, it's important to carefully identify the areas of IT where ITSM processes can be; involve the right people; deploy the relevant technology; choose the right workflows; be aware of what's at stake and the potential risks involved; and be prepared with strategies for recovery in circumstances where initiatives fall through the cracks.

Educate, communicate, and involve stakeholders while implementing ITSM processes

According to a McKinsey report, 70 percent of change projects fail because management is unable or unwilling to help employees embrace the change. To prevent this, your organization needs to create a culture that is receptive to change. This can be done by ensuring that all stakeholders are convinced about the benefits of strategizing and implementing good ITSM processes, and communicating with people outside the core implementation team through workshops, meetings, etc. to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page.

Outline the Critical Success Factors and keep tabs on KPIs and metrics

As the ITSM implementation progresses, your team needs to regularly monitor your IT help desk's performance using metrics and KPIs to ensure continuous improvement. With the built-in reporting capability that ITSM tools offer, your team can generate various reports containing both high-level and granular data, aiding in performance analysis and decision-making. While it's necessary to regularly analyze KPIs, the trick of the game is to measure the right metrics and KPIs for your help desk. This will help you avoid wasting time on irrelevant or insignificant metrics. Here are the most significant metrics and KPIs: 

Use relevant tools to automate processes

IT help desk management solutions simplify the implementation of ITSM processes by providing out-of-the-box best practice processes and workflows. Most help desk software include automations, real-time analytics, customizable ITSM processes, and so much more. That, coupled with the right processes, shifts IT teams' focus from fire-fighting to strategic business objectives and growth. 

It's also important to choose an IT help desk tool that fits your organization's IT needs, instead of blindly investing in a high-end tool, or one that promises a wide range of features. More often than not, you aren't going to use all the functionality available right away. It's wiser to invest in a tool that is customizable and flexible to match a big part of your current IT requirements, with the ability to scale up in the future. You should look for a tool that's practical, user-friendly, and includes integrations with other IT management tools to ensure that you go to one place for your IT management processes, instead of scrambling around multiple, siloed tools. And of course, it goes without saying that the software must be budget-friendly. 

Develop a feedback loop from end users and other stakeholders

Efficient ITSM strategies don't just stop with implementation, but should continually develop over time. It's important for an organization to leverage their ITSM processes to achieve defined business goals. To this end, your IT team needs to collect feedback from end users, identify pain points, visualize their desired state, and build roadmaps for further improvement. Commonly, feedback comes for areas such as technical support, feature requirements, or even user interface functionality. It's also important to note that user feedback can sometimes be less helpful. To extract good, constructive feedback, survey questions should be framed carefully and be very specific. Here are an example of good and bad end user feedback:

Bad feedback: "Your IT technicians are great." 

Good feedback: "The way your IT technicians handle requests is great. Danny, my sales rep, knew exactly what I was looking for and helped me find the add-in that saved me a lot of time and effort. I'd like to make a suggestion as well. It would be great if the add-in could work for Office365. All in all, I'd definitely recommend your help desk tool."

Although the first example was positive, it was shallow and didn't provide anything constructive. The good feedback, on the other hand, provided information that could be used for improvement and was also a good endorsement for the product.

Stats show that 32% of service desks identify ITIL v3/2011 as their main ITSM initiative, while 29% chose Six Sigma, 27% chose Balanced Scorecard, 24% chose ISO 19770-1, 21% chose Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), 20% chose ITIL v2, and 20% chose Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT).

Source : Ivanti Research report future of ITSM

How to choose an ITSM tool

With a competent IT service management goal in mind, it's important to invest in a service desk solution that caters to your business needs. It goes without saying, with more than 150 service desk tools to choose from, selecting the right one is easier said than done. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an ITSM tool:

Identify key processes and their dependencies

Based on business goals, decide which key ITSM processes need to be implemented and chart out the integrations that need to be established to achieve those goals. For example, if many of your IT changes are dependent on incoming incident requests, look for a tool that has a tight integration between these two ITSM processes.

Consult with ITSM experts

Participate in business expos, webinars, demos, etc., and educate yourself about the various options that are available in the market. Reports from expert analysts such as Gartner and Forrester are particularly useful as they include reviews of almost every solution, ranked based on multiple criteria. 

Choose a deployment option

Every business has a different IT infrastructure model. Selecting an on-premises or software as a service (SaaS) ITSM tool depends on whether your business prefers to host its applications and data on its own servers or use a public or private cloud. 

Differentiate the "needs" from the "wants" in your feature checklist

More often than not, it's easy to get carried away by the vastness of the offerings an ITSM tool provides. It's therefore important that you're clear about the requirements to run IT services in your organization and prioritize them. You should look no further into an ITSM tool if it doesn't meet your basic requirements even if it does appear to offer fancy features that may be a luxury but will not suffice your basic necessity.

Plan ahead for the future 

Although it's important to consider the "needs" primarily, you shouldn't rule out the secondary or luxury capabilities. If the ITSM tool doesn't have the potential to adapt to your needs as your organization grows, it can pull you back from progressing. Draw a clear picture of where your business is headed and choose an ITSM tool that is flexible and technology-driven.

Evaluate tools available in the market

Keep a list of your requirements and preferred deployment method and match it against the capabilities of existing ITSM tools. As previously discussed, classifying your feature requirements into “must-haves” and “good-to-haves” can help cut down the list of tools that could work for you. It's important to carry out a request for proposal process, listing features and assigning weights to different elements such as price and support. Once you reach this stage, it's a good idea to let your technicians try out a couple of different products that are available as free trial versions and monitor their user experience. From there, you should be better informed to make your choice.

Don't stop with the capabilities of the ITSM tool

It might be tempting to assess an ITSM tool based on its capabilities and features but it's important to evaluate the vendor of the tool. A good IT support team, and a vendor that is endorsed for their customer-vendor relationship can take your IT services far. Check Gartner's magic quadrant and other analyst reports, along with product and support reviews to ensure that the said tool provides good customer support.

67% of service desk users chose product features and functionality as the top selection criterion for a new ITSM tool, while 65% chose self-service capabilities, 53% chose the ability to easily configure and customize, 45% chose access to quality support, 45% chose the ease of use and the UI, and 24% chose ESM/enterprise capabilities.

Source : SDI Industry analyst

Take a live test drive of our ITSM tool with our product experts

Request for a free demo

Where is ITSM headed? 

IT support has evolved over the years, dictated by factors like business needs, work culture, technological innovations, and the ever-changing IT landscape. IT help desks have transformed into IT service desks which handle a wider spectrum of IT operations and better align with strategic business goals. These IT service desks are supported by ITSM tools that provide increased functionality and usability. The road, of course, doesn't end here; ITSM is bound to continue to evolve. Here are some hot trends which will fuel the evolution of ITSM in the coming years.

Rising focus on consumer experience

The role of IT support is to make sure that IT services help employees with their work. Increased expectations of IT employees have shifted the focus of IT towards providing a better consumer experience. This includes enabling a multichannel communication process, introducing chatbots, as well as providing a compelling IT shopping experience with service catalogs and promoting self-help with access to a knowledge base. Providing a better consumer experience improves the IT department's reputation and creates a work environment free of frustration for both end users and IT technicians.

Compulsion to automate

One reason for the push to automate is that some security standards are based on ITIL®; many organizations are well aware that automating ITIL® processes can help them sail through compliance audits. Extending automation to other workflows and processes can help decrease inconsistencies and increase efficiency in help desk operations as well. With the automation of help desk tasks, end users benefit from improved resolution times.

Coping with BYOD culture

Whether an organization decides to adopt a bring your own device (BYOD), bring your own technology (BYOT), or choose your own device (CYOD) culture, these up-and-coming IT policies always carry the threat of shadow IT. With BYOD, challenges arise in terms of asset management, software license compliance, and extending IT support to a wider range of devices. Without a proper strategy to handle this culture, businesses can face increased IT costs and business disruptions. BYOD adds to the complexity of an IT environment, making impact analysis during a problem more challenging due to low visibility on employees' personal devices. Mobile device management capabilities like remotely wiping devices, deploying profiles, restricting devices' access to Wi-Fi and VPN, and adjusting devices' email settings could help technicians cope with this BYOD culture.

Ascension of the "social IT" approach

The current generation of IT consumers are increasingly submitting incidents or requests through social media rather than conventional methods like email. Based on this trend, IT help desk technicians can leverage the power of social media as a powerful ITSM enabler. You should look into integrating social media platforms with your help desk tools to allow your help desk technicians to receive and respond to tickets, converse with end users, and resolve issues.

Demand for business intelligence to support critical decisions

With multiple touch points across an organization, IT has access to a huge volume of data, which can be used to generate business-critical insights. These insights can reveal problems in business and IT at the earliest stage, reducing costs and risks while increasing the quality of IT service delivery. Help desk software has started integrating with business intelligence solutions to mine valuable information from help desk data. For example, a basic SLA compliance level chart only indicates when SLA compliance levels sky-rocket or plunge, but doesn't necessarily help you understand why SLA levels are changing. Performing deep dive analytics with business intelligence tools can help identify the factors that are negatively affecting SLA compliance levels and the ways to fix them.

Emphasis on enterprise service management (ESM)

ESM is expected to be a natural successor of ITSM. ESM is all about applying the principles, processes, and best practices of IT service delivery to every functional area within a business. ESM helps effectively integrate different departments and facilitates quicker flow of operations across departments. Though many vendors have already started talking about ESM capabilities in their tools, for now a complete ESM solution is only a vision that the industry is moving towards.

Create and deploy unique service desk instances in less than 60 seconds

Signup now

Adopting the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI)

AI technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and robotics have started redefining the way people live and work. And they will eventually make their way into IT service desks. The first and most noticable impact of AI on IT service desks will be chatbots and virtual service assistants that might one day replace humans as the first touch point of an IT service desk. Machine learning, a type of AI, on the other hand, will provide IT service desks with tools that have the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. With machine learning, IT help desks will be able to:

Get Zia, the conversational virtual support agent for your service desk

Know more about Zia

These seven trends have the power to shape the future of ITSM, but ManageEngine's ITSM Future Readiness Survey Report points to even more advances in ITSM.

While implementing ITSM processes in your organization, you should ensure that your prospective ITSM solution is capable enough to address trends and provide a competent, future-proof way to deliver better IT services.


Free Download : ITSM handbook and Best practices

An exclusive package of ITSM resources

  • The Brainy Book for Smarter ITSM

  • ITSM Best Practice Lessons

By clicking 'Yes, get my free ITSM resources', you agree to processing of personal data according to the Privacy Policy.

About ServiceDesk Plus

ManageEngine's flagship product, ServiceDesk Plus, is an ITIL-ready service desk software used by ITSM professionals worldwide. With industry-certified best practice ITSM functionality, easy-to-use capability, and native mobile apps, ServiceDesk Plus leverages the latest technology to help IT support teams deliver world-class service to end users with reduced costs and complexity. Available in both cloud and on-premises versions, the software is available in three editions, and 29 different languages. Over 100,000 organizations across 185 countries trust ServiceDesk Plus to optimize their IT service desk performance and be future-ready in their IT service management operations. For more information on ServiceDesk Plus, please visit