IT Service Management

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IT Service Management (ITSM) is a discipline for managing large-scale 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. The following represents a characteristic statement from the ITSM literature:

Providers of IT services can no longer afford to focus on technology and their internal organization, they now have to consider the quality of the services they provide and focus on the relationship with customers.[1]

No one author, organization, or vendor owns the term "IT Service Management" and the origins of the phrase are unclear.

ITSM is process-focused and in this sense has ties and common interests with the process improvement movement (e.g. TQM, Six Sigma, Business Process Management, CMMI). The discipline is not concerned with the details of how to use a particular vendor's product, or necessarily with the technical details of the systems under management. Instead, it focuses on providing a framework to structure IT-related activities and the interactions of IT technical personnel with business customers and users.

ITSM is generally concerned with "back office" information technology for enterprises (businesses and organizations), not technology that is a company's primary product. For example, the process of writing computer software for sale, or designing a microprocessor is not the focus of the discipline, but the computer systems used by marketing and business development staff in software and hardware companies would be. Many non-technology companies, such as those in the financial, retail, and travel industries, have significant information technology systems which are not exposed to customers.

In this respect, ITSM can be seen as analogous to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) discipline for IT - although its historical roots in IT operations may limit its applicability across other major IT activities, such as IT portfolio management and software engineering.


IT Service Management is frequently cited as a primary enabler of IT Governance objectives.

The concept of "Service" in an IT sense has a distinct operational connotation, but it would be incorrect to then assume that IT Service Management is only about IT operations. However, it does not encompass all of IT practice, and this can be a controversial matter.

It does not typically include project management or program management concerns. In the UK for example, ITIL is often paired with the Prince2 project methodology and SSADM for systems architecture.

ITSM is related to the field of Management Information Systems (MIS) in scope. However, ITSM has a distinct practitioner point of view, and is more introspective (i.e. IT thinking about the delivery of IT to the business) as opposed to the more academic and outward facing connotation of MIS (IT thinking about the 'information' needs of the business).

IT Service Management in the broader sense overlaps with the discipline of IT portfolio management, especially in the area of IT planning and financial control.

The degree to which software engineering is an ITSM concern is unclear. Certainly, the available ITSM literature has a distinct operational flavor, but also shades into software quality and architectural concerns (especially related to infrastructure, capacity, and operability), while usually steering clear of project management and actual software development. Similarly, the relationship of ITSM to the field of Enterprise Architecture is unclear.


There are a variety of frameworks and authors contributing to the overall discipline.[2] Frameworks that might be considered to provide examples or instances of ITSM include:

There are also a variety of proprietary approaches available from IT service providers, consultants, and research firms.

Professional organizations

There is an international, chapter-based professional association, the IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF), which has a semi-official relationship with ITIL and the ITSM audit standard ISO/IEC 20000.

A professional institute for Service Managers, the Institute of Service Management (IoSM) represents practitioners in the field.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library


IT Service Management is often equated with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, (ITIL), an official publication of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom. However, while a version of ITSM is a component of ITIL, ITIL also covers a number of related but distinct disciplines and the two are not synonymous.

The "Service Management" section of ITIL is made up of eleven different disciplines, split into two sections, Service Support and Service Delivery. This use of the term "Service Management" is how many in the world interpret ITSM, but again, there are other frameworks, and conversely, the entire ITIL library might be seen as IT Service Management in a larger sense.

Other frameworks and concern with the overhead

Analogous to debates in software engineering between agile and prescriptive methods, there is debate between lightweight versus heavyweight approaches to IT service management. Lighter weight ITSM approaches include:

  • ITIL Small-scale Implementation[5] colloquially called “ITIL Lite” is an official part of the ITIL framework.
  • FITS was developed for UK schools. It is a simplification of ITIL.
  • Core Practice (CoPr or “copper”) calls for limiting Best Practice to areas where there is a business case for it, and in other areas just do the minimum necessary, i.e. CoPr.

Governance and audit

Several benchmarks and assessment criteria have emerged that seek to measure the capability of an organisation and the maturity of its approach to service management. Primarily, these alternatives provide a focus on compliance and measurement and therefore are more aligned with corporate governance than with IT service management per se.

  • ISO/IEC 20000 (and its ancestor BS15000). This standard is not identical in taxonomy to ITIL and includes a number of additional requirements not detailed within ITIL and some differences. But they are the closest thing to an “ITIL assessment standard.”
  • COBIT (or the lighter COBIT Quickstart) is comprehensive and widely embraced. It incorporates IT Service Management within its Control Objectives for Support and Delivery.
  • The IT Service Capability Maturity Model uses the CMM maturity measurement model.