5 min read

ITSM vs. ITIL: What's the Difference?

May 24, 2023

According to an international survey of nearly 500 companies, more than 90% of the companies use ITSM frameworks.

But with so many frameworks available, it can be hard to understand what’s what. Is ITSM itself a framework? And where does ITIL fit in? 

Read on for a recap of ITSM and ITIL, the difference between them, and how you can meld the two to establish an effective foundation for your business. 

What is ITSM? 

Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) is a set of principles, processes, and practices designed to align IT services with an organization's and its customers' needs. It focuses on delivering high-quality IT services efficiently and effectively while emphasizing continuous improvement.

ITSM encompasses various processes and practices, including but not limited to: 

  • Incident Management: Handling and resolving incidents to restore normal service operations. 
  • Change Management: Managing changes to the IT environment to minimize disruption and ensure stability. 
  • Problem Management: Identifying and resolving the root causes of recurring incidents to prevent future disruptions. 
  • Service Level Management: Defining and monitoring service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure service quality. 
  • Configuration Management: Maintaining a centralized repository of information about IT assets and their relationships. 
  • Service Desk: Providing a single point of contact for users to report issues, request services, and seek assistance. 
  • Knowledge Management: Capturing, organizing, and sharing knowledge to improve efficiency and decision-making. 
  • Continual Service Improvement: Regularly reviewing and improving IT services, processes, and performance. 

Implementing ITSM has many benefits, including improved service quality, enhanced customer satisfaction, cost optimization, increased visibility, and more!  

What is ITIL?

ITSM frameworks, such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), provide a structured approach to implementing ITSM. ITIL consists of a set of best practices and guidelines for managing IT services.  

ITIL was first developed in the 1980s by the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), a government agency in Great Britain, and has evolved throughout the years to include five core service management stages:  

  1. Service Strategy: Provides guidance on defining business goals and objectives, determining service offerings, and developing strategies to deliver value to customers. 
  2. Service Design: Covers the design and development of IT services, ensuring they're aligned with business requirements, reliable, scalable, and cost-effective. 
  3. Service Transition: Addresses the transition of services into the operational environment, including activities such as change management, release management, and knowledge management. 
  4. Service Operation: Focuses on the daily management and delivery of IT services, including incident management, problem management, event management, and access management. 
  5. Continual Service Improvement: Highlights the importance of a culture of continuous improvement, tracking key performance indicators (KPI), conducting service reviews, and implementing improvements. 

Techs can study and sit for ITIL certification to gain complete mastery of the principles. Using the ITIL framework can help improve incident management, boost service delivery efficiency, align with business objectives, promote effective change management, and more.

The Difference Between ITSM and ITIL 

Because ITIL is a subset of ITSM, the two can complement each other and enhance IT management. Still, they do have some key differences that are important to understand when establishing an ITSM strategy:

Scope and Focus 

ITSM: ITSM encompasses the entire set of activities, processes, and policies involved in managing and delivering IT services to meet business needs. It focuses on the overall management of IT services, including service strategy, design, transition, operation, and continual improvement.

ITIL: ITIL, on the other hand, is a specific framework within the broader scope of ITSM. It provides detailed guidelines, best practices, and processes for IT service management. ITIL focuses on delivering IT services aligned with business requirements and includes a set of procedures to achieve this goal. 

Objectives and Goals  

ITSM: The primary objective of ITSM is to ensure that IT services are delivered efficiently and in a standardize way to meet business objectives. It aims to align IT services with business needs, improve service quality, enhance customer satisfaction, and continuously improve IT service delivery. 

ITIL: ITIL's primary goal is to provide a comprehensive set of best practices for managing IT services throughout their lifecycle. It aims to standardize IT service management processes, improve service quality, enhance service delivery efficiency, and enable effective communication between IT and the business. 

Process Orientation and Lifecycle Approach 


ITSM: ITSM emphasizes adopting a process-oriented approach to managing IT services. It focuses on defining, implementing, and improving various IT service management processes, such as incident management, change management, problem management, and service level management. 

ITIL: ITIL follows a lifecycle approach consisting of five stages. Each stage represents a set of processes, activities, and considerations for managing IT services effectively across their entire lifecycle. 

Adoption and Implementation Considerations 


ITSM: ITSM is a broader concept that can incorporate various frameworks, methodologies, and standards, including ITIL. Organizations can adopt ITSM principles and customize their approach based on their needs and industry best practices. 

ITIL: ITIL is a specific framework that provides detailed guidance on IT service management processes and practices. Organizations can adopt ITIL as a comprehensive approach to managing IT services or integrate specific ITIL processes into their existing ITSM framework. 

ITSM vs. ITIL The Conclusion

ITSM is a broader concept that encompasses the management of IT services, while ITIL is a specific framework within ITSM that provides detailed guidelines and best practices for effective IT service management. But although they differ, ITIL's best practices can be used to support and enhance your larger ITSM strategy. 

To meld the two approaches, many businesses turn to ITSM software to manage service delivery by using sophisticated automation and following ITIL principles and ITSM best practices. By implementing robust software, you can tap into the full potential of what ITSM and ITIL offer. 

Ready to try an ITSM solution that will set you up with the framework you need to provide top-notch service to end-users?  Sign up to try DeskDirector! 

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