Differences Between ITIL and ITSM

As a managed services provider (MSP), you aim to improve your customers’ IT operations, ensure data security, and ultimately support their business success. But the key to being a successful MSP isn’t just excellent technical work. In order to provide better service, you’ll want to optimize your business strategy—that is, you should have a plan and tools in place for effective IT Service Management (ITSM).

ITSM is essentially how you manage, implement, and deliver IT services to your customers.  Understanding how an IT service management solution fits into your overall IT governance strategy is the first step toward streamlining operations and meeting business goals. Yet there remains a lot of confusion surrounding ITSM, specifically as it relates to the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)—the set of policies and ITSM best practices that focus on aligning IT services with the needs of businesses. This guide aims to clear up any confusion on ITSM vs. ITIL, outline the benefits of ITSM, and show you some of the potential tools an organization might use to benefit from ITSM.

What are ITSM and ITIL?

Both ITSM and ITIL fall under the general heading of IT services management, but they refer to different ideas within the industry. ITSM basically describes all the activities that are involved in being an MSP, including the policies and processes you use when creating and managing your customers’ IT solutions. A more specific resource within ITSM is ITIL, which is a specific group of documents owned by Axelos that govern IT best practices and set forth the policies for building excellent ITSM solutions.

What is ITIL?

ITIL is a determined set of processes used in IT governance and in supporting IT infrastructure performance across public and private sectors. It doesn’t suggest everything you might need, but it does give practical guidance and complements other industry best practices. At its inception, ITIL was literally a library made up of 30 books that set out the best practices in information technology. Over time, it has evolved to become a framework and corresponding certification for automating processes, improving service management, and governing IT processes.

The latest iteration of ITIL, version 4, was released by Axelos in 2019. Based on extensive research, it includes information on how to integrate new tools, technology, and software into an organization’s operations. As IT becomes a core competency in every major industry, many MSPs turn to ITIL standards to inform their practices. Acknowledging this need, Axelos has made the licensing process more agile, flexible, and ultimately, accessible.

The ITIL continues to involve, and the ITIL 4 adds an additional focus on collaborating with various departments, fostering an effective company culture around IT, and responding to customer feedback. The five stages of the ITIL cycle include service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement. Each of these stages supports the others. The approach also comes with nine guiding principles for IT professionals, which include:

  • Progress iteratively
  • Observe directly
  • Be transparent
  • Collaborate
  • Keep it simple
  • Focus on value
  • Design for experience
  • Start where you are
  • Work holistically

What is ITSM? 

ITSM is about the tools, people, and technology required to bring ideal processes into fruition. IT Service Management is the approach for designing and delivering the way IT is used within the organization. Many mistake ITSM for a specific software solution and indeed, there are software tools for implementing ITSM effectively. However, ITSM is more about the big picture than just one product—it could lead you to having a database, business team, and process engine working in coordination to fulfill the ITIL processes.

ITSM concerns five key aspects of IT: end users, i.e., the employees and customers who use technology; applications, hardware, and other infrastructures; cost and budget; efficient problem-solving; and enabling a business to meet its objectives. Ultimately, good ITSM relies on the right cultural mindset, based on actionable principles, like delivering value and continually seeking to improve service.

Why is ITSM important?

Like IT governance writ large, ITSM can significantly impact the way an organization uses IT to meet its business goals. ITIL can guide how an MSP delivers an organization’s IT governance framework, while ITSM will benefit MSP businesses in a few ways, including customer service and management standards.

First, ITSM can help optimize workflows and reduce costs by automating key functions or providing self-help capabilities. For MSPs who are overloaded with service requests, ITSM is one way to deliver solutions or answer requests. Ticketing may become less onerous when using the correct ITSM framework to streamline the workflow. By implementing the ITIL-recommended Single Point of Contact solution, MSPs can reduce labor costs and improve morale.

Likewise, service management requires the integration of internal controls and monitoring to inform higher-level reporting. This level of scrutiny makes it clear where service inefficiencies exist and how standardization and collaboration across teams can save time and money. For enterprises working in silos, this level of transparency can be a massive benefit.

Considering ITSM leads to better standardization of services, as well as better control and governance over key IT functions. As part of an overall IT governance scheme, ITSM leads to better accountability: these tools and practices streamline services, reduce delays, and make sure the IT needs within the organization are met quickly.

Features of an ITSM tool 

While ITSM does not necessarily refer to a platform or tool, it is possible to find ITSM solutions that can help MSPs successfully provide IT services to their customers. ITSM software all has some common features that come as standard across platforms. At a minimum, ITSM should provide:

  • Problem management tools: Look for solutions to prevent downtime and diagnose issues before they become bigger.
  • Ticketing: Good tools should help track work orders, monitor trends, and direct traffic.
  • IT service model readiness: Pluggable IT service models created from existing best practices can be quickly deployed.
  • Asset management: This feature can help you manage equipment as it depreciates.
  • License management: Choose a platform that lets you manage updates and receive alerts for renewals or expirations.

There are ITSM tools that are customized for different categories, including enterprise ITSM, scalable, multipurpose solutions, and tools that are tailored to protect your cybersecurity. From provisioning servers to maintaining SLA performance, some ITSM software is able to work across cloud and on-premises apps to automate services and streamline operations. Often, these tools will integrate ITIL processes in a clear and transparent way to help keep organizations on track. Many of these tools focus on flexibility and scalability, with add-on services that meet an organization’s growing needs.

Security is a growing concern as regulations and the proliferation of devices make it critical, and challenging, to protect user data. As a result, some ITSM tools are focusing primarily on improving IT security. By ensuring the safe transfer of data, regularly and automatically backing up files, and preventing malware attacks, ITSM is taking the burden off IT teams by providing consistent IT security. This is one area where IT governance and ITIL can and should play a major role in guiding how MSPs think about security and disaster prevention.

How to choose an ITSM tool

Of course, ITSM is not just the software used to monitor an organization’s IT functionality. But it’s useful when ITSM capabilities are reported within a single, unified dashboard—which is where choosing the right ITSM tool comes into play.

An ITSM tool can provide data points and the big picture view to ensure your business is meeting its IT governance goals. The type of tool an MSP should choose depends on a few factors. First, what are the outcomes you need from your IT systems management? Some organizations need automated customer support; others need improved incident reporting. Think about what role your ITSM tool will play and the desired outcome.

Likewise, how will automation factor into your ITSM? Automation can make your enterprise more efficient and eliminate costly processes, but only when sequenced correctly. What workflows exist for your customers that can benefit from some level of automation? Consider how an ITSM tool can reduce IT costs, provide better consistency, resolve tickets faster, or scale to include artificial intelligence in the coming years.

With these fundamentals in mind, there are many ITSM tools to choose from. SolarWinds MSP has one of the most popular IT service management platforms on the market. SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) automates much of your daily work tasks to help MSPs be more productive. From running daily safety checks to cleaning out files, the system can pre-approve patches, automatically back-up files, and perform other updates that can drag down an IT service. The ITSM system is an easy install, and you can onboard your system with no coding necessary. Security is at the forefront of SolarWinds RMM. Antivirusweb protection, and device discovery are all built in to protect your customers from evolving threats. Service providers that make cybersecurity central to their ITIL can install ITSM with the confidence that their governance goals are being met.

If you’re interested in learning more about ITSM vs ITIL, contact our team to get extra resources. We can help you figure out which ITSM tool is right for your organization depending on your ITIL and unique business goals.


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