IT Service Management (ITSM): Simple Guide

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Any modern business which relies on IT systems to deliver goods and services – which is virtually any modern business whatsoever – could achieve higher levels of efficiency, value and customer satisfaction by embracing IT Service Management (ITSM).


Although almost all businesses have an IT system they rely on, in all too many cases this system will have been installed and developed in a piecemeal manner, responding to demand or the need to replace and upgrade aspects as and when issues arise, rather than being the result of a strategic overview. As a result it tends to be an IT provision which falls short of meeting the potential for business transformation that it clearly offers.

What is ITSM?

ITSM is the term used to describe a process and a set of policies. The process is one of designing, managing, delivering and improving the IT services which any given organisation provides for its end users. The policies in question are put in place with the same aim – ensuring the IT services in question, deliver as they should for end users in a manner which meets the needs of the users, and promotes the established goals of the wider business. This last aspect of ITSM is vitally important, as it highlights the fact that it doesn’t simply focus on IT as an end in itself, but rather works with IT to maximise its impact and align with the success of the business as a whole. The end users in question could be employees, business partners or customers, while the IT services being managed could cover everything from laptops and smartphones supplied to end users, to mobile apps, cloud storage solutions, virtual servers and literally any aspect of hardware or software contained within the IT framework of a business. ITSM is a broad concept  which may make it seem somewhat daunting when first considered, but it is the sheer range of ITSM which makes it such a high impact investment for any modern business to make. The bottom line of ITSM is that it isn’t actually about IT in itself as much as it is about maximising and optimising the outputs and delivery which that IT enables a business to achieve.

The ITSM Process

The best way to clearly explain the delivery of ITSM is to break it down into separate processes. The precise details of ITSM are going to vary from business to business, and there are multiple practices and concepts which could be placed under the umbrella of ITSM which may or may not apply to any specific business. The following steps toward implementing ITSM across a business are those which are most likely to feature across the majority of organisations:

Incident Management: Like many areas requiring a degree of technical knowledge, ITSM generates a level of jargon, and ‘incident management’ is a good example. In simple terms, an ‘incident’ describes an unplanned disruption in service or a total outage, therefore it is the processes set in place to restore any disrupted services in a way which minimises the impact on individual users and the wider business.

Problem management: Having utilised incident management to deal with a disruption to service, ITSM will then employ problem management to emphasise prevention rather than cure by identifying and dealing with the root cause of the disruption. The in depth nature of ITSM is underlined by the fact that problem management will also involve identifying the underlying factors which were ultimately responsible for the cause incident.

Change management: No matter how seamlessly an IT framework is operating, the fact that it will have to change and adapt to changes in the wider business or the sector in which that business operates, is undeniable. Giving the constant nature of the process of adaptation, change management describes the processes and practices set in place to minimise the disruption caused by any changes. This includes dealing with risks such as potential downtime, data loss and compliance issues.

Asset and configuration management: Knowing about the individual components that make up an IT infrastructure is vital, but almost just as important is understanding how those components interact. That is what asset and configuration management is put in place to do. It involves monitoring, documenting and authorising the configuration of all hardware and software assets. These could include laptops, mobile devices, operating systems and physical and virtual servers. In many cases, this management will involve the creation of a configuration management database (CMDB), which records all of the IT assets of a business and details how each relates to the others.

Service request management: This aspect of ITSM relates to dealing with the requests for new services which constantly flow in from users in any business. These requests might include employees needing new hardware in the form of laptops or smartphones, business partners requesting access to a particular portal, or departments of the business asking to work with software-as-a-service (SaaS) application. Automating the flow of request tickets through the system and building in as much ‘self-service’ capacity as possible are forms of service request management that can help to boost the productivity of a business.

Service catalogue: The service catalogue plays a role in service request management, being a portal or menu which makes it possible for users to access IT services on a self-serve basis, In an easy and simple way.

Knowledge management: The theory that knowledge is power is one of those clichés which has become a cliché because of the large grain of truth it contains. In ITSM terms, knowledge management involves generating and sharing knowledge related to IT services within the business itself, and also with customers and partners. This is usually done via the creation of a knowledge base which is constantly updated and which users can search to find the information they need.

SLA management: The service level agreement (SLA) is the contract between the ITSM service provider and the client. It will encompass all aspects of the ITSM being provided, including the processes set out above and any which are specific to the particular business. The SLA will cover the quality of the service, the availability of the service provider and the responsibilities covered by the contract.

Implementing ITSM

Implementing ITSM across a business is not something which can be approached in a haphazard manner. Even before the process begins, it’s highly likely that ‘pockets’ of ITSM have been a part of any business which has a mature and well-embedded IT infrastructure, however this is a completely different phenomenon from the creation of a strategic, overarching set of processes and policies. It will change not only the way IT is used in the business, but it will also alter the operation of the business as a whole too. It’s therefore useful to break the implantation of ITSM down into five simple steps:

  • Audit your current IT operations to establish the degree of ITSM which has already been implemented, and where the gaps in the provision are
  • Involve all stakeholders in the plans to introduce ITSM. This involvement should include education on what ITSM will ultimately involve and communication on the topic of what is actually needed. Input from employees, business partners and even customers can provide the kind of ‘shop floor’ details on the current IT systems in place, and what is lacking from a top-down point of view
  • Draw up a detailed account of what ‘success’ will look like in terms of ITSM. Outline the key performance indicators and metrics that will be used to evaluate the implementation of ITSM and set up systems to monitor these figures as it is introduced
  • Automate as many of the processes involved in ITSM as possible, to enable delivery of productivity and cost savings from the outset by streamlining procedures. This will also free employees from the responsibility of dealing with the issues now automated through ITSM, leaving them to focus their time on higher value, business focused activities
  • Set up processes to gather feedback from stakeholders and customers throughout implementation and when it is in place, creating a full picture of how ITSM is impacting the day to day running of the business and whether/where it could be improved

The benefits of ITSM

As covered above, a carefully planned and implemented ITSM policy can transform not only the IT provision of a business, but also the wider success of that business. The question of what ‘success ‘looks like in terms of ITSM involves not just the provision of IT services itself – i.e. users being able to access the hardware and software they need, when and where they need it – but also the operation of the business and the results it delivers to customers:

  • ITSM places the business in a position in which it is able to respond in a high speed and agile manner to everything from new business opportunities, to outside threats, unpredicted circumstances and new opportunities
  • In the simplest possible terms, ITSM reduces service eliminations and downtime as far as is possible, and extracts the maximum performance from the IT which is in place. The result is systems doing exactly what they’re meant to do – making it easy for users to get through the work they have to do and boost the output of the business as a whole
  • The productivity driven by IT provision is boosted significantly by the fact that ITSM speeds up the resolution of incidents and problems within the infrastructure and, at the level of problem management, prevents those issues from occurring in the first place or again
  • ITSM enables a business to create realistic and achievable expectations for the service it can deliver, enhancing user satisfaction by meeting the targets set
  • Compliance plays a crucial role in almost every industry, particularly where dealing with customer data is concerned. The fact that ITSM is built from the ground up means that compliance can be engineered into the systems from the beginning, enhancing compliance and reducing risk
  • ITSM transforms the common perception of an IT department as a place that users go to when a problem arises into one which is closely aligned to wider business strategy and plays a pro-active role in delivering on that strategy.

ITSM,  ITIL and DevOps

If you spend any time at all looking into ITSM and how it could work across your business, the chances are that you’ll also see the phrases ITIL and DevOps. Although they can all play a part in optimising the IT provision of a business, there are differences between the three. ITSM is the approach to IT detailed above, and covers a wide range of policies and processes. ITIL is a framework of best practices and recommendations which was commissioned by the UK Government’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the mid-1980s. ITIL offers a set of guidelines which can be referenced when designing and implementing ITSM processes. ITIL is not alone in offering a framework however, with other options include:

  • COBIT – a framework dealing with the governance of enterprise IT
  • ISO 2000 – international standard for IT Service Management
  • MOR – the Microsoft Operations Framework, which is made up of guides on the creation, implementation and management of IT services
  • USMBOK – the Universal Service Management Body of Knowledge can be used in conjunction with other ITSM sources, including ITIL, to develop overarching strategies and on-going operations

A comprehensive ITSM strategy is likely to call on ITIL and one or more of the alternatives, to build a detailed set of policies and processes.

DevOps sits to one side of ITSM and ITIL and is often described as being in direct competition with ITSM/ITIL. In simple terms DevOPS describes a development strategy which aims to close the gap between IT operations in a business and software development. The aim of DevOPS is for products to be updated regularly with a speed which more traditional working methods can’t match. The ‘clash’ between DevOPS and ITSM is often based on the perception that ITSM involved a degree of bureaucracy and red tape that slows innovation down, that DevOPS offers the antidote to. The truth of the matter is that the focus of each is different, with DevOPS focusing on the software delivery lifecycle, while ITSM is significantly broader in terms of what IT can offer to a business and its’ customers. The best option for an ambitious business would be to blend the agility of DevOPS with the discipline and focus on process delivery of ITSM.

The software and tools used to implement ITSM

At any given time there are likely to be more than 150 software tools on the market which have been designed and engineered to enable businesses to implement ITSM within the framework of their choosing. The choice a business makes will be driven by the precise requirements of that business, but certain criteria are always going to apply:

  • To support a robust IT Service Desk
  • To have the capabilities to deliver on implementation via processes such as incident management, change management and asset and configuration management, detailed in any audit carried out prior to implementation
  • To integrate with existing IT tools such as ERP systems
  • Offer a user friendly dashboard
  • To deliver data which enables you to track performance in real time, including incident response and resolution times and service level compliance
  • Have the capability to deal with rapidly changing IT environments

Some examples of what is currently available include:

  • SolarWinds Service Desk
  • SolarWinds MSP
  • Atera Helpdesk Software
  • ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus
  • Freshservice
  • ServiceNow IT Service Management
  • Alloy Navigator
  • SysAid
  • InvGate
  • Kaseya BMS
  • Vivantio ITSM

ITSM and your business

ITSM can transform a business of any kind by taking a strategic view of the IT services which it relies on. It also works by building a bridge between the IT department in a business and the rest of the business. When used properly, ITSM transforms IT from simply a tool to be used in a responsive manner, to a proactive driver of business success. Expertise and experience is essential to the delivery of ITSM which we offer in a bespoke and high impact manner. Combined with our knowledge of IT processes, platforms and tools, and a deep understanding of what technology can offer to a business when it is unleashed from the IT silo, we can help shape the delivery on our customers strategic aims and goals. Contact us to find out more and how the ITSM we provide could benefit for your business.

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