IT asset management (ITAM) and IT service management (ITSM) are critical for any organization that requires IT capabilities to support business objectives. Both technologies provide IT operational support to an organization, but the nature and objectives of these technologies are quite different. Let’s explore the differences and similarities of ITAM vs. ITSM. 

ITAM – IT asset management 

An “IT asset” refers to both hardware and software that an organization uses to support its business objectives. When organizations have accurate IT asset inventory reports, they’re able to make informed IT purchase decisions. However, IT assets are often updated, moved and refreshed, making it difficult to maintain up-to-date asset information.  

When IT asset reports are inaccurate, they expose the organization to unnecessary IT purchases, software audits and security breaches. ITAM provides recommendations and best practices for managing IT assets that support the organization’s objectives. So a short definition would be: 

IT asset management involves accounting for, deploying, maintaining, upgrading and disposing of an organization's IT assets as needed. In essence, it's ensuring that all these assets, whether tangible or intangible, are being properly tracked and utilized within the organization. 

IT asset management (ITAM) best practices suggest that an IT asset be linked to its associated contractual and financial information so that organizations can track the overall costs associated with their IT assets. 

Furthermore, ITAM provides guidance to IT asset managers on creating standards, processes, policies and measurements to increase control. This ensures compliance with business objectives and reduces risk, along with containing or reducing costs. 

When ITAM practices are implemented, IT assets will be tracked from purchase to disposal; often called IT asset lifecycle management. For example, an ITAM hardware disposal process will ensure that when old laptops are disposed of during a refresh, the associated software licenses are properly harvested so they can be redeployed. 

According to Gartner, IT asset management (ITAM) provides an accurate account of technology asset lifecycle costs and risks to maximize the business value of technology strategy, architecture, funding, contractual and sourcing decisions. 

Other aspects of ITAM 

To ensure efficient IT asset lifecycle management, ITAM business practices include processes for IT asset requests, approvals, procurement, disposal and redeployment. These processes ensure that IT assets are documented when purchased and properly tracked as they’re deployed and redeployed. 

In looking at ITAM vs. ITSM, it’s important to remember that most IT service management (ITSM) solutions provide capabilities that support IT requests and approvals. So it’s important that ITAM solutions selected by an organization integrate with the organization’s ITSM solution. 

It's also important to note that most comprehensive ITAM solutions offered by software vendors provide processes that span multiple departments of an organization. This means that most IT asset management solutions are selected and owned by business executives, not IT managers.    

ITSM – IT service management 

Organizations that require IT assets to support business objectives also require IT services to ensure assets are properly working in the role for which they were purchased. IT service management (ITSM) is not just about software tools; it’s also about processes, people and technology. ITSM software is a component of the overall ITSM solution, one we can define as: 

IT service management is a strategic approach for designing, delivering, managing and improving the way you use information technology (IT) within an organization. The goal of IT service management is to ensure that the right processes, people and technology are in place so that the organization can meet its business goals. 

ITSM software solutions come with several components such as a database, business objects (users, groups, roles, etc.) and a process engine. Most ITSM solutions offered by vendors today follow ITIL best practices. 

ITIL 

Another aspect of the ITAM vs. ITSM backstory? As IT solutions saw increasing adoption during the 1980s, there was a need for IT service management standards. So the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) serves two purposes: to both define common terminology and to define best practices for IT service management.  

In fact, terms such as “incident,” “problem,” “change,” “configuration item (CI),” and “configuration management database (CMDB)” all come from ITIL textbooks. 

ITIL refers to a group of documents that provide guidance and a framework for building an IT service management (ITSM) solution. Organizations that support an IT infrastructure can increase efficiency while reducing service management costs by following recommended ITIL processes. 

To help IT service employees become and stay educated, several ITIL certifications are available, as well as training. ITIL certifications focus on practice and procedure, not product.  

These software solutions can typically be designed to meet most, if not all, ITIL recommendations. Be advised that organizations exist, such as Pink Elephant, that evaluate ITSM software solutions to certify their ITIL capabilities. Be sure to choose certified ITSM tools if you plan to implement ITIL best practices. 

CMDB or ITAM? 

Another point to understand in looking at ITAM vs. ITSM? Comprehensive ITSM solutions offer configuration management capabilities along with a configuration management database (CMDB) to support and manage IT assets that provide services to the organization.  

Both ITAM and ITIL provide guidance for managing IT assets, which can be confusing until you explore the objectives of each practice. 

  • ITAM objectives focus on managing an IT asset’s overall cost, including ownership, associated contracts with asset lifecycle, warranty and refresh information. ITAM focuses on IT assets from an organization’s financial perspective. 
  • An ITSM’s configuration management objectives look at IT assets from an operational and support perspective. Asset availability and stability impact an organization’s day-to-day operations, so assets need to be documented along with their configuration and service offerings.  

Can you use a CMDB for ITAM? 

To answer this question, let’s take a look at how airlines manage their flights. Airlines manage their flights using a database with flight numbers that describe a service. A separate asset database maintains inventory information listing the physical aircraft, along with relevant maintenance information.  

When a problem is found with an aircraft, the airline will sometimes swap the aircraft for another. Because they maintain services and equipment in different databases, the airline can switch out the aircraft without having to change the flight number.        

Much as it wouldn’t be practical for this airline to manage its flight services in the same database they use to manage its aircraft inventory, it’s not practical to use a CMDB for both ITAM and Configuration Management. 

Most IT assets are refreshed every 3–4 years, while IT configurations with supporting assets are maintained and updated, not replaced. Therefore, you should use a CMDB to maintain and manage the lifecycle of a service while pulling the supporting assets from an IT asset management database. 

Summary: ITAM vs. ITSM is really ITAM + ITSM 

ITAM and ITSM are both critical for any organization that uses IT assets to support business objectives. In considering ITAM vs. ITSM, it’s really not a matter of choosing between the two but combining as a perfect pairing. Both have an essential role and work more powerfully as a team. 

When looking to build, expand or change your IT asset management solution or your IT service management solution, you need to be sure to explore integration capabilities for both solutions.  

With the right tools in place, you can automate and improve IT processes that support IT assets. These improvements increase efficiency and control while reducing the inevitable costs and mistakes that occur from manual tasks being performed by an operator or analyst.