get the survey resultsFor organizations that are building or expanding their IT Service Management offerings, it is important to understand the difference between ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and ITSM (IT Service Management). And because ITIL and ITSM are constantly changing, it is critical to keep up with the latest technology.

The most basic answer is that ITSM is the actual practice, or professional discipline, of managing IT operations as a service, while ITIL is a set of best practices that provide guidance for ITSM—but that just covers the basics. In fact, there's a lot more we can learn about the differences between ITSM and ITIL by looking at the history of IT organizations and how IT has evolved over time.

Many years ago, I worked as an IT support analyst helping companies with a software product that managed their documents on the network. When customers called for help, I used a software program to open an incident that described:

  • The issue
  • The caller’s identity  
  • The date and time the incident was opened

The IT department I worked for supported our organization and our customers with all their IT needs. This included helping customers with IT issues, creating knowledge articles, and providing assets to employees so they could do their jobs.

For those supporting IT, you often hear terms such as "ITIL" and "ITSM" when discussing IT Service Management.

So you might be wondering...

What is ITIL and ITSM?

Let's start here...

What is ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library)?

In the 1980s, IT Service Management best practices emerged as most organizations were migrating or planning to migrate to digital technology. The term ITIL was later introduced to refer to these best practices.

Definition of ITIL:

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) refers to a group of documents that provide a framework and best practices for building an IT Service Management (ITSM) solution. Organizations supporting an IT infrastructure can increase efficiency while reducing service management costs if they follow recommended ITIL processes.

In addition to best practices, ITIL provides common terminology, such as “Incident,” “Problem,” “Change,” “Configuration Item (CI),””Knowledge,” and “Configuration Management Database (CMDB),” all of which are examples of terms used by those who support IT.

Education that focuses on ITIL best practices is available for people who wish to gain a better understanding of ITIL. Furthermore, ITIL certifications can be valuable to have on a resume and are offered in a variety of areas (see below).

What is ITSM (IT Service Management)?

IT Service Management (ITSM) is sometimes mistaken as a software solution. In reality, ITSM is about process, people, and technology. Software is one component of an ITSM solution.

Definition of ITSM:

IT Service Management is a strategic approach for designing, delivering, managing, and improving the way information technology (IT) is used 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.

Components of ITSM Software

ITSM software tools usually come with several components such as:

  • Database
  • Business Objects (u, groups, roles, etc.)
  • Process Engine

These software solutions that support ITSM are typically designed to align with ITIL best practice recommendations.

ITIL & ITSM Certifications

Organizations such as Pink Elephant provide ITIL certification services for ITSM software providers.

  • Agile
  • Lean IT
  • ITIL® & ITSM
  • And more


IT support departments that only provide Incident Management are often referred to as a Help Desk or ticketing solution. IT support organizations that follow the majority of ITIL best practices are typically referred to as a Service Desk solution. Although some ITIL recommendations might not be practical for every organization, when building an IT Service Management solution, ITIL best practices are a good place to start.

Be sure to subscribe to news feeds and forums that discuss ITSM technology in order to stay informed about the latest technology updates and trends regarding ITIL and ITSM.