What Is the Difference Between ITIL and ITSM?

The terms ITIL and ITSM are so closely linked that people sometimes use them interchangeably. But they are two separate concepts, and each one is worth exploring to manage your IT services successfully. So, what’s the difference between ITIL and ITSM?

Let’s explore the meaning of each term and learn what makes them different. We’ll also discuss how these concepts can contribute to your company’s bottom line and what an ITIL service lifecycle looks like.


  • ITIL and ITSM are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct concepts crucial for effectively managing IT services. ITSM, or IT Service Management, focuses on internal IT needs, provides timely technical support, and ensures employees have the necessary tools.
  • ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a framework within ITSM offering best practices for implementation.
  • ITIL strengthens the connection between IT and business departments, promoting coordinated efforts towards common goals. It guides the ITSM process, enhancing service delivery and customer satisfaction.
  • The ITIL service lifecycle consists of stages:
    • Service strategy: This stage focuses on developing a strategy that ensures cost-effective IT service management without compromising customer experience. It involves assessing customer needs and market conditions to lay the foundation for subsequent stages.
    • Service design: Organizations design new IT services or improvements to existing ones, aligning them closely with business needs identified during the strategy phase. This stage ensures that customer requirements and market conditions remain central to service design decisions.
    • Service transition: The focus shifts to building and deploying the designed IT services and modifications while minimizing disruption to existing services and processes. Risks are carefully calculated, and changes are implemented in a coordinated manner to maintain operational continuity.
    • Service operation: At this stage, the primary objective is to deliver IT services effectively and efficiently while ensuring an optimal customer experience. This involves responding to requests, guiding users through new services, and promptly resolving service failures.
    • Continual service improvement: The final stage emphasizes adopting quality standards and establishing mechanisms for ongoing improvement. Feedback loops are created to drive continuous enhancement, and IT services are further refined by learning from successes and failures.

  • Each stage ensures IT services align with business needs, are deployed efficiently, and continuously improve. ITIL's structured approach enhances ITSM, leading to improved service, cost reduction, increased ROI, and enhanced customer satisfaction.
  • Ultimately, ITIL drives effective ITSM, benefiting organizations by aligning IT services with business objectives and ensuring continual improvement.

What Is ITSM?

So, what does ITSM stand for? It’s an abbreviation for IT Service Management—a set of actions and policies designed to facilitate the timely delivery of technical support in a company. In other words, ITSM covers a company’s internal IT needs.

For instance, if your employees encounter technical difficulties with your customer relationship management (CRM) software, they can turn to your IT department for assistance. With effective ITSM tools in place, the technical team can provide your employees with timely and efficient support. And what’s particularly important — IT service management tools go beyond preventing and fixing technical issues. They also ensure your employees have all the hardware and software they need to work effectively. Updating and supporting software solutions is also part of their job.

Unlike technology-oriented approaches such as IT systems and network management, ITSM is a process approach to managing your IT services. It focuses on continual improvement and puts more weight on customer needs over technology or systems. According to a report from CIO WaterCooler, 35% of the businesses adopt these service management tools to boost customer experience, while 48% are after increasing service quality.

Service Management Tools

Companies adopt a predefined framework of processes and practices for a disciplined approach to IT service management. There’s a variety of frameworks to choose from, with TOGAF, eTOM, COBIT, MOF, and ITIL being the most popular. Some major companies that adopted ITIL include Bank of America, Procter & Gamble, and British Airways. Now let’s discuss ITIL in more detail.

What Is ITIL?

Now, what does ITIL mean? ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a standard framework that prescribes the best practices for implementing ITSM.

First developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the 1980s, ITIL has condensed the original 30 books into seven editions covering recent changes or developments. Its latest version, ITIL 4, accounts for the mass migration of businesses to cloud-based platforms and digital technologies.

Designed mainly to marry IT services with the organization’s business needs, the ITIL framework offers guiding principles on how to treat your company or your employees as a customer and provide services that bring exemplary results. And it keeps evolving.

What’s the Difference Between ITIL and ITSM?

Since ITIL is a part of ITSM, the best way to explain the difference between ITIL and ITSM is to discuss their relationship.

ITSM is a discipline that describes all activities performed by an organization to plan, design, deliver, and control internal technical support. And ITIL is one of ITSM’s frameworks. It prescribes the ITSM activities to take to meet the company’s IT needs. In short, ITIL is a set of guidelines for effective ITSM.

ITIL is one of ITSM’s frameworks. It prescribes the ITSM activities to take to meet the company’s IT needs. In short, ITIL is a set of guidelines for effective ITSM.

Now, let’s explore how ITIL can help promote your business goals.

Can ITIL Help Your Business?

One of the major objectives of ITIL is to strengthen the link between the IT and business departments. Without the ITIL framework to put things into perspective, these company units tend to focus on their specific jobs and get caught by a tunnel vision trap. As a result, your IT staff might work, head down, on technical tasks that may not offer any business value.

The ITIL benefits are particularly desirable for businesses that grapple with organizational siloes. With the framework guiding your ITSM, you can count on coordinated efforts between the IT and business departments to achieve a common goal. These ITIL benefits bring a level of accountability and clarity that allows IT teams to improve service delivery and help ensure customer satisfaction.

Granted, ITIL has its advantages. But how exactly does it work? We’ll explore that question by taking a closer look at the ITIL service lifecycle.

ITIL Service Lifecycle

What Is the ITIL Service Lifecycle?

The latest version of ITIL is outlined in five volumes, each one matching a certain phase of the ITIL service lifecycle. The lifecycle promotes coordination between the functions, systems, and processes vital to the efficient delivery of IT services aligned with business needs. Let’s run through each phase of the ITIL service lifecycle.

Service Strategy

The goal of the first stage is to develop a strategy that makes IT service management cost-effective without compromising customer experience. You’ll have to develop policies and guidelines that cover the entire ITIL service lifecycle. Your strategy will serve as the foundation for the other stages.

To build an effective service strategy, you’ll have to assess customer needs and market conditions.

Service Design

The service design stage aims to produce both new IT services and improvements to the existing ones. Its scope is based on the assessments done at the previous step.

Whatever new services or improvements you decide to make, you have to align them with your company’s business needs. This means keeping customer needs and market conditions front and center.

Service Transition

The service transition stage is about building and deploying the new IT services and modifications you’ve designed. You’ll have to make sure your initiative is not disrupting the services and processes already in place. It means calculating the risks and implementing the changes in a well-coordinated manner.

Service Operation

At this stage, your objective is to guarantee that you deliver the improved IT services effectively and efficiently. You must zero in on routine operational requirements while ensuring your customers get the best experience. It covers responding to user requests, guiding them as they navigate the new services, and resolving service failures.

Continual Service Improvement

At the final stage, your goal is to adopt quality check standards and establish a mechanism to ensure that IT services are increasingly efficient and valuable. You have to create a feedback loop to drive continuous improvement and learn from successes and failures.

Now that we’ve dug into how an ITIL works let’s circle back and redefine its role in a successful ITSM.

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Why Is ITIL Important for ITSM?

ITIL provides ITSM with a structure that makes it well-defined and effective. It ensures you do not just focus on IT service delivery but also bring business value. Without this structure, your staff could end up blindly following rigid processes that may hurt the overall value and customer experience.

When your ITSM is driven by flexible ITIL guidelines, you are much more likely to improve IT service, lower costs, increase IT ROI, and boost customer satisfaction.

When your ITSM is driven by flexible ITIL guidelines, you are much more likely to improve IT service, lower costs, increase IT ROI, and boost customer satisfaction. Companies that use ITIL are better equipped to support continual business improvements and proactively manage business risks and service disruptions.

ITSM vs ITIL: Difference Revealed

We started out by inquiring about the difference between ITIL and ITSM. But the real question is, “How do they relate to each other?” As discussed, ITIL is a framework that guides ITSM and ensures that its policies and practices contribute to your organization’s business value. ITIL is what makes ITSM effective.

With ITIL supporting a strong ITSM, your company can expect prompt and efficient IT services that feed into your bottom line. If you consider changing your service desk and moving records to another platform, use our Migration Wizard to enhance and automate this process.

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