ITSM vs. ITIL: What’s the Difference Between ITIL & ITSM?

3 minute read

In the IT world, it’s assumed you understand the difference between the terms ITSM and ITIL. However, not everyone uses these ITSM and ITIL correctly; some even use ITSM and ITIL interchangeably, which magnifies everyone’s confusion. ITSM stands for IT Service Management, and it refers to the actual practice of managing IT operational services. By contrast, ITIL is a best-practices framework for how to set up ITSM in your organization.

It’s crucial to fully understand the differences between ITSM vs. ITIL. When you’re hazy on the nuances and differences between these two terms, you can make costly mistakes and waste precious resources. That’s because every organization must make strategic decisions about how to set up, streamline, and improve its ITSM operation. And in the process, every organization must consciously decide how closely to follow ITIL standards when making these decisions. As you work to keep your ITSM operation firing on all cylinders, let’s explore five key ideas that will help you fully appreciate the differences between ITSM and ITIL:


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Recommended Reading: What is ServiceNow ITSM?

ITIL is a framework for implementing ITSM

One of the best ways to understand the difference between ITIL and ITSM is to understand the relationship between the two. ITIL is a universally used framework for implementing ITSM. Some of the world’s foremost authorities on managing ITSM got together decades ago to develop standards for implementing ITSM. ITIL is the product of that effort. ITIL has been routinely updated over the years. If you’re wondering why organizations don’t just develop their own implementation frameworks, the answer is simple: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The creators of ITIL have thought through everything, and ITIL has been successfully used by thousands of organizations worldwide.


ITIL is not the only framework for implementing ITSM

ITIL is the most common and universally embraced framework for implementing ITSM. But ITIL is by no means the only option. Other frameworks can complement ITIL or replace ITIL in part or in its entirety. For example, COBIT emphasizes governance, audit, and compliance. Lean is a great complement to ITIL, emphasizing continual process improvement. Agile and DevOps—embraced by developers—can replace components of ITIL in delivering efficient new business functionality. The best organizations recognize that ITIL is a great foundation for implementing ITSM, but they also recognize that ITIL is not the only tool in their toolbox. Organizations often choose different aspects of different ITSM implementation frameworks to meet all their IT-related needs.

You can use just parts of ITIL to implement ITSM

Using ITIL to implement ITSM is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can and should be choosing only the components of ITIL that will be beneficial to your organization. Many organizations, for example, initially start by implementing a handful of ITSM processes—commonly Incident Management and Change Management. You also should never implement more ITSM capabilities just because you can. You want to build a strong business case first that justifies how you’ll get a strong return on every component of your ITSM investment. ITSM maturity is a multi-year journey for every organization. The latest iteration of ITIL, known as ITIL 4, is made up of 34 management practices organized into three main categories: general, service, and technical.


Organizations fail at ITSM because of poor ITIL implementation

ITIL is not a fail-safe way to implement ITSM. Like any implementation framework, you must commit 100% to ITIL. That means you must follow the principles of organizational change management (OCM). OCM includes getting buy-in from upper management, supporting employees before, during, and after change, and managing employee resistance to change. Following ITIL to a T does not automatically result in a successful ITSM implementation. You still need to create alignment between the ITIL implementation framework and your organization’s strategic business goals.


ITIL was not an acronym; ITSM is an acronym

When the term ITIL was coined, it originally stood for IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). However, in 2013, ITIL ceased being known by its longer name, and is now officially just ITIL. ITIL was developed because of a lack of standardization in the IT profession. Different IT departments were developing their own practices for managing IT services. Many of the common terms we use today—Incident, Problem, Change, Knowledge, and so forth—were standardized and popularized via ITIL. By contrast, ITSM is an acronym. ITSM stands for Information Technology Service Management (ITSM); it refers to how an organization designs, delivers, and manages its IT services.


ServiceNow will help you conform to ITIL as you implement ITSM

ServiceNow, the industry’s leading ITSM platform, was built using ITIL best practices. That means that when you choose ServiceNow to implement ITSM, you’re automatically injecting ITIL best practices into your operations. Most organizations that implement ServiceNow start with core ITIL processes such as Incident Management, Problem Management, and Change Management. ServiceNow also conforms to other ITIL processes. Moreover, ServiceNow has grown beyond ITSM to also encompass areas like Project Portfolio Management and Customer Service Management.


Final thoughts

The better you understand the difference between ITIL and ITSM, the more effectively you’ll be able to plan and manage all IT processes across your organization. As you continue your journey to optimize ITSM in your organization, remember that outside expertise is just a few clicks away. Crossfuze offers roadmap auditing services for organizations that need help aligning their ITSM implementation roadmap to their strategic business goals. To learn more about how Crossfuze can help you on your ITSM implementation journey, reach out to us today at

For more “what is” information, visit our ServiceNow 101 library.

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