Difference Between ITIL & ITSM

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ITSM and ITIL are two terms that feature prominently when considering IT management approaches. There is a lot of confusion surrounding these two terminologies, and indeed, a lot of people wonder whether one is more suitable for their needs than the other. In actual sense, the only difference between the two is: ITIL refers to “a set of detailed practices for IT Service Management (ITSM) that focusses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.” 

In some cases, the two terms are used interchangeably. However, as you will find out in your journey to get your ITIL Foundation certification, ITSM is the “what” (the framework), whereas ITIL is the “how” (of implementing the framework).

What is ITSM and What is ITIL?

IT service management (ITSM) refers to a framework employed to ensure the best IT service delivery to customers. This involves how services are planned, designed, delivered, operated, and controlled. ITSM emphasizes the continuous improvement of services to ensure the best customer experiences. As such, measurement, evaluation, and improvement of infrastructure and service delivery are all intrinsic to ITSM. 

Though there are many ITSM approaches, ITIL is the most common. Originally, ITIL was the abbreviated term for “Information Technology Infrastructure Library”. However, over time, and since its acquisition by Axelos, ITIL has become a stand-alone name, and not an abbreviation. According to Phil Hearsum, ITSM portfolio manager, Axelos, the reason for this is because ITIL has evolved to be less about infrastructure and more about service management. So, it is essentially, a new approach. 

This shift in ITIL’s approach has made it even more relevant in organizations across the world, a fact evidenced by the number of professionals certified yearly. Axelos regulates all ITIL licensing, examination, and accreditation. 

The main goal of ITIL is to promote efficiency and effectiveness of an organization by removing IT-related inefficiencies that can act as hindrances to overall business goals. ITIL seeks to do this through strong and deliberate IT management. This is evident in the newly-released ITIL 4, whose core components include: 

  • An updated Service value system that emphasizes a move from service delivery to end-to-end value creation.  
  • Guiding principles, to oversee the adoption of ITIL based on its adaptability to different business needs. 
  • Practicability, which lays less emphasis on processes and more emphasis on how to use ITIL to build effective services that are IT-enabled.  
  • Integration with other technologies and approaches such as DevOps and agile 
  • A holistic approach to value co-creation.

ITIL was first created and used by the UK government as a response to a need for IT standardization practices back in the 1980s. As their dependence on IT grew, they were concerned that a lack of standard practices would lead to inconsistent quality of service. The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) recommended an ITSM framework that could be adopted by any organization based on their needs. In addition to increasing consistency, ITIL was also meant to increase efficiency and deliver value. Although other frameworks were developed around the same time, ITIL went on to become globally popular and became the de facto framework for ITSM. This is yet another factor that highlights the significance of an ITIL course for professionals who want to implement the best of IT service management. 

Why ITIL framework is important for businesses

Government bodies (e.g., the U.S navy, army, and IRS) and global companies such as Microsoft, HP, Disney, Infosys, among many others, have widely adopted ITIL. Organizations that implement ITIL experience improvements in IT service delivery. This is the main, but not the only benefit, as ITIL has been shown to help address wider business issues and improve compliance. Some of these benefits include: 

Improving alignment of core business strategy

ITIL doesn’t deal with the creation of business strategies, but it plays a key part in support of the same. Through the ITIL framework, IT can play a more strategic role in the business, through improved service provision. 

Systems integration 

You can integrate ITIL into existing systems to ensure improved project management, achieve better workflows, increase collaboration among teams, and increase visibility and transparency in team operations and performance. 

Performance improvement

ITIL’s monitoring processes enable performance monitoring, incident tracking, root cause analysis, and issue resolution. With problem management processes, further incidents can also be prevented.  

Better service quality

ITIL processes increase the visibility of customer experience levels. Highly available IT services enable better management of customer expectations. 


ITIL promotes agility, allowing companies to adapt to change without causing disruption in service delivery. As such, businesses can operate in an environment that enables continuous improvement. 

IT compliance

Businesses can remain compliant through tracking and continuous documentation of processes, activities, and system changes. 


Transparency is important, especially where costs are concerned. A service model that operates without providing visibility into costs for all concerned parties can result in unexpectedly high bills for the business and customers. ITIL processes allow close monitoring of metrics and costs, thus promote better budgetary decisions. 

Conclusion: How to use ITIL for success

Today, companies operate in a business environment that is ever-changing. Agility is necessary to compete and survive. Given the benefits mentioned above, it is clear that businesses that use ITIL can react faster, innovate better, and provide more satisfaction to their customers.  

Having read this article, your next step should be to enroll for an ITIL course and get your ITIL Foundation certification. But your journey won’t end with certification. You must realize that the real work begins after you get your job. Adopting any new framework or process is never easy. One of the key factors to consider when adopting ITIL is deciding with parts to adopt and how to adapt different aspects to your company. 

It is not uncommon to find companies that deploy ITIL without first seeking to understand what they are trying to create with a new framework, or whether their culture embraces the kind of change they envision. So, as you launch into your new job, first and foremost, do this type of audit. Then, adopt what works and adapt it to your organization’s needs, culture, and structure. As an ITIL practitioner, it will be up to you to provide this kind of guidance to your employer (or your own company).

This is very important to remember and internalize. If you don’t do this, you will experience a high failure rate of the ITIL framework as colleagues revert to the systems they were used to before. 


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