Defining IT Service Management – Or Is That “Service Management”?

IT service management (ITSM) has a number of definitions from a variety of sources. Starting with the ITIL (the ITSM best practice framework)-espoused definition:

“The implementation and management of quality IT services that meet the needs of the business. IT service management is performed by IT service providers through an appropriate mix of people, process and information technology. See also service management.” Source: ITIL 2011 Glossary Where service management is defined as: “A set of specialized organizational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.”

A more “directly customer-focused” definition is provided on Wikipedia:

“A discipline for managing information technology (IT) systems, philosophically centered on the customer's perspective of IT's contribution to the business. ITSM stands in deliberate contrast to technology-centered approaches to IT management and business interaction.” Source:

To me, this definition is more explicit about the customer than ITIL’s (using the phrase “customer’s perspective” rather than “needs of the business” early in the definition) – with the emphasis on the customer (or consumer of IT services) – and Forrester agrees that just delivering IT services via the best practices espoused by ITIL is not enough if the IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) organization is still focused on the creation, rather than the consumption, of IT services. Unfortunately, this scenario is still too prevalent, where I&O organizations continue to be supply-centric (focused on costs and volumes) rather than demand-centric (focused on business needs and delivered-business-value) IT services.

A third, more progressive, definition moves ITSM even closer to the customer, dropping the “IT” from “ITSM” to talk in terms of “service management.” This is provided from the Universal Service Management Body of Knowledge (USMBOK) – a “companion piece” that supplements existing resources such as ITIL on both strategic and operational levels.

“Also termed service management thinking, service management is a systematic method for managing the offering, contracting and provisioning of services to customers, at a known quality, cost and designed experience. Service management ensures the desired results and customer satisfaction levels are achieved cost effectively, and is a means by which the customer experience and interaction with products, services, and the service provider organization is designed and managed. Service management is also a transformation method for any organization that wishes to operate as a service provider organization.” Source: USMBOK Lexicon

IMO, USMBOK extends (IT) service management to encompass thinking and guidance on the “new service society,” the need to both understand and demonstrate “value” in a customer context, and the pursuit of customer advocacy and loyalty. All of which are key to delivering IT (or any other) services in a “reputation economy.”

While the above three definitions might seem confusing it is unfortunately a byproduct of the fact that we all interpret information sources such as ITIL differently. For instance, asking ten different people to define what a “service” is will result in nearly as many definitions.

One thing that is certain, however, is that the ITSM-related challenges for I&O professionals in 2012 and beyond (dealing with the triumvirate of increased business scrutiny, business expectations, and business and IT complexity – necessitate a far more customer-centric approach to IT service delivery.

I&O no longer has a monopoly on IT service provision and needs to demonstrate both worth and value to parent (or customer) organizations. In 2012, Forrester will continue to push the cause for “true” service management and the need for customer-centricity. Ask yourself: Where is the "service" in our service desk?

So how do you define ITSM or service management? How do you explain its worth? How are you meeting your customer needs?



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Meeting the Challenge...


Excellent post, sir. I like this a lot.

An important part to remember about this is that it's unlikely any two service providers have an identical mix of concerns, regarding how to serve their customers, regardless of the service sector in question.

By using a more universal approach to service management, I think we are in a better position to apply service management to meet the challenges of an IT organization that either considers itself a service provider organization OR is being performance managed as one.

When we make this leap in thinking, we have a much better chance of discerning what the right mix of capabilities and resources that are required for our customer, because they'll be directly relevant to the tasks that are associated with the customers/consumers Vital Mission Activities (VMAs).

There are lots of ways that value can begin to be realized from such a shift in thinking, both for the customer AND the service provider. We need to consider multiple perspectives to ensure that we are doing the all of the right things, in the right way, for the right reasons -- value is not a one-way street.

A little customer-centric thinking can go a *long way*!


Impressive article Stephen, I

Impressive article Stephen, I agree with you. Information Technologies (IT) as a big role on Companies backbone for communications. Providers of IT equipments should provide better maintenance and R&D technical support. Even the Companies have their own IT Department, but still support from the providers should be take over more in order to be smooth sailing.

Service Management Thinking leads to Service Management Doing

As the saying goes: where the brain leads, the body goes. Chop IT out of the ITSM name (for that is all that it is), shift service management responsibility up to the CEO and engrain customer oriented thinking into everybody within the organization - not just those that are customer facing.

I think that using the phrase 'Service Management Thinking' helps differentiate it from the more technology-focused, process-obsessed ITSM terminology. E.g Service Management is a point of perspective - a view-point on the hillside from which both IT and the business leadership have shared visibility of customer demands, transactions and satisfaction metrics. The risk is that organisations build a service management ivory tower that is badly interfaced with ITSM coal-face, causing the communications problems of old to bubble up in a different place. The service management mandarins still need to get their hands dirty.

Chefs cook up new recipes, but they must always consider the tastes of their customers and try the food before it leaves the kitchen to ensure expectations of quality are met. Within service management the approach should be broader and technology-agnostic e.g. identify and apply the sort of understanding/knowledge that resides within the general service industry - which is (for obvious reasons) more mature than the IT service industry. Thus the general service industry is better at considering everything from the customer perspective. Ask a waiter. If they serve a bowl of soup with a short curly hair in it, they immediately know they've lost a customer and a lifetime of revenue. So does the head waiter, the maitre d', the chef, the manager and the owner. That is the sort of cross-hierarchic understanding which the busines should aspire to, IT and all.

Awesome - Think then Do!


Thank you once again for helping remind folks there are other useful references out there. As the author of the USMBOk I'm especially pleased to see this type of discussion and suggestion. As others have commented - if we 'just drop the IT' we will end up where we are right now. Service Management has a rich history we seem to have ignored in IT. As described in the USMBOK its roots are with product management and customer centered marketing. Ted Levitt, Richard Normann and so many others have left us a great foundation on which to build.

In the USMBOK I've blended this starting point - the need to design the degree of human interaction around a product, with outside-in or customer centric thinking. Your point Martin, about thinking, was at the heart of my thinking and how its all positioned. The USMBOK speaks about service management thinking, along with Lean and Outside-In thinking, and positions them as you suggest.

As Stephen correctly states, the USMBOK is an IDEAL companion to any ITSM or ITIl initiative (and reference) thats is stuck inside-out, thinking about processes, best practices, and even services. Using these as a starting point means you have a long and tortuous journey back to the customer. Many don't make that journey for complexity, cost and risk factors.

Think service management first, then do.... and that means understand the true origins and lexicon of service management, and THEN adopt and apply to the challenges of an IT department!

Oh a definition for ITSM...


There I go again - I was so excited to find others really noodling on what service management is - I missed the IT part - Freudian? Anyway, iMHO ITSM is the application of service management thinking, concepts and methods, to the challenges of an IT organization.

As Ken rightfully points out - an IT organization should ask itself if it being performance managed as a service business or service provider before embarking on such a journey as ITSM cannot be 'implemented', it represents a management style and approach that extends the traditional one of weeding and feeding infrastructure.


Reputation economy? Nice.

If we keep the definition ambiguous, the money will pour in, so I don't think this is anything that will be nailed down.

Removing IT from ITSM, well then don't you really just have customer service, and isn't there are body of work around this? Call Centers, Customer Support, Customer Relationship Management, Help Desk v1?

Let's sit down and have “the talk”, that uncomfortable talk about the evolution of industry, any industry, and how it creates jobs and professions out of thin air as it matures.

Complex ecosystems don't start out that way, but they always end up back at square one.

In the 80's and 90's we just helped folks.

We didn't make techs / agents / engineers quantify their work.

It wasn't until we got more complex ecosystems in the enterprise around IT that we needed more rules, governance and safety. Then it wasn't until we became dependent on IT regardless of business that we decided, heck "THIS IS A REAL JOB MOMMA, PLEASE BE PROUD OF ME".

We should celebrate the "jobs program" that the industrial enterprise gave rise to, and now focus on retraining our coal miners to work with natural gas/ solar / wind.

In the end if we place too much attention on tech we lose focus on our customers, and contrary to popular belief, you can overdose on “customer love” as well.

Too much customer love creates a culture of entitlement, in which any business will fail.

Look around, we are seeing this right now. All you have to do is look on any facebook page or twitter search to find "customer" abusing legit businesses.

You get what you pay for, web hosting at 9.99 a month, keep your mouth shut, you are blessed and should kiss that providers ring and expect 40% up time.

Yea we could sell a lot of books, software, consulting and education about this version of service or that version of service, but in the end, not a lot of it will make any difference in 5 or 10 years, and many of us will still be working in 5, 10, 15 years.

The reputation economy has sorted this out. Just as rain finally comes to the drought, flowers grow in once scorched land; the rise of the empowered people will sort this all out.

BYOD is about 12 months from common and BYOK (bring your own knowledge, data, wisdom) is coming.

At that point, we will start to argue that people can’t possible be worth more by their body of work and their peer reputation and will struggle for a good 16 months about hiring, evaluating and buying bits of people’s body of work and bits of peoples knowledge.

I am my reputation (trusted opinion) and the knowledge I have access to (knowledge locker eg evernote v1) in a particular area to back up that reputation. Both are valuable, just like pork bellies and IP rights to a book.

The only thing that scales in business is trust.

The only people, who care about this sort of thing, are people with a dog in the fight.

Try a PETA approach to this dogfight and avoid anyone who smells of bacon treats.


The ITSM vacuum and general wishywashyness

I would certainly agree that people (and the gradual shift in thinking/approach) are the key to effecting change and making it stick.

I think the critical point is that ITSM doesn't (and shouldn't) exist in a vacuum. It has a part to play in the wider business context, as Chris has very eloquently illustrated. The problem is the varying scope (and therefore overlap) between service management, service desk, help desk, ITSM, ITAM, customer service, CRM, ERP, ABC, XYZ, TLA. Different because every organization is different, and will have to become more different to compete in increasingly mature, and therefore commoditized markets. That doesn't mean it's an insoluble problem. There has to be some common ground, but yes - it's going to be the 'dogs in the fight', as you put it, that thrash it out - whilst the businesses and vendors sit behind the curve and try not to get cut on the bleeding edge.

ITSM is in Fact SM for IT

The plain fact is that the folks who count most - the consumers of IT - have changed their thinking. ITSM only exists in a vacuum if you put it in one. ITSM should have stood for "service management concepts and methods applied to the challenges of IT". The criteria for using the term should have been based around the fact the IT organization was being performance managed as a 'service provider'.

Instead, it seems IT has reinvented and for the most part reengineered the term to mean "ITs definition of what service management means to us and how we going to ignore much of what it really meant". To "do" service management you must first respect its true origins in product management.

Herein lies a huge clue and tectonic shift for most initiatives, from inside-out process centric thinking, to outside-in customer centricity. I'm afraid we have 1.5m IT folks trained in inside-out thinking. How do you stop and reverse that? Ironic given the 100yo anniversary of the Titanic just happened...

Here comes the customer expectation meteor

We may be coming towards an extinction event, with the cold-blooded, inside-out IT dinosaurs dying out whilst the new breed of nimble, business-savvy service management mammals take over the world by tying action directly to customer demand and know all about the value customers are looking for, not just responding reactively to the old internal performance metrics.

It used to be tyrannosaurs versus shrews. Now it's tigers versus chickens.