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What is IT service management (ITSM)?

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IT service management (ITSM) refers to the activities an organization performs to design, build, operate, and maintain information technology (IT) services offered to internal and external customers. 

ITSM is built on the idea that IT should be delivered as a service. ITSM coordinates and streamlines processes so that all customers of IT—both those who are technologically inclined and those who are not—can interact with and benefit from IT services. For example, if a company needs to deliver a phone to a new employee on their first day, an ITSM process would ensure that the employee gets the correct phone.

However, ITSM covers more than just basic IT support delivered via a service desk or help desk. ITSM teams manage all kinds of workplace assets and their network of relationships—from something as simple as providing a mouse, to provisioning an email account, to deploying more complex technology like servers and software applications.

While ITSM is dedicated to improving user experience, it functions more broadly as a range of processes designed to optimize IT operations across an organization—to ensure diverse systems run efficiently and stay aligned with business goals. Due to the scale and complexity of modern organizations, most IT teams rely on automation to perform aspects of many ITSM processes.

ITSM shapes many aspects of an organization. These are some of the most common ITSM processes.

Service management

Service request management is a process for handling a variety of customer service requests, such as hardware upgrades or replacements, software updates, application access, and other similar requests.

Change management

Change management is any set of processes that create a standard operating procedure whenever IT infrastructure changes. This can include a wide variety of changes, such as the implementation of new software or the steps required to retrieve hardware from an employee  who has changed roles. The ultimate goal of change management processes is to limit the amount of impact that change has on business outcomes.

Incident management

Incident management is any process that’s set to respond to an unexpected disruption or otherwise unplanned service interruption or event such as an outage. 

Problem management

Related to incident management, problem management is the process of identifying and fixing the root cause of an incident or incidents. Despite being related, problems and incidents are not the same thing. While an incident is an unexpected or otherwise unplanned service interruption or event, a problem is an underlying issue that causes incidents.

For example, if a server crashes a few times , incident management would respond by rebooting the server. Problem management would figure out the root cause and correct the issue with a patch or software upgrade.

Asset management

Asset management or IT asset management (ITAM), is the set of processes that ensure all of an organization's assets are accounted for and properly deployed, maintained, upgraded, and retired when appropriate. Generally, this involves the management of all material goods related to an IT environment that don’t breathe. Like all aspects of ITSM, ITAM is closely related to other processes—especially change management and configuration management.

Configuration management

Configuration management is an ITSM process that tracks individual Configuration Items (CI) in an IT system—usually through a configuration management database (CMDB). CIs are both hardware and software assets and the map of the relationships that tie them together. While IT asset management (ITAM) is more focused on the lifecycle of an asset, configuration management is more focused on how assets relate to each other and to the processes that produce business outcomes.

Knowledge management

Knowledge management is the practice of preserving IT knowledge across an organization and ensuring that key stakeholders can easily access, engage with, and shape IT service data.

IT teams often use a variety of frameworks—like ITIL and DevOps—to manage the many complex processes that comprise IT services and operations. ITIL and DevOps are often considered to be in opposition, but they can both contribute to ITSM strategy to create the most efficient and stable outcomes for end users.

What is ITIL?

If ITSM is a strategic approach to IT operations and service delivery, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the book of best-practices for actually implementing ITSM. Launched in 2019, ITIL 4 is the latest edition of the resource. The ITIL framework provides practical advice and guidelines that an organization—regardless of industry or specialization—can follow to make IT processes and service delivery more efficient. 

ITIL is sometimes referred to as the handbook of ITSM. However, ITIL isn’t necessary for an organization to have ITSM. The ITIL describes procedures for implementing common ITSM processes, but organizations often adapt these to their particular needs, and sometimes ignore entire sections of the ITIL.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a practice that bridges development and operations in an organization. DevOps is dedicated to open communication, collaboration, and sharing goals across multiple teams.

Unlike ITIL, DevOps is not a book of specific practices, but more an overarching philosophy with a unified goal. This goal is usually met by delivering value to an organization by removing isolated workflows, increasing transparency between teams, and fostering environments where open communication is encouraged between development teams and IT operations teams.

Are DevOps and ITIL at odds?

In some sectors of IT, the idea has persisted that an organization can follow ITIL or DevOps, but never both. ITIL is assumed to be for large organizations with a lot of employees and assets, while DevOps is thought to be for more agile startups and scaleups.

This binary misses much of the story. For example, if a team adopts a DevOps philosophy to remove certain ITIL processes that block communication between teams, this effort doesn’t make service management less necessary. Essential business needs—such as support and costing—should still flow through ITIL processes. Alternatively, if an organization is large enough to need a vast number of ITIL processes, it might be the kind of organization that most needs to use DevOps tools.

Organizations that want to adopt DevOps philosophies likely need to use automation solutions to streamline ITIL, so that ITSM can be maintained while development and operations teams work more closely together, with fewer barriers.

As the scope of IT continues to expand—and now often involves nearly every aspect of an organization—business success and customer satisfaction increasingly depend on the smooth operation of IT services. In this complex environment, ITSM builds more efficient, cost-effective processes that can coordinate disparate tasks, boost productivity across teams, and enhance user experiences. 

Here are some specific examples of how ITSM can contribute to business outcomes.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation most often involves changing the basic infrastructure on which a business runs its operations. This typically means transitioning from monolithic applications to more modern ones, or from services hosted on-premise to ones hosted in a cloud or hybrid cloud environment.

Adopting an ITSM framework—and ITSM software to support it—can ensure that IT teams have a unified strategy for managing technology and related processes across an organization. This foundation of continual service improvement can help digital transformation initiatives happen as efficiently and seamlessly as possible, without undermining business outcomes.

End users

End users of ITSM are often employees within an organization. In ITSM circles, these end users are often thought of as not being especially technical, but end users span all departments of an organization and all levels of technical ability. For the most part, it should not be the end user’s job to have a technical grasp on the IT service they are interacting with—the service needs to work for them regardless of their technical ability.

In other words, the customer experience of enterprise service management relies on the ability of IT professionals to communicate clearly to end users.

This is why it’s important to have tested ITSM processes in place—so that it’s easy for end users to get what they need out of IT. The best ITSM tools can automate aspects of the ITSM process, so that an IT service desk can meet customer needs as quickly as possible, using fewer IT resources.

When making decisions to construct your ITSM framework, Red Hat offers suites of tools that help you bridge the gap between ITIL and DevOps—and automate your workflows through Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform.

The Red Hat Ansible Certified Content Collection for ServiceNow IT Service Management (ITSM) helps you create new automation workflows more quickly, based on ServiceNow ITSM, while establishing a single source of truth in the ServiceNow configuration management database (CMDB). With Red Hat Ansible Certified Content Collection for ServiceNow ITSM, you can: 

  • Enable closed-loop automation to simplify the opening, advancement, updates, and resolution of IT service management workflow items. 
  • Update the CMDB with relevant and accurate information across disparate users, teams, and assets.
  • Automate incident response and provide a consistent audit trail.
  • Streamline the required steps for issue remediation and apply them at scale. 
  • Ensure that infrastructure information is always up to date, actionable, and auditable while work is completed by cross-domain teams that may or may not have access to ServiceNow.

Ansible Automation Platform takes an automation-first approach to managing all of your infrastructure, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux®, Microsoft Windows, ITSM platforms, hypervisors, storage, and more. It integrates with SAP S/4 HANA®, Microsoft SQL Server, and over 100 other industry-leading solutions, so that you can manage all of your infrastructure through a single, fully-supported platform.

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