What Are the Differences Between ITSM & ITIL?

One common confusion you may encounter the workplace centers around the difference between ITSM vs ITIL. You may have even asked yourself the question: Aren’t they the same thing?

Not really, no. While the two acronyms sound similar, and are both used by IT teams, ITSM and ITIL do not refer to the same thing. If you’ve ever confused the two, you’re not alone. The confusion may stem from how people usually apply the ITIL framework to ITSM.

Let’s explore the differences between ITSM and ITIL, and how IT teams can use both to better their workplace strategies and deliverables.

Read more: Key DevOps Principles & Practices for Success

What Is ITSM?

ITSM stands for Information Technology Service Management and is a process that IT teams use to manage the end-to-end delivery of services to customers. It includes all the strategies and activities to design, create, deliver, and support IT services.

ITSM includes all the processes to design, create, deliver, and support IT services.

The core concept of ITSM is the belief that IT should be delivered as a service, and customer satisfaction is one of the top priorities of ITSM.

Someone who works in ITSM may use tools that can cover things like service desk management, incident and problem management, change management and release management.

Read more on TechnologyAdvice: 8 of the Best ITSM Tools for Every Business Need

What Is ITIL?

ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a framework that can help businesses mitigate risk while strengthening relations with their customers, establishing best practices, and cutting costs.

Many IT professionals choose to get certified in the ITIL framework.

ITIL differs from ITSM by describing how a company can apply processes and procedures to plan strategy, deliver value, and maintain competency. The ITIL framework explains how things need to be done and is used to demonstrate compliance and measure improvement within companies.

Companies can implement ITIL wherever it will help them the most, picking the processes that will benefit them the most and will have the most impact. Many IT professionals choose to get certified in the ITIL framework, which can significantly bolster their chances of getting hired or advancing in their current role.

Read more: ITIL Certification Guide: Overview & Cost

How Is ITIL Applied to ITSM?

When you think about ITSM vs. ITIL, the two can easily be confused. Even though they encompass two different IT processes, the two acronyms do have a relationship. ITIL can include all things ITSM, and is the actual guidance on how to do that work effectively.

So how is the ITIL framework applied to ITSM? ITIL is split into a series of five stages that each cover a different ITSM lifecycle. We can break these into the following:

  1. Service strategy
  2. Service design
  3. Service transition
  4. Service operation
  5. Continual service improvement

The ITIL framework is the set of guidelines that teaches the best practices to implement ITSM in an organization. ITSM is the practice of managing IT on the delivery of those services to businesses.


The popularity around ITIL probably explains why it gets confused with ITSM. ITIL is the default ITSM framework, but ITSM is a discipline in itself. ITIL, on the other hand, is a way to achieve this discipline.

The next time you get hung up on your acronyms and aren’t sure if you’re supposed to say ITSM or ITIL, simply remember that ITSM defines the what, while ITIL defines the how.

Read next: Continuous Delivery vs Deployment: What Are Key Differences?

Joanna Redmond
Joanna Redmond
Joanna is a seasoned writer, content strategist, and subject matter expert who helps tech companies add an extra zest to their copy. She also writes short stories and blogs about the highs and lows of her hiking adventures.
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