What is IT service management?

IT service management (ITSM) is a concept that enables an organization to maximize business value from the use of information technology.

ITSM positions IT services as the key means of delivering and obtaining the value, where an internal or external IT service provider works with business customers, at the same time taking responsibility for the associated costs and risks. ITSM works across the whole lifecycle of a service, from the original strategy, through design, transition and into live operation.

To ensure sustainable quality of IT services, ITSM establishes a set of practices, or processes, constituting a service management system. There are industrial, national and international standards for IT service management, setting up requirements and good practices for the management system.

ITSM is based on a set of principles, such as focusing on value and continual improvement. It is not just a set of processes – it is a cultural mindset to ensure that the desired outcome for the business is achieved. It incorporates principles and practices from various management approaches, such as lean manufacturing, organizational change management, system analysis and risk management.


ITIL is the most adopted and recognized body of knowledge for ITSM. ITIL defines IT service management as:  

 “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.”

ITIL is a best practice framework that gives guidance on how ITSM can be delivered. Although there are several frameworks and standards that describe IT service management, ITIL is by far the most widely adopted and recognized globally.

The ITIL service lifecycle

ITIL follows a lifecycle approach to service management, introducing the following stages: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement.

  • Service Strategy (SS)
    The first stage of the lifecycle involves defining the 4 Ps of strategy – perspective (the vision and direction of the organization), position (how it is placed in its market and customer environment), plans (how it will achieve its perspective and position) and patterns (how it will continue to achieve strategic objectives). These will identify what is needed for the service provider to define and manage an effective portfolio of IT services addressing an organization’s current and forecasted business needs. Among the key processes at the SS stage are Strategy management, Service portfolio management and Financial management.

  • Service Design (SD)
    This stage involves turning the service strategy into a plan for the design of IT services and processes that are aligned with the business’ objectives and that will provide value to the business. This stage also defines practices to manage and continually improve service performance based on service monitoring and customers’ feedback. This is realized via such processes as Service level management, Availability management and Information security management.

  • Service Transition (ST)
    Service transition is the stage where the new service is introduced into use by the organization. Processes including change management, release and deployment management, service asset and configuration management ensure that IT services are changes and built, tested and moved into production with optimal balance of speed, flexibility, control and with acceptable risks and costs.

  • Service Operation (SO)
    This lifecycle stage covers coordinating and executing the ongoing service delivery, operation and support. It includes routine day-to-day operations, as well as dealing with service disruptions and defects detected in the production environment. It is during this stage where the organization can realize its strategic objectives in introducing the new service. The key processes at this stage are Incident management, Problem management and Request fulfilment. The SO stage also covers service management functions, including Service desk.

  • Continual Service Improvement (CSI)
    The purpose of the CSI stage is to identify and implement improvements to IT services, processes, technology and overall service management system and ensure value is maintained by better strategy, design, transition and operation of services. Combined with the 9 guiding principles, CSI helps to establish an ongoing practice that covers all the previous lifecycle stages.

ITIL as a body of knowledge is continually evolving, the core publications being amended with case studies, guidance and discussion papers and other supplementary content. It helps to address emerging practices and methods, such as DevOps, and to help practitioners combine ITIL with other sources of good practice, such as IT4IT or COBIT.

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ITSM roles

Within ITIL, there are generic roles, such as Service owner, as well as specific roles, such as Service Desk analyst, that are required within a particular lifecycle stage. Among these roles are:

Service owner, Service manager – responsible for establishing responsibilities for the lifecycle of specific services;

Process owner, Process manager, Process practitioner – helping to identify responsibilities in the ITSM processes management and execution;

Process practitioner: e.g. Configuration manager, capacity manager, service desk specialist – describing specific responsibilities within certain processes and functions.

IT service manager skills

IT service managers need good business analysis skills and awareness of the business priorities. They need to apply logical thinking and make both day-to-day and longer term strategic plans to ensure that the business solution aligns with the organization and user needs.

They also need strong customer service, negotiation and stakeholder and relationship management capabilities to make sure that supplier and customer needs are met by the service.  IT service managers need to be good communicators and able to work well with people as well having as strong motivational and organizational skills and the ability to multi-task.

Becoming an ITSM professional

AXELOS has a range of resources focused on IT service management, including templates, case studies and white papers describing the principles and use of ITIL and other complementary frameworks.

You can use our Careers Path tool to see how ITSM roles would enable you to advance your career and what skills you would need to succeed.

You can also learn more about ITSM training with our ITIL certifications and use our sample papers to test your IT service management knowledge.