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IT Service Management: The Evolution and Benefits of ITSM Tools

If you want to learn more about what IT service management (ITSM) tools are, this blog offers a definition, shares a brief history of the evolution, and explains how they help organizations. Before finishing with the commonly offered ITSM tool capabilities, including the newer capabilities now found in modern ITSM tools.

Please keep reading to find out more.

ITSM tools defined

When explaining the purpose of an ITSM tool, there’s first a need to define what ITSM is. There are many definitions of ITSM available. However, AXELOS – the creator of the most popular body of service management best practice guidance globally – is well placed to define it. It states that:

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

It’s what the original ITIL® body of ITSM best practice guidance was created for in 1989.

ITSM tools facilitate the various elements of ITSM (there’s more on this later), or at least some of them, and the Gartner Glossary defines an ITSM tool as follows:

“IT Service Management (ITSM) Tools enable IT operations organizations, specifically infrastructure and operations (I&O) managers, to better support the production environment. ITSM tools facilitate the tasks and workflows associated with the management and delivery of quality IT services. These are most heavily used by IT service desks and IT service delivery functions.”

So, ITSM tools enable the corporate ITSM capabilities employed to maximize the business value derived from the use of IT.

A brief history of pre-ITIL “ITSM” tools

While ITSM is older than ITIL, the latter’s introduction increased ITSM adoption and ITSM tool use. Before ITIL, organizations used IT help desk tools to support employee use of corporate IT and telephony systems. But these tools were limited in scope and often called ticketing systems because of their use in logging reported issues and hopefully the resolutions in “tickets.” Issue and ticket prioritization might have been in play, but service level agreement (SLA) targets likely weren’t.

IT support was better with IT help desk tools. They allowed IT support staff to manage their workloads better and improve efficiency. But they still lacked much of the operational and support-facilitating improvements seen in later ITSM tools.

It’s also worth noting that while IT help desk tools were available, the uptake was only a shadow of what the IT industry now sees with ITSM tool adoption. With organizations commonly using email and paper-based methods, or home-grown tools, to manage IT support demand rather than investing in a purpose-built IT help desk tool.

ITIL and the introduction of ITSM tools

The introduction of ITIL brought with it the greater formalization of what it termed “IT service delivery” and “IT support” capabilities. It involved the adoption of best practice ITSM capabilities that are still seen among the far broader set of service management best practices contained within ITIL 4.

While ITIL took the focus from technology to IT services, and their management through best practice processes, the enabling ITSM tools played a key role in the growth of ITSM adoption. It could be argued that there was a symbiotic relationship where ITIL encouraged ITSM tool adoption and ITSM tools encouraged ITIL uptake – from exam-taking to using ITIL-espoused ITSM processes back at the office.

While this is over 30 years ago, the original benefits of ITSM tools are still similar. Although the continued development of ITSM tools has not only amplified the strength of the available benefits for IT, the concept of “enterprise service management” – where corporate ITSM capabilities, including the ITSM tool, are shared with other business functions to improve operations, services, experiences, and outcomes – has further increased the business value of ITSM tool investments.

The high-level benefits of ITSM tools

As with the introduction of most process-enabling technology over the last three decades, the automation and data management capabilities ITSM tools bring offer “better, faster, cheaper” operations and outcomes. The high-level benefits of ITSM tools can be encapsulated in a handful of bullets:

  • Increased speed of operations (task, activity, and workflow execution)
  • Improved process outcomes and employee experiences
  • Reduced operational costs
  • Improved performance insight
  • Reduced human errors.

These and other lower-level ITSM benefits – such as better knowledge management or the immediacy of employee self-service capabilities – deliver better IT service delivery and support capabilities that, in turn, produce better business outcomes.

However, with the bullets, it can be hard to appreciate which proportion of the benefits come from adopting ITSM capabilities and which from using an ITSM tool to enable the ITSM capabilities. Plus, not all ITSM tools (or their implementations) are born equal. For example, an organization can poorly implement a great ITSM tool, or an average ITSM tool well, such that they deliver similar levels of benefits. Plus, the addition of newer capabilities – such as those that employ artificial intelligence (AI) – can further increase the value an ITSM tool delivers.

The impact of a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool on ITSM operations and outcomes

The above bullet points alone might be insufficient to convince your organization to invest in its first or replacement ITSM tool. However, the following AXELOS survey data is hard to ignore (even when the warning that “correlation does not imply causation” is remembered).

The AXELOS 2022 ITSM Benchmarking Report found that the organizations that reported “great” ITSM success – from the options “great,” “good,” “we’re getting there,” and “we’ve still much to improve upon” – were the happiest with their ITSM tools. These organizations were also at least twice as likely to have used their ITSM tools for over two years.

All the organizations that reported “great” ITSM success had an ITSM tool. Whereas the organizations not reporting ITSM success, i.e. the “we’re getting there” and “we’ve still much to improve upon” responses, made up most of the organizations either without an ITSM tool or planning to replace their ITSM tool.

The common ITSM tool capabilities

ITSM tool capabilities can be split into two groups:

  1. ITSM process or ITIL practice enablement
  2. Tool-wide capabilities that assist across multiple processes or practices.

There is overlap, though. For example, knowledge management is a process or practice in its own right that assists across multiple processes or practices.

In terms of ITSM process-enablement capabilities, the most commonly provided within ITSM tools are:

  • Incident management (89%)
  • Service request management (85%)
  • Problem management (80%)
  • Service level management
  • Change enablement (84%)
  • Knowledge management (79%)
  • Service catalog management (69%)
  • Monitoring and event management
  • Service configuration management (64%)
  • IT asset management (78%)
  • Availability management
  • Capacity and performance management
  • Continual improvement (73%)
  • Service financial management (72%)

This information should be considered alongside the most recent ITSM capability adoption data (shown in brackets) from the AXELOS 2022 ITSM Benchmarking Report.

The ITSM tool process/practice-focused capabilities are facilitated by tool or platform-level capabilities that include:

  • Workflow automation
  • Automation and service orchestration
  • Service catalogs and self-service
  • Chat
  • Knowledge management
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Integrations with other IT and business systems.

However, corporate ITSM tool needs continue to evolve

The above-listed process/practice and tool-level capabilities were prevalent during the previous decade. In recent years though, the customer-expectation dial has moved to include other tool-level capabilities from ITSM tools.

These include:

  • Platform capabilities that extend the ITSM tool’s capabilities to meet additional business needs (related to all business functions and not just IT)
  • Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities that provide greater insight into the wealth of data held within ITSM tools
  • Enterprise service management support that makes it easier for ITSM tools to be used outside of IT – for example, by Human Resources (HR), Facilities, Finance, and Legal teams
  • AI-enabled capabilities, including chatbots, virtual assistants, and machine-learning-based intelligent automation
  • Employee experience improvement capabilities, from capabilities that offer better experiences to the ability to measure and improve IT service delivery and support experiences.

A fit-for-purpose ITSM tool is a critical element of your organization’s IT capabilities, facilitating optimized IT service delivery and support capabilities. To ensure that your ITSM tool delivers the IT operations and outcomes required for business success, it’s important that you periodically consider the ITSM status quo and how well it enables you to meet both business and employee expectations.

Stephen Mann is Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Provance® sponsored the publication of this blog post to help inform and educate you about ITSM tools.

ServiceTeam® ITSM takes a fresh approach to the service desk agent experience with a simplified and high-performance interface focused on the activities most important to you. Designed for Microsoft Customers, Partners and by a Microsoft Partner, the ServiceTeam® ITSM Power App lets you leverage Microsoft Power Apps, Dynamics® 365 and the Power Platform to achieve first-rate customer service.



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