Enterprise Service Management and ITSM: What is the Difference?

Veterans of corporate culture have grown accustomed to the taste of alphabet soup – some may even like it – but the rest of us are just trying to keep up with the lingo. For many people, ESM, or Enterprise Service Management, may be a new three-letter-word, but it seeks to broaden the role of its older and more familiar cousin, IT Service Management, or ITSM. These two closely related concepts form governing philosophies that help companies manage inefficiencies, cut costs, and improve customer experience. But between the two, what’s the difference?

ITSM: Putting the End User First

At its core, ITSM is a framework of best practices to keep an IT team laser-focused on facilitating company goals. Whether it’s creating a knowledge base so users can quickly troubleshoot their own problems, implementing a ticketing system to process and prioritize issues as they arise, or creating a comprehensive plan to ensure smooth transfer of data between old and new hardware, ITSM best practices guide the way forward.

Harken back to the air travel experience of yesteryear. Sure, the seats were bigger and the security was less intrusive, but we take for granted the profound improvements in customer experience that have transpired over the last decade. Check-in is now seamless. You can do it from your air carrier’s phone app days in advance of your trip. No longer do you need to print out a ticket; it’s on your phone. If there’s a delay in your flight, you’ll be notified instantaneously on your phone. Have a question about what you’re allowed to take on the plane? There’s an FAQ for that on your phone. Concerned that your checked bags didn’t make it onto your flight? You can get instant notification of your bag status on – you guessed it – your phone.

New technology may have enabled all of these improvements to your experience, but they didn’t just magically occur. They took a team of software developers driven by a singular vision to put every scrap of important data in the customer’s hand, giving them complete ownership and control over their trip. This serves multiple purposes: it improves customer satisfaction, it cuts down lines at the check-in counters, it reduces operational costs, and it can even reduce the strain on security. Everybody wins.

Your organization’s IT is likely doing the same thing, though you may not be aware of it. Think about it the next time you order a laptop through your company’s online portal. Invisibly to you, an automatic approval check is sent to your manager. Once that check is passed, the ticket is forwarded to Procurement, who purchases the laptop, receives it, and shuffles it off to IT for proper configuration, who then delivers it to your desktop. All of these unseen processes fall under the rubric of your company’s ITSM procedures and were architected to ensure you receive your new hardware quickly and efficiently — without the need for 20 phone calls and emails to a dozen people along the way. Yes, it sounds simple, but much of what we think of as simple today was instituted years ago by someone insisting there was a better way to do things.

Many of those better ways have been formalized into various standards of ITSM. The most popular is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which prescribes IT best practices in a series of five books, covering such topics as management of equipment, regulatory compliance, expectation management, reducing IT costs, and more. ITIL has been adopted by massive companies like Disney and successful tech startups like Spotify.

Also read: Top Risk Management Tools for Enterprise 2021

ESM: Think Bigger

Enterprise Service Management is a framework that seeks to apply ITSM practices toward the entire organization. Human Resources may operate their exclusive database, and have very little overlap with, say, Site Security, Facilities, or Procurement. But if the automation principles of ITSM were put to work between these organizations, when a new employee is onboarded, a request for their new computer and phone hardware would automatically be sent from HR to Procurement, a request would be sent to Site Security for a new badge, and Facilities would simultaneously receive the employee’s vehicle information so they can issue a parking pass.

Suddenly one data entry cascades into a series of automated processes between departments. Prior to implementing ESM-driven practices, HR would write and distribute weekly emails to all these agencies summarizing the upcoming new hires and their needs. This may only take minutes, or it may take a full hour every Monday, but collectively the efforts will comprise hundreds of man hours a year. Automation of routine processes can cut these costs down and free staff up to work on more important tasks.

Under ITSM best practices, problems are solved on an individual, ticket-based system. But if several tickets demonstrate a common cause, those tickets are grouped, elevated, and the root issue must be treated, as opposed to just the symptoms. The same practice could be observed under an ESM framework, as a company’s Customer Service department identifies common tickets from incoming calls, groups them, then notifies the proper department of a potential hardware defect in their latest line of CPUs.

As organizations grow their departments become more siloed, and deliberate effort is required to bring them back together. There’s even an entire industry of ESM software aimed at uniting company departments and giving them the same set of tools.

It’s All in the Execution

Whether you’re looking to integrate ITSM best practices within your IT team, or bring ESM to the broader organization, remember that one size does not fit all. Common implementations such as ITIL can be substantial investments of training, consulting fees, certification, and software licensing. Those costs won’t net any benefits to a ten-person marketing firm, but they will pay dividends to a company with staffing in the hundreds or thousands. As your business grows, your tools, strategies, and best practices should grow with it.

Read next: Employing SIEM in the Network Security Fight

Litton Power
Litton Power is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. He has an extensive background in science, technology, and the energy sector, and was a former science communicator at Idaho National Laboratory. He lives in Tennessee where he spends his free time hiking, camping, and building furniture.

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