ITOM Explained (Well Sort Of)

ITOM Explained

Are you looking to have ITOM explained? The world of corporate IT is full of acronyms, with those for IT operations management (ITOM) and IT service management (ITSM) just two. This article was written because of me trying to write about what ITOM is, the difference between ITOM and ITSM, and why you as an ITSM practitioner should care about it. I didn’t realize how hard this would be – especially when, from some perspectives, ITOM doesn’t seem to exist. Please keep reading to find out more – starting with a quick definition of what ITOM is.

OK, a quick timeout is needed first – to explain that I wanted to write a quick ITOM definition but, as you’ll read, understanding what ITOM is and isn’t is potentially far more complicated than you’d think. Hence, I have two attempts below – I’ve called them round 1 and round 2.

What’s IT operations Management and how is it related to IT service management? This article by @StephenMann explores. #ITOM #ITSM Click To Tweet

So, seconds away…

In terms of “ITOM explained,” this should have been a relatively easy two-part question to answer, but sadly it isn’t for several reasons. These need to be covered before I jump into definitions and a clearer ITOM vs. ITSM conversation in round 2.

To start, there are different views as to what ITOM is. I, for instance, have traditionally taken a technology-centric view of what it is – looking at the capabilities within ITOM tools versus those within ITSM tools. Hence, I’ve traditionally viewed ITOM as either being supplementary capabilities to core ITSM or that ITSM is a subset of ITOM (as it was in the olden days when IT operations (management) included the IT help desk).

The line between both – if there is one – also depends on the version of ITIL being considered. I started my ITSM career in 2002 with ITIL v2 and I still see much of that as being the ITIL core that many organizations view as ITSM – incident, change, problem, knowledge, service level, and configuration management plus the later self-service capabilities that came after ITIL v3.

However, ITIL 4 was created on a much broader canvas such that its new view of ITSM best practice guidance could be considered to house ITOM (or the breadth of IT operations capabilities). Thankfully, the ITSM oracle Stuart Rance pointed this out to me (as well as my technology-centric view of ITOM).

Interestingly, Stuart also doesn’t view ITOM as a thing, he only sees IT operations – which takes me back to my previously-admitted technology-vendor skewed view of what ITOM vs. ITSM looks like. It’s also reinforced in the lack of definitions in round 2 of “ITOM explained.”

ITOM Explained Round 2: Seeking clarity on what ITOM is and then on its relationship to ITSM

I’m an old-fashioned sort that likes to pull up a couple of reputable definitions when trying to understand or explain something. Sadly, there’s no obvious definition of ITOM in ITIL 4 – my first port of call for IT-related definitions – though.

Here @StephenMann attempts to seek clarity on what #ITOM is and then on its relationship to #ITSM Click To Tweet

Thanks to Stuart (again) though, I was pointed to the IT Operations Management function in section 6.5 of the ITIL v3/2011 Service Operation book. This states that:

“IT operations management can be defined as the function responsible for the ongoing management and maintenance of an organization’s IT infrastructure to ensure delivery of the agreed level of IT services to the business.”

ITIL v3/2011 Service Operation book

So, given that it was in ITIL v3/2011 you could also argue that ITOM – or at least this version – is part of the ITSM ecosystem. Especially when you consider that IT operations personnel will likely be employing various ITIL or ITSM practices as well as those potentially outside the earlier scope of ITIL.

In addition to the ITIL publications, I also like to check the online Gartner Glossary, which states that:

“Gartner defines IT operations as the people and management processes associated with IT service management to deliver the right set of services at the right quality and at competitive costs for customers.”

Gartner Glossary

This makes IT operations part of the ITSM ecosystem, right? Which logically makes ITOM (for which there’s no Gartner definition) part of ITSM too. Plus, in my opinion, the introduction of another Gartner Glossary definition does too:

“IT operations management software is intended to represent all the tools needed to manage the provisioning, capacity, performance and availability of computing, networking and application resources — as well as the overall quality, efficiency and experience of their delivery.”

Gartner Glossary

However, this ITOM software definition finishes with:

“To help clients better understand the size of the market and key players in the tool categories represented by Gartner ITOM Magic Quadrants, we have included four additional categories of tools to align with current Magic Quadrants. These are application release orchestration (ARO), application performance monitoring, ITSM, and network performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD).”

Gartner Glossary

Which in my mind makes it sound as though ITSM is part of ITOM – taking me back to my technology-centric view of ITOM vs. ITSM (which makes sense as this is Gartner’s definition for ITOM software).

I don’t like to fence-sit, so this called for a quick Google which “recommended” the following definition from TechTarget:

“ITOM is the administrative area involving technology infrastructure components and the requirements of individual applications, services, storage, networking and connectivity elements within an organization.”


Which, when viewed one way, has services – and thus ITSM – as a part of and “within” ITOM rather than it being the other way round. That is, of course, until the broader canvas of ITIL 4 is brought back into play and the discussions on ITOM vs. ITSM can be continued in a world where the ITSM (or service management) guidance is broader than in previous versions of ITIL.

It’s your organization’s perspective that counts

Hopefully, all the words above – while potentially confusing – show how various, and conflicting, views of what ITOM is and isn’t can be formed. Plus, the impact this has on understanding the relationship between ITOM and ITSM.

How do you view IT operations management? As a part of ITSM? Through a tech-only lens? Or do you not see it existing at all? #ITSM #ITOM Click To Tweet

As to what IT operations management means to your organization – as with all definitions – it’s up to your local interpretation and preferences. You might see ITSM as being part of or alongside ITOM in line with vendor marketing. Or you might see ITOM as being part of ITSM. Or, like Stuart, you might not see ITOM existing at all (other than when technology solutions are marketed and sold as ITOM tools). It’s as clear as mud, right?

What this lack of clarity does do though is hopefully make you ask questions about the current use of ITSM within your organization and whether there’s potential for it to be leveraged even further. Especially in areas that might have previously been considered outside of ITSM (whether considered ITOM or something else). Who knows the opportunities you might find?

So, what do you think ITOM is? How does it sit in the context of ITSM? Is this article “ITOM explained”? Please let me know in the comments.

Stephen Mann

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.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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One Response

  1. I have always had a fairly simple way of defining operations management: the execution arm of service management. Call it provisioning, or maintenance, or operations, or whatever you like; when it comes down to it, it’s the application – the actual doing and enabling – of the activities service management defines, outlines, establishes, etc. That’s my view and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

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