What’s the Real Difference Between ITAM and ITSM?

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ITAM and ITSM are two IT management disciplines that help businesses to maximize IT resources and achieve optimal IT-business alignment. But, while their acronyms only differ by two letters, ITAM (IT Asset Management) and ITSM (IT Service Management) are significantly different.

As both disciplines view a business’s entire IT environment from two different perspectives, it means they can also focus on different areas. As such, even if they overlap at times, ITAM offers benefits that ITSM can’t – and vice versa. Knowing the differences between these two disciplines can help IT managers and businesses to adopt the correct approach for their requirements.

What Is ITAM?

IT Asset Management is a set of business practices that takes financial, inventory, contractual, and risk considerations in managing the life cycle of IT assets. An ITAM tool’s main purpose is to maximise the value of IT assets while also minimising risk.

To elaborate, ITAM is designed to bring down costs typically incurred throughout the lifecycle of an asset. This can include licensing, support, and maintenance costs. At the same time, ITAM is also aimed at minimising financial, operational, and legal risks.

The assets covered by ITAM traditionally consist of locally installed software (e.g. operating systems, office suites, server applications, databases) and stationary hardware (e.g. desktops and servers). But, in modern tools, these can also include mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones) as well as virtualisation environment and cloud assets.

Note that only those items that have significant value to the organisation are usually managed. So, for example, a regular USB stick may not be included in ITAM initiatives. There are no hard and fast rules that dictate which items should be included in or excluded from ITAM. This decision depends on the organisation.

The people charged to lead ITAM activities in a company are usually the IT asset managers, program managers, and IT asset analysts. However, in practice, IT asset management is really a collaborative effort between several members of the organisation.

For instance, in asset acquisition, which is just one of the activities normally governed by ITAM, the people mentioned earlier will have to work closely with the acquisition manager, the end-users, technical staff, the financial manager, and other stakeholders.

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What Processes Fall Under ITAM?

A complete ITAM program incorporates a number of processes. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers, Inc (IAITAM) identifies the following as the key process areas that fall under ITAM:

  • Acquisition Management
  • Asset Identification
  • Communication and Education
  • Compliance Management
  • Disposal Management
  • Documentation Management
  • Financial Management
  • Legislation Management
  • Policy Management
  • Program Management
  • Project Management
  • Vendor Management

ITAM can be further subdivided into two asset management disciplines – Software Asset Management (SAM) and Hardware Asset Management (HAM). Although the emergence of virtualisation environments and cloud computing environments will likely require a third discipline, we’ll just take up SAM and HAM for now.

Software Asset Management

Software asset management is subsequently aimed at maximising the value and ROI of software assets. One of the main processes undertaken to achieve this is software license compliance. Software license compliance mitigates legal and reputational risk by ensuring that the company has the appropriate licenses for each software in its possession.

In addition, SAM also involves other processes like inventory, auditing, and redeployment of software assets. Software inventory management can inform decision-makers when purchasing additional software. Internal software audits, on the other hand, are meant to discover policy violations, risks to data security, and potential problems in workflows. Lastly, redeployment enables a company to make use of ageing software in business units that may still find them valuable.

Hardware Asset Management

Hardware asset management deals with physical assets such as inventory, auditing, and redeployment. Unlike software, however, which for inventory purposes can often be tracked through automated scanning solutions, hardware assets are not as easily accounted for. To eliminate human errors and expedite tasks in hardware inventory management, some companies employ bar code and RFID tags.

One thing that’s unique to HAM is its disposal. Hardware disposal planning helps companies mitigate risks in data security and minimises recycling issues when the time comes to dispose of a particular hardware asset.

Mobile devices, in particular, present unique challenges in disposal management. Most mobile devices in a BYOD environment contain both personal and enterprise data. And so, companies have to take that into consideration when architecting their mobile asset disposition programs. Companies must make sure the data stored on a mobile device must be completely wiped clean before turning it over for disposition.

What Is ITSM?

While ITAM’s main focus is maximizing the value of IT assets, IT Service Management is more concerned with maximizing the value and delivery of IT services. It consists of policies, processes, technologies, and procedures for planning, designing, delivering, supporting, and managing IT services.

There are several different processes under the ITSM umbrella, with the most common ones being:

  • Incident Management

    This deals with IT issues and is often associated with a help desk or service desk.

  • Change Management

    Sees to it that changes in the IT environment are done in a well-coordinated fashion and with the least amount of disruption to the business.

  • Service Asset and Configuration Management

    An ITIL process that’s focused on IT assets and the relationships between those assets. The ‘asset’ part of this process is, for all intents and purposes, ITAM. So, yes, ITAM can be considered a component of ITSM.

Contrary to what some people think, ITIL is not an alternative to ITSM. Rather, it’s a best practice framework for executing ITSM. Think of the class/object and cookie-cutter/cookie analogy commonly used in OOP. That’s how ITSM is related to ITIL.

ITIL’s not the only framework out there though. Other ITSM frameworks include:

  • COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies)
  • Microsoft Operations Framework
  • Six Sigma
  • ISO 20000
  • TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework)

ITIL is mainly composed of five IT service lifecycle stages:

Service Strategy

A service strategy is only concerned with the stage where an IT service organisation starts laying down the plan for achieving business objectives. Here, the organisation determines things like:

  • What services are available and how much they will cost
  • What each service does
  • What physical and intangible assets are needed to support the said services
  • What capacities, availabilities, and demands are associated with each service

Service Design

This tackles the design of everything needed to deliver a particular service. It includes not just the technologies, but also the process of management aspects. Some of the processes /management involved include:

  • Service level management
  • Availability management
  • Capacity management

Service Transition

This deals with factors associated with changes to a service, including what needs to be done when a service is retired. A few of the services under service transition include:

  • Change management
  • Knowledge management
  • Service asset and configuration management

Service Operation

This is the part that deals with the actual delivery of services and involves service levels, incident handling, and request fulfilment. In other words, this is where activities pertaining to service desks, call centres, and help desks are found. So, this area includes:

  • Event management
  • Incident management
  • Request fulfilment

Continual Service Improvement

To meet changing business needs, IT services need to be realigned from time to time. That’s where continual service improvement or CSI comes into play.