IT service management: ITIL® or ISO 20000?

When considering a framework to boost your IT service management capabilities, you might think that you have to choose between ITIL® and ISO 20000.

But this isn’t true. Despite organisations often saying that they want to be ‘ITIL-compliant’ or that they want to ‘implement ITIL’, it’s not something you can actually be measured against or accredited to.

Rather, the framework consists of a set of best practices created by experts from many leading companies who have ‘been there and done that’. Organisations can use the whichever aspects of ITIL they want based on their individual needs.

In that regard, ITIL is not prescriptive. It’s often described as the ‘documented common sense’ of service management, and as such, organisations may well find that they’ve already applied many of ITIL’s best practices without doing so intentionally.

ISO 20000, by contrast, is an international standard that organisations can certify against in order to demonstrate their IT service management capability.

It’s an official recognition that demonstrates that an organisation is performing its service management function to the level required by a growing number of customers.

Nonetheless, ISO 20000 has a lot in common with ITIL – to the extent that its requirements include 22 of ITIL’s  34 best practices.

ISO 20000 provides a framework against which organisations can measure their SMS (service management system) – i.e. the documented way of managing services, including interrelated processes, assets and resources that will deliver the required outcomes.

That’s not to say that ISO 20000 is a more reliable framework, though, nor does it mean that it’s easier to implement. Indeed, many organisations mistakenly believe that ITIL is tough to put in place because it contains 34 complex practices.

However, you don’t need to implement them all right away. In fact, ITIL is centred on its ‘adopt and adapt’ philosophy, and urges organisations to only adopt practices that will bring them real value.

How can you get started?

If you already have some IT management service management practices in place, you can use them as a platform to adopt the requirements of ISO 20000 and ITIL.

Organisations starting from scratch will have a little more work to do, but you will soon catch up and be in a position to assess which best practices apply to your organisation.

The best way to figure that out is to learn more about them and to gain the skills to implement them – and our ITIL® 4 Foundation Training Course is a great way to do that.

This three-day training course the perfect introduction to the framework’s principles, models and definitions, explaining exactly how ITIL works and how it should fit within your organisation.

You might also be interested in our variety of IT service management books, which will help boost your knowledge of ITIL and ISO 20000. Our collection includes pocket guides, in-depth implementation handbooks and a primer on passing the ITIL Foundation exam.

A version of this blog was originally published on 28 August 2019.


  1. James 7th December 2020
  2. Amidu 11th March 2021

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