ITSM: Skills and Certifications You Need to Know

IT service management (ITSM) is one of the most vital jobs in tech, especially in the context of the enterprise. ITSM specialists focus on improving customers’ interactions with software products and services; it’s a big job, especially when you consider the complex needs of many clients and companies.

For most ITSM specialists, guiding principles of the job include:

  • Listening to feedback from clients and customers.
  • Iterative adjustments to products and workflows.
  • A holistic view of the entire organization’s needs.
  • Optimization and automation.
  • Concentrating on maximum value. 

Depending on the company, the execution of those principles can look radically different. And if that wasn’t difficult enough on its own, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many companies to rapidly shift their tech stacks toward the cloud. Workflows have gone remote, with new tools and procedures. ITSM specialists must be smart and proactive to ensure that clients have their needs met. 

At their highest level, ITSM specialists must handle the delivery and maintenance of IT services for an entire company, with an emphasis on holistic experience. Because it’s more of a discipline or philosophy than a distinct job, ITSM is incorporated into many different jobs and career paths, and the utilization of ITSM principles could vary greatly from company to company. 

However, there are clear starting points for many of those professionals who find their way to an ITSM focus. “Many people start working around a help desk, and that’s often a starting point,” explained Ian Aitchison, senior director of product management for Ivanti, which builds software for IT service management. “The most important skills there are patience, work management, communications skills, and lots of soft skills. People with good empathy are really important.”

Want to Work with ITSM? Know ITIL.

On the technical side, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), currently in its fourth iteration, provides the essential foundation for those working in ITSM. As the name implies, it’s a library of best practices for the delivery of IT services, with an emphasis on helping companies provide those services in a streamlined, cost-effective, and relatively risk-free way. 

“Even at a junior level, people show an understanding of the purpose of the job. Everyone works beyond ITIL, but someone knows the difference between service levels, incidents, requests—the common language is really important,” Aitchison said. “As you go up the stack, there are other levels of training around ITIL, up to master, and there’s a smaller subset of people who go through advanced ITIL training, but you don’t need everyone to go through every course.”

ITIL isn’t the only game in town, either. There are other organization that offer role-based training, including the Help Desk Institute (HDI) and Pink Elephant, as well as a litany of other companies that offer support on change management and according training courses.

“It’s well worth looking at those providers, who can also help with soft skills, like handling an angry executive whose laptop just crashed,” Aitchison said, while highlighting a worthwhile certification: Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS), which focuses on the management and distribution of knowledge. 

“You should be looking for innovation, new technology, and changing and developing and introducing new capabilities—that’s what ITSM is for,” he said. “It’s all about improvement of service, and that’s usually done through changing the technology.”  

Other certifications that ITSM specialists find valuable include AWS Certified Solution Architect; given the importance of security in client workflows, certifications such as Certified Institutional Security Supervisor (CISS) or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) may also pop up as requirements for certain ITSM-related jobs. 

Carol Donnelly, director of learning services for Cherwell, which provides IT service management, highlighted how automation is a key technology for ITSM professionals to understand. “They need to see how automation will grow a business, embrace automation, test new solutions, and have no fear in that area,” she said. “As companies embrace the digital transformation change, you’re going to have a lot of things to look at, and ITSM people have to look at it holistically.”

Indeed, ITSM specialists are spending more time designing and building automation workflows that identify and fix any breakages in workflows, especially as the underlying technology becomes more sophisticated: “If you’re going to be developing your skills technically, automation is critical,” Aitchison said. Studying automation is key to this profession, in other words; it’s not an afterthought among ITSM principles. 

A.I., Machine Learning, and Automation

Donnelly also pointed to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies as having the potential to help service managers bring meaningful changes to organizations. 

“Clearly, the future is in A.I. chatbots and other intelligent tech that can provide the self-service capabilities for customers, so the technology will become smarter, more engaging,” she said. “The ITSM professional needs to be able to take that information and deliver analytics on it.”

Change management is likewise an incredibly valuable skill set for a service manager, as it allows them to determine the value of new processes, as well as encourage compliance and adoption. “The bigger your skill set there, the more invaluable you become,” Donnelly said. “As IT has progressed to the forefront of organizations, it requires the ability to solve not just tech issues but organization challenges.” 

Both Donnelly and Aitchison said that knowing how systems within an organization work together, and mastering concepts such as Agile and DevOps, will be increasingly valuable to ITSM professionals. 

“All of those things are becoming more important,” Donnelly said. “It’s helping us to enable a shift in mindset—tighter integration, driving efficiencies and delivering higher value to our customers.”

As the number of home office workers has grown in recent months (and is expected to be a permanent shift for the business world), Aitchison noted that an understanding of cloud technology is going to be of increasingly critical import for ITSM specialists, along with end-user compute operating systems, networking protocols and concepts.

“The ability to have conversations that determine if the person’s VPN working, if their router is working—those are the conversations that happen around ITSM all the time, and are really foundational IT,” he said.

“There will be a higher appreciation for IT employees and IT support, which is a big part of ITSM,” Donnelly added. “It’s going to be exciting to see what innovations come out of all of this.”