July 13, 2017

ITSM vs. Help Desk Software — What’s the Difference?

Written by

A long time ago (okay, not that long ago, but with the pace of technology, it feels like it), if your computer or another piece of IT equipment was broken, you took it to a physical help desk. Not a computer program, an email listserv, or an online ticketing system — an actual desk behind which an actual human sat and took your equipment in their hands to try and fix it.

That’s where the evolution from help desk to ITSM began.

What is Help Desk Software?

As technology became more universally adopted, we outgrew the physical help desk. Software was developed to create a single point of digital contact within companies to serve IT needs. The software included automated ticketing, issue tracking, email notifications, and a central knowledge base. It was called, like it’s predecessor, the help desk.

Many organizations today continue to use help desk software to resolve end user IT failures or requests efficiently. It’s a ticket in, ticket assigned, ticket executed, ticket resolved form of IT management. And while help desk software ensures IT hiccups are addressed quickly, keeping an organization’s employees productive, that’s more or less where it ends.

What is ITSM?

ITSM stands for IT service management, and while ITSM includes all of the ticketing, tracking, notification, and knowledge tools of help desk software, its holistic approach to management and integration with other tools sets ITSM apart. In it’s most basic form, ITSM includes:

  • Asset management that tracks your equipment, updates, and fixes through its lifecycle.
  • Ticketing that allows you to assign and monitor work in progress. 
  • Knowledge management that houses and maintain your best practices for easy access and usage.
  • License management that automates alerts so you never miss an update. 
  • Problem management that decreases the potential of failures before they occur.

ITSM is also scalable, secure, and includes automation. Help desk software encompasses the ticketing and knowledge management portions of ITSM. But where it falls short of the full suite ITSM offers is in its ability to proactively approach problems, versus react after the fact. 

Save vs. Serve

The goal of help desk software is to get broken equipment up and running as quickly as possible. Help desk software comes in for the save when an issue is already underway. On the flipside, the goal of ITSM is to serve and prevent. It has all the capabilities to fix an existing issue that help desk software has. However, it also has the added tools of proactive risk management. ITSM has a service-first approach that means new services are designed to meet the future needs of a business. ITSM tracks performance, manages configurations, and forms change management procedures all within ITIL best practices in order to prevent problems before they occur.

In addition to better managing service solutions, ITSM provides an improved user experience over help desk software. Because access to technology and everyday use of technology is becoming nearly universal, the average end user is becoming more of an expert (or want-to-be expert) in technology solutions. Like the obsession with solving one’s own health issues through WebMD, end users prefer to solve their own equipment problems whenever they can. ITSM makes that possible by providing self-serve tools—like easy-to-build apps—that make it easy for end users to resolve their issues quickly and at their convenience. This saves frustration on the side of the end user and time on the IT side. Though self-serve options are a hallmark of ITSM, the solution also ensures it’s easy to reach a real expert anytime.

Final Thoughts

The difference between ITSM and help desk software can be summed up like this: help desk software is just a piece of the ITSM puzzle. It’s an excellent tool for smaller organizations and IT teams. Help desk provides the basic functions needed to run an IT department and fix equipment. However, ITSM provides integrated solutions, preventative service, and an end-user focus that saves organizations big in terms of IT costs and time. 

Are you looking for a solution to improve your IT function and expand the life of your equipment? Check out and compare dozens of IT options in our product selection tool. You can also schedule a free consultation with an unbiased Technology Advisor for help.