Updated Apr 4 2019 :: by Alex

The IT industry is overwhelmed with abbreviations. ITSM vs ITIL vs SaaS vs DevOPS... Sometimes even technical journalists get lost, confusing "ITSM" with a "helpdesk"... So here is how IT guys (are supposed to) see it:

Help desk

Helpdesk or "IT helpdesk" is an organizational unit/process, that resolves issues using the "break/fix" concept. This is often called "incident management" or "problem management". Something's down - let's go fix it. Help desk is "tactical", not "strategic".

  • Single point of contact for all "IT support"
  • Incident tracking and resolution
  • Incident escalation to other organizational units outside helpdesk if needed
  • Level 1 and Level 2 support
  • SLAs (service level agreements)
  • etc.

Service desk

Help desk is a subset of a "service desk". While "help desk" provides "help", "service desk" provides a "service" (which of course includes "help" in turn). To put it simple, "service desk" is a more "strategic" term than "help desk". It's not just about fixing stuff, but also about adding new services and maintaining the existing ones.

"Service desk" is a more broad term than just a "help desk". It looks at the company/enterprise needs as a whole rather than being focused on dealing with end-user problems and takes the broader business context into account. The ITIL 3 definition the Service Desk describes it as "the Single Point of Contact between the Service Provider and the Service Consumer".

  • Problem management
  • Single point of contact for all IT-related areas and business processes
  • Asset management
  • Change management
  • Release management
  • Knowledge base
  • etc.


ITSM stands for "IT Service Management". It's not just a "desk" any more, ITSM unites the entirety of all the IT-related activities in an organization. Including planning and designing new IT services, not just delivering and supporting those services. The complexity is increasing, so are the challenges, so are the... abbreviations.

Helpdesk vs Service vs ITSM diagram

'"Help Desk" vs "Service Desk" vs "ITSM"' was written by Alex by Alex. CEO, founder


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