PSA Vs. ITSM Vs. ESM: Part 1—What Do They Do?

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Author: Jason Murphy, Head N-central automation nerd, N-able
Author: Jason Murphy, head N-central automation nerd, N-able

Much like anything in information technology—or IT—we live by the abbreviation of complexity. We do our very best to take things that are complex in nature and simplify them or abbreviate them to a few letters. Yet, sometimes we need to break down our abbreviations so we can properly understand them.

I’m going to look at three abbreviations that can cause confusion for MSPs looking to develop their own technology stack—PSA, ITSM, and ESM—and help you understand how to decide which is the best choice for your business.

In this first part, let’s look at exactly what these different tools do.

PSA: Professional services automation

What we refer to as a PSA platform doesn’t really do justice to what professional services automation (PSA) is currently. “Professional service” is what the IT MSP evolved from more than 20 years ago, so this moniker still lingers. Architects, accountants, engineers, doctors, and lawyers also use PSA platforms. However, each vertical typically has its own industry flavor or favorites. The main function of the MSP PSA platform is to act as a cohesive solution for back-office functions, including:

The most important function of the PSA is its ability to integrate with your remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform so you can do an effective job of staying on top of their IT infrastructure.

ITSM: Information technology service management

A quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein is, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Here’s the thing about explaining what ITSM is. There are tons of IT service management platforms all offering a range of different functionality.

For me, I find the best way to explain IT service management platforms is by outcomes:

  • Increased productivity for the MSP
  • Adhering to service level agreements
  • IT costs reduction
  • Improved customer satisfaction and self-service
  • Differentiation between requests and incidents
  • Technology change management and tracking
  • Allows for IT operations management (ITOM)
  • Increased speed and agility in the delivery of IT services

IT service management tools are often built around the ITIL or COBIT frameworks and are defined by how these processes are incorporated into the solution to ensure the MSP is increasing their service delivery maturity, but also allowing for the IT operation to move from reactive processes to proactive model which obviously has positive impacts across the MSP operation as a whole. Workflow and process automation stand at the forefront of what ITSM solutions offer.

The Gartner IT service management maturity model is as follows:

  • Level 0 – Chaotic
    Defined as: ad hoc, undocumented, unpredictable, using multiple help desks, minimal IT operations, and with problems notified by user calls.
  • Level 1 – Reactive
    Defined as: fire-fighting problems, understanding customer inventory, manual desktop software distribution, starting to initiate problem management process, basic alert and event management, and able to measure component availability (up/down).
  • Level 2 – Proactive
    Defined as: Able to analyze trends, set thresholds, predict problems, measure application availability, automate, and offering mature problem configuration as well as having change, assets, and performance management processes in place.
  • Level 3 – Service (Managed)
    Defined as: IT-as-a-service provider, offering defined services, classes and pricing, a thorough understanding of costs, able to offer guaranteed SLAs, able to measure and report service availability, integrated processes, and understands capacity management.
  • Level 4 – Value (Optimized)
    Defined as: Sees IT as a strategic business partner, offers IT and business metric linkage, understands how IT business collaboration improves business process, has real-time infrastructure, and can execute proper business planning.

As you can see, your MSP may fall into one—if not several—of these categories. An ITSM solution allows you to move upstream and mature your IT service delivery once you finally establish a strong governance for all processes and functions.

ESM: Enterprise service management

To understand what enterprise service management (ESM) is, you need to understand the premise of IT service management (ITSM). These principles can be applied to all the other areas of a business to make service delivery more efficient. If we look at human resources, for example, it requires many of the same things as IT departments, these include:

  • Requests
  • Incidents
  • Knowledge base for articles
  • Self-service
  • Change management
  • Automation

These principles can, of course, also be applied to customer service, software development, finance, facilities, procurement, legal, and sales and marketing. Deploying an ESM platform would allow a business to operate under a single solution, which would enable all areas of the business to have clear and identifiable outcomes.

I could discuss current modernization and digital transformation efforts for SMEs, the stages of development, and what ESM is trying to accomplish under a shared services model, but that deserves its own blog series. For now, I’ll wrap up by sharing that, in the second part of this series, I’ll look at how to work out which platform is the best for your business.

In the second part of this blog, Jason looks at how you can decide which is right for you: PSA, ITSM, or ESM.

Author Jason Murphy is N-central automation nerd at N-able (formerly SolarWinds MSP). Read more N-able guest blogs here.