The Problem with ITSM Certification

What do we mean when we say "IT Service Management certification?"

I found myself wondering this morning about what drives the thinking of those who select certifications for certain areas of topical coverage. Why? Because I found not one, but two, separate "best of" roundups in the area of Information Technology Service Management, also known as ITSM.

Through what was either a massive coincidence or outright copycatting, both compilations provided the same core recommendations. To wit:

1) The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification program: ITIL Foundation, Managing Professional, Strategic Leader, and Master. Visit the website of ITIL sponsoring entity AXELOS for in-depth descriptions. I also wrote a recent GoCertify column (in December 2022) that addresses this topic: Understanding and Pursuing ITIL Certification.

2) An odd combination of mostly foundational CompTIA credentials, including IT Fundamentals+, A+, Network+, and Security+. I’ve written about CompTIA countless times for GoCertify, addressing both the trinity and the IT Fundamentals cert. Run this Google search to see what turns up. (Hint: It’s somewhere between a dozen and 100).

I have no trouble understanding how the ITIL program would make such a roundup, given that AXELOS (entirely correctly) describes ITIL 4 as being "the framework for the management of IT-enabled services." But gosh, I have a little difficulty accepting the CompTIA Holy Trinity (A+, Network+, and Security+) along with IT Fundamentals as offering any kind of ITSM coverage at all.

Maybe it’s just me. Covering the basics of technology and best practice on which IT rests, however, is not the same thing as learning, understanding, and then applying a rigorous service management approach to the design, delivery, and lifecycle management of information technology services.

What Else Is Out There, ITSM-Wise?

What do we mean when we say "IT Service Management certification?"

Because ITSM cuts across all IT activities and disciplines, the many, many other certs that fall under this umbrella are indeed a mixed bag. But I don’t understand how both surveys overlooked such things as the following:

1) Project management certs like those from the Project Management Institute (PMI), namely PMP, CAPM, and so forth.
2) Development and project management/team lead methodologies such as Scrum, Agile, Six Sigma, and so forth.
3) Formal IT architecture programs such as the Open Group’s TOGAF 10, Archimate, and other credentials.
4) Other credentials in the ITIL vein such as the Certified Information Technology Manager (CITM) offered by EXIN and GAQM.

Indeed, the more loosely I might choose to define ITSM, the more certs I can find to cram under that ever-increasing umbrella. And indeed, there's little or no need to bring entry-level, find-yourself-with-both-hands certs into this mix, either.

Sometimes, I just don’t get it when I'm trying to unpack and understand certain "pick the best" certification compilations. If you want to look for training and certification in a fairly specialized area such as ITSM for yourself, here’s how.

Look first and foremost to the professional societies and training companies that work together to define and maintain the often formidable bodies of knowledge and testing harnesses needed to support related certification programs. Then look for the most popular certs they offer.

Be sure to seek them out in job postings as well as from other sources of information (social media, third-party coverage, word of mouth from prior participants). If you do your homework with some diligence, then you should be able to find something worth learning and doing.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.