What is Unified Service Management (USM)?

Sophie Danby July 13, 2023
- 8 min read

Unified Service Management or USM is a method (as in a set of practices, procedures, and principles) to simplify and standardize service delivery across organizations. As the world of Service Management has its eye on Enterprise Service Management, this holistic approach stands to shine. 

So, if you’re looking for an all-round system designed to boost your whole organization’s service operations, you’re in the right place. The USM’s scalability and the possibility to combine different ITSM frameworks under its areas of command (making it flexible enough to adapt to your needs) stand for a perfect fit.

Ready to find out all about the USM method, how it relates to other frameworks, and where it stands in the ESM landscape? Let’s go!

What is Unified Service Management?

First things first, what is USM? Well, let's take our definition from the experts. In “An Introduction To USM”, published by the SURVUZ Foundation, the USM method is defined as "a universal, methodical approach for managing service organizations. USM describes a standardized service management system for setting up the organization, the processes and the technology of a service provider. USM offers an easily learnable method based on business principles and an explicit service management architecture."

Put simply, USM applies a universal approach to Service Management. It aims to give practitioners a systematic, comprehensive method to manage and deliver services. 

It was created by the SURVUZ Foundation to help provide a holistic view of service operations across the enterprise. Its objective is to ensure IT service delivery is in alignment with the needs of the business.



"The Unified Service Management method is a way of establishing a Service Management System for any service provider. That's
what it's all about.

And we go to great lengths to distinguish between the methods and frameworks because one of the things that's unique about the USM method is it allows you to apply any framework or standard or multiple frameworks and standards and still have some degree of standardization across the enterprise."

John Worthington
Certified USM Coach

Episode 55 of Ticket Volume



So, let's talk about USM and ITIL. ITIL is the de facto global best practice framework for ITSM. If you ask someone to name an ITSM framework, it will likely be ITIL. It's been around since the 1980s and is currently on version 4. It has 34 practices that help organizations manage their ITSM ecosystems and ensure that service quality is refined over time through continual improvement practice.

USM aims to provide a more universal approach to Service Management. It incorporates principles from other established frameworks and standards such as ITIL, COBIT, and ISO 20000. It integrates people, processes, and tools to improve service quality across the business, leverages existing frameworks, including ITIL, and combines them with other methodologies to create a unified approach.

So which option do you pick, ITIL or USM? Well, here's the thing - there is no right or wrong answer. If your focus is purely on ITSM and you have a very structured idea of what you want your IT service delivery model to look like, pick ITIL. It has 34 practices, each with success factors, and defines the roles and responsibilities needed to achieve them. It uses the Service Value System or SVS to ensure your services add value and meet the needs of the business. 

If, however, you want to go beyond ITSM, your focus is wider and you wish to blend aspects of governance, Lean, and Agile - that is, taking a mixology approach - then consider using USM as it takes elements from multiple frameworks and combines them to give you a more holistic approach to best practice.

Benefits of adopting the Unified Service Management method

 Benefits of using the USM approach include:

  • A blend of Service Management approaches - USM helps organizations integrate multiple ITSM methodologies and standards into a unified approach giving practitioners options rather than just limiting them to one framework such as ITIL or COBIT.

  • Support for Enterprise Service Management or ESM - A key differentiator of USM is that it extends ITSM practices into the rest of the business. Its holistic approach covers the IT ecosystem and other service domains, such as HR and facilities. Basically, organizations optimize service delivery and support across the entire organization.

  • Better alignment with business objectives - This one breaks off from the previous benefit. Think about it - if services aren’t supporting a business objective, why are we spending time building, maintaining, and improving it? USM aims to ensure that services are designed, transitioned, and supported in a way that supports the goals and objectives of the business.

  • Scalable approach - USM is designed to be scalable and can be expanded over time to fit the needs of the business as it evolves. A key feature of USM is that it is flexible to be implemented and scaled according to the organization's needs.

  • A more positive and supportive working culture - As well as providing processes, procedures, and ways of working, USM provides a common language so departments and teams across the business can work together more effectively. This, in turn, will support more effective collaboration, disrupt and break down silos and support the idea that there is no them and us anymore - we are one business and, as such, one team.

The USM principles

USM is structured around the idea that Service Management should be structured, supportive, and accessible to all. The main principle of USM is that a Service Management system should be set up to deliver business outcomes effectively. To do so, it uses a combination of routines, practices, and principles blended with the appropriate Service Management frameworks and standards to deliver value.

USM has five core processes for managing services effectively:

  1. Agree: this process looks at how the service model is agreed upon and ensures that the right requirements have been captured, an appropriate strategy is in place, and the business has been engaged appropriately.

  2. Change: this process introduces the service effectively, efficiently, and safely without disrupting everyday operations.

  3. Recover: this process manages how to deal with service incidents and ensures that faults are dealt with as quickly as possible and with as little adverse impact as possible.

  4. Operate: this process looks at the day-to-day support activities needed to maintain and support the service and will include monitoring and proactive support modeling.

  5. Improve: this practice looks after refining service delivery over time to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the business.

USM and Enterprise Service Management

As we mentioned, because USM is a holistic framework, it can be a very effective enabler for Enterprise Service Management. ESM is the practice of extending ITSM beyond IT. I guess you could say it takes the IT out of ITSM. What does that mean in real life? It's like this: ESM takes all the lessons and best practices we've learned in building and supporting IT services and applies them to the rest of the organization. 

Some examples of this could include repurposing your Incident Management practice to deal with facilities issues and equipment faults or adapting your request management practice so that HR can use it to onboard new colleagues or offboard employees. You only need a workflow with defined triggers, inputs, and outputs.

So how can USM help? It can assist organizations in upping their ESM game by leaning into more effective collaboration and communication. We've already discussed a more supportive work culture in the previous section, so taking that approach to the rest of the business is important from an ESM perspective. 

When applying USM to ESM (try saying that five times fast - we dare you), take that spirit of collaboration and use it to do good within your organization. 

Talk to people and ask them what their pain points are. Make it a point to look for improvement opportunities actively. If you have departments that rely on paper or e-mail-based processes, talk to them and offer to help. 

In short, hold on to the idea that we are all one team. Would a supportive colleague watch as another team gets overrun during busy periods? Nope - they would offer to help. So that is what USM advocates. By having a common language, we can communicate, collaborate, and support the rest of the business. We can make things better by listening to the challenges they face daily and working with them to look at how ESM could help.

Unified Service Management certification

A certification scheme is in place for USM. Practitioners can opt to complete the foundation course and exam to learn the basics. There is then an option to complete a professional course to learn about USM in more detail and to apply the concepts in real-world scenarios. More information about USM qualifications can be found on the APMG website.


If you are looking for a more holistic approach to service delivery, adaptable enough to support teams throughout your business, the Unified Service Management approach is a comprehensive solution to look out for. It blends aspects of existing best practice methodologies and standards into a single unified approach. At the same time, its simplicity makes it really useful to get all the different teams on board.

Nevertheless, when implementing this method, it’s important to leverage other existing ITSM frameworks (such as ITIL or COBIT) and use the aspects that respond to your needs. One of the most valuable parts of the USM is that it can easily incorporate knowledge and guidelines from other sources, without losing its effectiveness.

Read other articles like this : ESM, ITSM Framework

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