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The Semantics of ITIL and ITSM

In a recent class I heard learners intone that ITIL and ITSM is just an argument over semantics. For those not familiar with the term, "semantics" is the study of the use of specific words in a given context. And yes, ITIL and ITSM are really all about semantics. That is because semantics are important. How and when we use specific words can change the complete meaning and intention of our communication. This is important because the words we use in conversation or written communication reveal our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, behavioral patterns and wisdom.

ITIL in particular is like a language. Different languages approach the idea of semantics differently. A language like English or the Latin- based languages have relatively few words that have multiple meanings and can be used in many different contexts or usages. A language like Greek or some Inuit languages have a lot of words that have very specific meanings and can and should only be used in specific contexts or situations. ITIL falls somewhere in between. There are some words or phrases (control, management, component, etc.) that have several contexts and meanings. Other words (service, process, function, resolution, etc.) are much more specific and should only be used in specific contexts or usages.

An organization or individual beginning an ITSM journey should learn the particular semantics associated with delivering IT services. By understanding the particular context and usage of particular words or phrases a better system of communication ensues. A better system of communication leads to a reduction in errors, mistakes and poor decisions.

One approach to ensuring better and proper usage of terminology is to establish an enterprise Glossary. This lexicon of terms, definitions and contexts helps to establish a consistent system of communication. Everyone has access to this collection of words and can see how and when a particular term should be used. By using terms consistently and properly, the thoughts and behavior of individuals and organizations begin to align to the vocabulary.

By accepting that semantics is important and that ITIL and ITSM rely on proper terminology used in proper context we can begin to shift our thoughts, actions and feelings towards greater success for our customers.

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