The Big Trends in ITSM in 2021 from Freshworks and SDI

Feb 8, 2023 | Automation, Service Desk

Transformational changes continue to impact ITSM. While IT service management embraces new technologies, most organisations don’t currently have the high-level capabilities to match their ambitions.

Freshworks has collaborated with the Service Desk Institute (SDI) to produce a report that determines how IT professionals feel about these new advances. The report aims to show the current state of the industry, determine big trends, and predict the impact of these trends over the next five years. The ‘ITSM 2021 & Beyond’ report will prepare IT leaders for potential challenges, give them the knowledge to forge a competitive advantage, and help pave the way for future success.

The report is based on data collected from a survey completed between November and December 2020. ‘The Service Desk: 2021 and Beyond’ survey was sent to organisations of different sizes and completed by a wide range of IT service management professionals, with 60% of the respondents from the UK and the remaining 40% from the rest of the world. For a detailed overview, these professionals included C-Level staff, IT managers, service desk managers, analysts, consultants, and others working in the public and private sectors.


Success in any business is a reflection of the workforce, processes, and technology in place. These factors are particularly integral to IT service management, which also contributes to the organisation’s wider business strategy. Technology advances matter, but it’s down to how people use it that can be the difference between success and failure. Above all, technology is there to assist ITSM, not control it. It should enhance processes and improve the working lives of staff while increasing productivity and cutting costs.

Fortunately, the vast majority (97%) of the survey’s respondents felt technology has improved their working life. This data is heartening at a time when anecdotal evidence suggests that technology threatens jobs.

That said, advanced technologies are changing the face of the modern service desk. The day-to-day tasks of service desk staff are shifting to accommodate more complex, higher-value work. More than two-thirds of respondents say their responsibilities have changed. However, only 31% of respondents noted that their job title remained the same despite the shift in their responsibilities. Interestingly, some job roles, such as Service Desk Managers, were more likely to receive a new title than others.

Of course, training and skills development are necessary to ensure your workforce evolves in line with the new technology it is implementing. If your service desk employees cannot keep up with the changes, their careers won’t progress, or, in the worst-case scenario, technology might replace them.

Most respondents agreed their organisation supports skills development to some extent. Some senior-level IT executives report more skills development opportunities. Whereas frontline service desk workers may have trouble juggling their heavy workloads and performance requirements with ongoing training. One of Freshworks’ clients, an experienced service desk manager from the University of Aberdeen, makes the point that skills development isn’t possible unless staff are given the time to do training. Iain Cameron, User Service Manager from the University of Aberdeen comments, “We make sure the service desk agents get time away from the service desk two hours one afternoon a week, and that gives them the time to do self-development.”

Statistics from the report also reflect the willingness of ITSM professionals to learn new skills or move to other areas within the business. Providing ongoing skills development opportunities shows you value your staff. It’s an essential component of staff satisfaction and retention.



The report highlighted the importance of prioritizing people over new technologies and innovations. Respondents noted that soft skills, such as empathy, problem-solving and adaptability are key to embracing this customer-centric approach. Of course, IT service management professionals will still need a broad range of technical skills, but a breadth of knowledge and experience is more important than in-depth knowledge. In short, the service desk managers of the future should know a little about a lot of subjects.

Some respondents mentioned the dominance of a “T-shaped” skill set. Service desk professionals transcend their role and collaborate with other teams to provide targeted solutions. There’s a huge demand for T-shaped ITSM professionals because of their multidisciplinary team experience combined with both technical and soft skills. AI is gearing up to take the brunt of frontline services with virtual assistant capabilities while humans focus on 2nd-line services such as specialist support for apps and software. Take a deeper look into how your processes can benefit from automation and the virtual capabilities Freshservice offer. Alternatively, find out what the future of IT service management may look like by downloading the full ITSM report.



COVID-19 accelerated the move to full-time remote for many companies during 2020. IT professionals predict this trend will continue to play a big role in ITSM in 2021 and beyond. Automation of processes, tasks, and ticket handling are the main focus areas for 36% of IT departments this year.

Digital transformation is the second-most important focus area for 2021. Digital transformation is a broad term that can mean different things depending on your organisation. But if we have learned anything from 2020, it’s that establishing a digital strategy and embedding it throughout the company is vital in supporting a remote workforce.

IT professionals also mentioned service desk motivation, a customer-centric approach, and channel improvements as noteworthy focus areas. The report reminds us that customers are stakeholders in your business strategy, so always put customer experience at the forefront of ITSM strategies.

When it comes to the biggest trends in ITSM this year, IT security scores the top place. The focus on security is most likely a reaction to establishing a remote workforce. Respondents picked chatbots/virtual agents (44%) and self-service (42%) as almost equally significant trends.

Download the full report to explore 2021 ITSM trends in greater detail

Trend 1: Automation is Impacting Organisations & IT in Particular


Automation is a huge topic for organisations this year. Developing the role of automation and self-service for users helps relieve the pressure on teams dealing with heavy workloads. Respondents to the survey repeatedly mentioned automated workflows and service orchestration as becoming a standard part of IT service management.

Automation is extending beyond applications to encompass AI and Machine Learning. In fact, the current speed of technological change hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution. Many professionals predict that chat and AI will be widely adopted within the next four years. Companies are going to rely on AI to resolve incidents and virtual agents to process calls.

Trend 2: The Importance of IT Security in the Shift to Home-Based Working


IT security is the biggest focus this year, which is no surprise considering the rapid shift to homeworking. IT service managers are seeking efficient and secure ways to collaborate off-site using cloud-based software. It’s also difficult to monitor security when employees rely on their own equipment and Wi-Fi connections. If robust systems, security, and back-up aren’t in place, your organisation will run into costly problems. VPNs, VDIs, and other encryption tools are set to become hot topics.

Trend 3: Continuing Challenges of COVID on Service Desk Professionals


The report explores the unique challenges for ITSM staff during a pandemic. Many workplaces were already implementing flexible and remote working, but COVID-19 forced large-scale change virtually overnight.

Major challenges include supporting remote working while the huge demand for digital services continues to grow. IT departments made drastic changes in response, such as accelerating digital transformation and training staff for the new responsibilities they face. Temporary remote working solutions have become permanent and are likely to persist in some form long after the pandemic ends.

Service desk teams are finding ways to adapt to these challenges. Iain Cameron from the University of Aberdeen mentions that his service team is naturally social. They’ve tried to keep this up during the three lockdowns and recreate their office dynamic while working from home. He details some of the ways they attempt to keep social contact strong: “We have a morning scrum for 10 minutes and an afternoon tea break for 15 minutes, and we’ve embraced teams’ channels for ticket talk.”



While COVID presented logistical challenges, its impact on wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Almost half of the IT professionals surveyed felt that COVID harmed their emotional wellbeing.

A significant number of respondents mentioned the difficulties of achieving a healthy work-life balance in 2021. Pandemic anxiety combined with increasing customer expectations and changes at work could lead to burnout for service desk staff. Around 60% of IT service management professionals felt their work life was responsible for making their emotional wellbeing worse. It’s worth noting that many people who work in service desk roles enjoy social interaction, so this could be a reaction to prolonged isolation.

On a positive note, many respondents reported their organisation was already proactive in supporting emotional wellbeing. Iain agrees that his organisation’s leaders seem aware of the possibility of burnout, and they’ve been taking preventative measures by reducing workloads and delaying some projects during the pandemic. He says, “We instigated a ‘no meetings Friday’, which is fab, and ‘no meetings at lunchtimes’ just to give people a bit of space.” Instead, his team has been encouraged to take time for themselves during lunch breaks. He feels that wellbeing is the priority, closely followed by work, commenting, “I really like that; I feel supported through that message.”

Perhaps the increased awareness of wellbeing issues caused by COVID can help overcome the stigma around talking about it in ITSM departments.

Trend 4: Job Security Fears in ITSM


In the current volatile environment, job security is understandably a concern for some professionals. Almost half of IT professionals are worried about losing their jobs. The report found that 17% of respondents are concerned about their job security due to COVID-19. Almost a tenth of professionals worry about advanced technology taking over their roles. Leadership needs to address these fears as they can affect morale and productivity, as well as having a detrimental effect on employees’ wellbeing.

Trend 5: A Greater Need to Communicate in times of COVID


Disruption in the workplace isn’t new, but the scale of the challenges caused by coronavirus is unprecedented. One of the issues for service desk management is the disconnect between some leadership and support staff, which is exacerbated by remote working.

Support staff mentioned an increase in workload. But less visibility has led to a misconception that they aren’t as productive as they were pre-COVID. Senior staff sometimes forget to communicate wider strategies for dealing with the pandemic to their teams. This lack of transparency can lead to confusion and mistrust. Leaders need to address any communication issues to avoid the pitfalls of siloed working and decreased efficiency.



So how does the future of ITSM look? Well, it depends on the responsiveness of IT service management teams in rolling out safe and secure remote working. Leaders who support their staff with ongoing skills development and keep pace with changes will be more successful.

According to IT service desk professionals, successful ITSM leaders will prioritize:

  • People (all stakeholders, including staff and customers
  • Ongoing training and development
  • Remote and agile working
  • T-shaped skill sets
  • AI and automation
  • IT security
  • Digital transformation
  • Employee wellbeing

Download the full report for an in-depth look at these 2021 ITSM trends.


The challenges of 2020 have put ITSM under new scrutiny. Organisations that have developed efficient processes and staff support are best placed to survive.

The ‘ITSM 2021 & Beyond’ report covers IT service desk professionals’ perspective on everything from workplace wellbeing to future trends in technology. It will not only help IT leaders determine what they are getting right, but also their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Ultimately, the report provides insight into how ITSM links with your wider business strategy. 2020 was difficult for IT service desk management, but 2021 doesn’t need to be if you prepare yourself for the journey with ‘ITSM 2021 & Beyond’.

To see how you can use this data to better plan for the future, download a copy of the report now or for a better understanding of how Freshservice can assist with the management of IT, sign up for a free trial: