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Eating your own dog food

Ironically, while most companies rely on IT to implement technology solutions for running the enterprise, IT is typically the last group to adopt technology to manage its own domain. For instance, while IT is busily implementing solutions that help companies to understand customer retention, it is often the last to know whether its own customers are happy. Part of the problem is that most companies perceive IT as a cost, rather than as a profit center. Additionally, IT has never had the tools to report on how well it is fulfilling its business mission.

But that is not for lack of data. Different slices of the IT organization have been collecting detailed operational data for years, ranging from the enterprise consoles that provide operational data to data center admins, to the asset management, help desk tracking, project management and software life-cycle tools used by other IT departments.

But there is ample precedent outside IT for synthesizing the big picture. When offshore competition was hammering the manufacturing sector in the 1980s, the inventory control folks took the initiative to improve enterprise visibility. Their rationale? It was becoming impossible to control inventory without tracking related operations, from forecasting to accounts payable and receivable, procurement and production planning. Although each area was still run by different departments, the inventory folks redefined the planning and control function, creating professional certification programs and driving demand for a new form of integrated enterprise software that culminated in today’s ERP systems. Although hardly the last word in enterprise visibility, ERP furnishes much of the baseline data business analysts use to understand what is really happening.

Today in IT, the ground is shifting similarly thanks to renewed attention on corporate governance, greater scrutiny of IT budgets and the emergence of viable offshore alternatives. As technology groups are being called on the carpet to document quality of service and level of customer satisfaction, the time has come to evaluate the business of IT.

Not surprisingly, technology vendors are stepping up to the plate with solutions venturing beyond operational data, answering questions such as how well IT is supporting the order to cash process. Yes Virginia, IT is getting a taste of its own dog food as they finally get their own corporate performance management dashboards.

Mercury Interactive fired one of the first shots with the acquisition of Kintana, a niche provider of executive dashboards for IT. Creating new “optimization centers,” Mercury expanded from its traditional focus on software quality and delivery to IT performance areas such as program management, and portfolio and resource management. And coming on its recent acquisition of ChangePoint, which offers solutions for managing IT service businesses, Compuware is likely to follow suit.

Although many early IT governance solutions originated from software tools vendors, the infrastructure folks are also likely to stake their claims. For instance, Euclid, a start-up formed by veterans of HP’s OpenView group, is attacking IT performance through metrics often derived from the enterprise console. There is already precedent for such overlap, as we recently noted the competition between the software and systems folks over identity management (see “IT security: Taking a bite out of development?,” Application Development Trends, March 2004, p. 18).

In all likelihood, Web services management will try to pit the same two constituencies against each other when it comes to who owns quality of service. That’s because of the way in which Web services intertwines functionality and infrastructure, making performance an integral part of the service-level guarantee to the customer. Significantly, as part of IBM’s recently announced Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) roadmap, different aspects of managing Web services will be apportioned between Tivoli and WebSphere.

And that may give us a clue as to how jurisdiction over IT governance will resolve itself. While CIOs will be ultimately responsible, they won’t add new governance czars to the org chart. Instead, governance will become a federated responsibility, reflecting the reality that service delivery is a team sport, where different pieces of software and infrastructure play pivotal roles. No single person or group can therefore own the answer of how well IT is meeting its mission. Consequently, while the new breed of IT governance dashboards may provide a tidy means for reporting IT performance, they will only be as reliable as the spirit of professional collaboration and data sharing that drives them.

About the Author

Tony Baer is principal with onStrategies, a New York-based consulting firm, and editor of Computer Finance, a monthly journal on IT economics. He can be reached via e-mail at tbaer@tbaer.com.

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