Take Control of Business Services
- By John K. Waters
IT/business alignment has been a top priority of CIOs for many years, obviously
because enterprises want their IT and business people singing from the same sheet
This perennial passion for bringing IT and business together continues to stir
up an alphabet soup of three-letter solutions, the latest of which is BSM, or
business services management.
BSM promises to provide a realistic way of forging that longed for link between
IT operations and business management. But even if the new BSM offerings deliver,
deploying them successfully is going to present IT with some serious challenges.
BSM is about correlating the performance of an organization’s business
services (e-mail, supply chain management, CRM, ERP) with its IT infrastructure
components (servers, applications, routers). It has been lately characterized
as an approach or strategy for managing the IT environment from a business perspective.
The problem with that definition is it allows vendors to stretch “BSM”
over such a wide range of products that the label becomes thin. Dozens of vendors
are currently using “BSM” in their marketing materials, but they’re
not all providing the same solutions.
“There’s a lot of hype out there right now around BSM,” says
Gartner analyst Debra Curtis. “IT organizations have to remember there
is no magic fairy dust for aligning IT with their business unit customers, whatever
the vendors may seem to be promising.”
Vendors are positioning BSM as the ultimate solution to the IT/business alignment
challenge, essentially promising their products can transform IT from a cost
center to a business enabler by aligning the delivery of IT with business process
“I think they are overstating the case when they talk about business
processes,” says analyst Neil Macehiter of Macehiter Ward-Dutton. “The
reality is that the vast majority of real business processes are not automated
by IT. Processes depend on collaboration between people, which is often ad hoc
in nature and poorly supported by the technologies, and which tend to be the
focus of systems management solutions.”
As an IT person, you must accept the responsibility for understanding
the nature of the business, for finding ways to collect business-related information...
Corporate culture shock
IT/business alignment presents significant cultural and organizational implications.
Although a BSM solution can help get business and IT in sync, that relationship
is as much about collaboration between those two groups as any solution on the
market, Macehiter says. Consequently, no BSM project will succeed without a
significant cultural shift.
Curtis defines BSM in narrow terms: “To me, BSM is not a strategy or
an approach, but a product category.” Products in this category focus
on IT apps and infrastructure components, she says. They have the ability to
create an object model that shows how a business service depends on these components;
to gather real-time or operational status information on those components, directly
or through existing monitoring tools; and to process that information against
the object model.
Gartner identifies products from companies including IBM, Hewlett-Packard,
Computer Associates International, Interlink, Managed Object Solutions, Mercury
Interactive, Micromuse, Proxima and BMC Software as meeting these criteria.
Effective BSM products provide, among other features, correlation technology
for comparing IT metrics against business metrics; service-modeling capabilities
to help define the business services; and automation capabilities to let IT systems
trigger alerts, generate trouble tickets and take action to resolve issues.
At this stage in BSM’s evolution, the success of a deployment depends
less on the crop of products than on the maturity of the IT organization—how
well it has defined what a business service is.
“Many IT organizations have not yet progressed to the point where they
are thinking about what they deliver in terms of business-oriented services,”
says Macehiter. “They’re still thinking about what they deliver
in terms of CPU power or network bandwidth. It can take a while to work out
the relationship with their business unit customers and come to the place where
they have defined these business relevancies.”
It’s up to IT to figure it out, Macehiter says, because IT usually defines
its own processes and services in a language that business can understand. “It’s
about IT aligning with the business, he says. “Not the other way around.”
Boris Gdalevich, capacity performance manager at Quest Diagnostics, agrees.
“It’s true that technical people typically prefer to work with technical
stuff,” he says. “They want to concentrate on the things they understand
perfectly. Monitoring processor utilization, for example, makes sense to a technical
person. But this is a reactive approach, and not very effective for aligning
IT with business. As an IT person, you must accept the responsibility for understanding
the nature of the business, for finding ways to collect business-related information,
and to understand, analyze and correlate this information. You can’t expect
the business people to go so deep to understand IT.”
THE LATEST APPROACH TO FINDING THE MISSING LINK
- BSM promises to provide a realistic means of forging that longed-for link
between IT operations and business management.
- BSM is not a strategy or an approach, but a product category.
- BSM products create an object model, gather status information on
components, and process that information against the object model.
Divining business pattern changes
Quest Diagnostics is one of the country’s largest providers of diagnostic
laboratory testing, information and services. Quest performs personal health
testing on more than 100 million patients and more than 250 million diagnostic
laboratory tests each year. Quest’s customers include patients and consumers,
physicians, hospitals, health insurers, employers and government agencies.
The company maintains three major data centers in the U.S. alone, and hundreds
of smaller data centers for labs around the world. Not surprisingly, Quest maintains
a large IT department, with a staff of more than a thousand. Through mergers
and acquisitions, the company has grown what Gdalevich describes as a “pretty
wide infrastructure,” with a range of operating systems and applications.
Quest uses BMC’s Patrol product to monitor its diverse mix of servers
and applications, which includes Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server.
What appeals to Gdalevich about BSM is its potential for divining business
pattern changes, which reflect more accurately the requirements IT needs to
fulfill to truly support the business. Tools such as processor utilization monitors
merely track changes without providing key, business-oriented variables.
“Let’s say your business unit manager tells you that a system that
has been used by 1,000 doctors will soon be used by 10,000,” he says.
“It would be simple if you could say, I know how much capacity 1,000 use,
let’s just multiply by 10 and we’ll have the new capacity requirements.
But that approach fails to take into account customer behavior. Three months
ago, when the system was first rolled out, doctors didn’t use it very
much. Now, three months later, they’re used to it and they use it a lot—say
from 20 percent to 50 percent. So you must correlate two variables: number of
users and business patterns.”
The promise of BSM is it will correlate these and other variables to provide
a clear picture of how well a company’s network infrastructure responds
to and supports certain IT services defined in business terms. Though the onus
for translating IT’s processes and services into a language business can
understand may fall on the technical people, there’s virtually no way
to define IT services in business terms without working closely with the business
unit customers, Curtis says.
“No BSM tool is going to miraculously provide these service definitions,”
Curtis says. “It’s complicated and challenging work, but you have
to start there.”
As the IT organization works with the business units to define how a business
service should be monitored and managed, and how to measure the service in IT
terms, it’s best to focus on where you’re likely to get the biggest
bang for your buck, Macehiter advises.
“In terms of getting a better understanding of how your business is performing,
you need to start with the key processes in your business that really make a
difference,” he says. “Monitoring the processes that support non-differentiating
aspects of your business—the processes that support your monthly payroll,
for example—will have limited value in a BSM context.”
Subject to change
Although the processes that differentiate a business vary by vertical market,
and even by organization within a market, virtually all of them live at the
edge of the enterprise, where they actually touch customers and partners. In
a company such as Wal-Mart, these are the processes that support relationships
with its suppliers; in a company like Dell, they are the processes that allow
customers to configure and select products, and then streamline the interactions
with manufacturers and the relationships with their suppliers.
You have to decide which internal or external business services, processes or transactions the company cannotlive without.
“These are processes that emphasize agility and flexibility,” Macehiter
says, “that are subject to potentially frequent business-driven change
and typically involve multiple customer and off-the-shelf application solutions.”
This is one of the most challenging questions IT organizations implementing
BSM will be called upon to answer, says Gdalevich. “You have to decide
which internal or external business services, processes or transactions the
company cannot live without,” he says. “But don’t try to change
the world overnight. Take the time to establish priorities.”
What is there to see?
Once you define the services and set the priorities, decide how to display the
information. “What is it you want to see?” Gdalevich asks. “Do
you want a workflow diagram, a hierarchical model, a pie chart? Don’t
underestimate this step. You have internal and external consumers of this information,
and they may have different ideas about how it should look.” Next, determine
where that information lives in your system, and what its dependencies are;
true service definitions must include all of the underlying components.
“In finance verticals, for example, the stock trade application is typically
the service they provide,” Curtis explains. “So all of the network
connections, all of the server components and all of the things that are required
to enable that stock trade application are all part of this service definition.”
Where the information is physically stored is actually a secondary consideration,
says Macehiter. The key issue is the ability to access that information in the
context of the services that are being monitored and measured. This requires
BSM solutions to integrate effectively with information and application integration
solutions, as well as business intelligence/analytics solutions/business activity
monitoring solutions—a capability for which many vendors are currently
relying on niche vendor relationships.
Some IT organizations have a tendency to use the names of their business apps
as a shorthand for the business services they deliver, Curtis says. They’ll
say they are delivering an SAP service, for example, or a quote-to-order service
for the CRM application they use. Although this is probably harmless in most
organizations, the practice may encourage the organization to focus on the packaged
application software and ignore the software components and infrastructure hardware
required to enable it. Again: true service definitions include all underlying
components and dependencies.
IT organizations that are truly ready for BSM are those that have also achieved
a relatively high level of management process maturity, Macehiter says. These
organizations have established good configuration management and rigorous change-management
processes. They have deployed event-management and monitoring software to provide
a source of data on how the components are doing. And they’ve worked out
the business oriented services definitions, and they have a clear understanding
of the logical linkages among those services.
“If you look at the typical evolution of an IT department,” says
Gdalevich. “They start with a reactive strategy, and then move over time
to a proactive strategy. Things like configuration management, change-management,
event management and capacity monitoring are the first solutions they put in
place. But these are reactive. As they move toward proactivity, they are forced
to understand the business impact of specific servers, what system metrics could
impact the business and to begin thinking about how they will correlate business
and system information. For the first time, IT is being called upon to develop
a clear understanding of the business. BSM can be helpful with this change,
but not without significant efforts inside the company.”
Mature organizations also tend to have well-defined, business-oriented service
level agreements in place; shared infrastructure services based on an increasingly
virtualized infrastructure; organizational structures to facilitate collaboration
between business and IT; and a policy-based approach to management and monitoring.
They also tend to have standardized their IT processes, for example, around
the IT Infrastructure Library.
Currently, the percentage of IT organizations that are mature enough to support
a successful BSM deployment is relatively small, Macehiter says, leaving the
vendors with a relatively narrow addressable market.
“Traditionally, the way we’ve managed IT systems has been within
the context of the IT systems themselves,” Macehiter says. “It’s
been about how well the servers or the network or the database is performing.
The challenge now is to manage IT in the context of how good a job it’s
doing for the business. That kind of shift in thinking won’t happen overnight.
The IT organizations that have managed to become more business aligned and service-oriented
have gone through a lot of work to get there.”
Despite the current size of the market, some industry watchers expect big things
from BSM in the next few years. META Group (now part of Gartner) predicts that
over the next 2 years, 15 percent of Global 2000 business will derive competitive
advantages by using BSM, and 90 percent will initiate BSM projects by 2007.
“[These numbers] in no way mean that all of the companies that are initiating
BSM projects are sufficiently mature from an IT perspective to reap the full
benefits or to derive the maximum competitive advantage,” Macehiter says.
“Initiating a BSM project does not require that an organization has reached
the peak of IT maturity. BSM is not a short-term initiative, and both the benefits
these organizations will derive from BSM and the level of IT maturity will evolve.”
The bottom line
The bottom line on BSM is hard to measure, because the products themselves are
evolving, and because realizing the proposed benefits of BSM has significant
organizational and cultural implications that are difficult to quantify. The
ultimate costs are dependent on factors including the level of heterogeneity
of the existing IT environment, the extent to which shared infrastructure services
are deployed, the extent to which key business processes are automated, and
the current systems management environment.
“I would go so far as to say that any figures would be misleading at
this point,” say Macehiter. “It is important for readers to recognize
that achieving the proposed benefits of BSM is an ongoing, evolutionary process.”
Both analysts agree that laying the necessary groundwork for BSM product deployment
could be as valuable to the organization as the BSM project itself.
“When you do all these things—working with the business unit to
define services, learning to link IT investments with business results—you
improve the credibility of the IT organization,” Curtis says. “You
are demonstrating that you understand the business requirements, that you know
how your IT components relate to something that’s much more business relevant.”
According to Curtis, the process of gearing up appropriately for a BSM deployment
earns IT credibility because the techies must go to a great deal of effort—effort
that is highly visible to the business units—to understand the business.
Business would recognize how the BSM project would pay off in large measure
because of these preparations, and IT’s effort to turn itself into a more
business-oriented organization is likely to make business feel that IT is on
the same team, and they will take them more seriously. That’s worth a
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