A degree of alignment

IT organisations have historically struggled to harmonise the functions of the IT back-room with the business processes they serve. But as core business operations have become ever more dependent on the IT infrastructure, that has had to change – and change radically.

No longer is it simply enough to know that the infrastructure is coping by monitoring computing resources such as disk capacity, cpu performance and backup progress. As the business units and the organisation as a whole have realised that their ability to perform effectively is linked directly to the reliable delivery of IT services, such groups have demanded guarantees in the form service level agreements (SLA). And a whole host of tools have emerged to relate how well systems, networks and applications meet those.

But that is still an IT-centric view of the world, based in on metrics like percentage uptime, application response times and transactions processed. What users really want is a way for them to know how well their IT-supported business processes are running – for IT metrics to be translated directly into business terms. And the flip of that coin is that IT needs to know how each resource affects the applications and business processes it supports.

So a marketing executive organising a large email campaign does not need to know that overnight systems are running at 50% capacity; he or she needs to know that the mail out will be complete by 6am, irrespective of other demands on the infrastructure. Similarly, a manager of field service agents needs to know that everyone in the field has received their daily schedules via the wireless network, not that the network was only down for an SLA-compliant 10 minutes in the past 24 hours.

That demand for IT services to be closely aligned with business processes has spawned a whole new segment of the systems and applications management software sector – business services management (BSM) – with established vendors evolving their existing portfolios to create broad BSM offerings, and specialist suppliers building standalone BSM ‘overlays’ that draw on the underlying systems data generated by multiple vendor’s tools.

What is BSM?

The term business service management encompasses a whole range of technologies and functions. It involves many of the technologies used in service level management, (see box), but the way service level metrics are related to business processes varies across vendors. This means business service management is best defined by the operational objectives it seeks to achieve, rather than the technology it employs.

Analysts at market research group Gartner identify the principle benefits to BSM as:

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp Visual representation of the dependencies between business processes, business applications and the IT infrastructure (servers, storage, networks, middleware and databases). This gives the IT operations group an understanding of the business impact of a component outage or job slowdown so it can better prioritize operational tasks.

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp Reduced downtime and shorter problem resolution time because IT support focuses on solving the correct, high priority, business-relevant issues.

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp Operational efficiency because operators can use a single console for viewing the status of business services as well as for displaying IT infrastructure views.

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp Business service views can be customized and enabled for viewing by business users, thus giving the line of business a better understanding of how the IT infrastructure is performing.

*Greater credibility with the business by demonstrating the IT operations group’s understanding of how it supports business processes and by improving communications.”

Vendors try to meet these objectives with a variety of product approaches – some pooling their existing tools under the BSM banner, others providing specialist software.

A good case in point is IBM. Its systems management software arm, Tivoli, puts more than thirty different products under the BSM heading, everything from ranging from an availability management console and a service level advisor through to a web site analyser and transaction time measurement tool.

One of IBM’s rivals in systems management, BMC, has a slightly more focused approach, identifying nine separate components that underpin BSM:

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp service level management

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp incident and problem management

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp infrastructure and application management

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp service impact and event management

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp asset management and discovery

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp change and configuration management

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp capacity management and provisioning

assets assets.zip bin source summary_source tmp identity management.

BSM is also a major part of the strategies of several other systems management vendors, most notably HP, Compuware, Computer Associates and Mercury Interactive.

Several ‘pure-play’ vendors are also making waves in this new market including Concord Communications and Managed Objects, as are some of the specialists in service level management such as Axios Systems

With its Formula product line, for example, Managed Objects emphasises the importance of being able to see just how the systems will stand up to the pressures of various business processes by comparing their current status with the historical state of the service.

Aside form the scope of such products, there are three other key differentiators that will determine the success of vendors in the BSM market. One is way in which BSM products interact with existing systems, application and network management systems. Another factor is how well the vendors’ products can model and work with customers’ business processes, an area that will become more crucial with the development of automatic business process mapping capabilities. A further differentiator will be the degree to which vendors deliver BSM that fits closely with the needs of specific industries

Metrics and maps

A significant distinction between BSM software vendors relates to how their products communicate with the rest of the systems management portfolio. The enterprise management vendors, such as IBM and HP, offer products that rely on their own, proprietary infrastructure data collectors, but include the technology to communicate with other data collection programs.

The niche, exclusively BSM focused providers, such as Managed Objects, offer products that have the capability to use the data collectors of any of the major systems management systems. Indeed, Managed Objects tailors its products for use as a top layer that can be placed above any existing infrastructure management system, through such innovations as a virtual configuration management database, which automatically logs information relating to all infrastructure processes.

The successful implementation of business service management software requires a detailed map of the enterprise’s relevant business processes, and the IT resources they depend on. The accuracy of this map will determine the efficacy of the BSM project.

“If you don’t understand a business service flow, you can’t do BSM,” says Dale Powers of technology integration specialists Morse.

This means that BSM implementations are especially dependent upon the expertise and experience of the providers and their implementation partners.

Today, the mapping of business processes to IT services is largely a consultancy effort; but that is about to change. The key technology that will revolutionise the BSM market, say several analysts that track this sector closely, will be automatic business process discovery. This is an area that all vendors are pursuing, although few have released products that include automatic discovery.

“One of the main challenges facing BSM is the ease of implementation,” explains Allan Smith, UK managing director at BMC. The recent acquisition by BMC of Marimba marks a move towards establishing an automated discovery capability. “The more automated that process is, the simpler it will be.”

Some smaller vendors have already achieved an impressive degree of automated business application mapping. Of greatest note is SMARTS, a company that sprang from an IBM research and development lab in 1993 and was recently acquired by storage systems leader EMC.

Process discovery is also related to a third key differentiator – verticalisation. With the focus on business processes, vendors will need to tailor their products for the requirements of specific industries.

“I expect verticalisation across the board,” says Thomas Mendel, an analyst at IT industry advisor, Forrester Research. “All the major vendors will make solutions for all the appropriate industries.”

Managed Objects, for example, has done a particularly good job of targeting the financial services market, he says.

Office politics

Beyond predicting service outages before they happen and helping to ensure the smooth running of IT-based business processes, BSM lays an important part in translating the significance of IT operations to business executives.

“The IT shops that are riding the BSM wave have the opportunity to elevate themselves,” explains Compuware’s Michael Allen. “By benchmarking themselves in this way, they have the evidence to protect themselves against the outsourcing of IT.”

This might not be reason in itself to invest in an expensive BSM implementation, but the ideology of closely aligning IT resources with business processes will enable the IT managers to make better decisions about which resources are high priority and which are not, depending on the importance of the business processes they support.

In that way, BSM enhances ‘IT governance’. “The need for greater governance and regulation of IT can be reduced if the IT department ensures that IT service metrics are defined, aligned with overall business objectives, and measured for service quality on an on-going basis,” observes Thomas Mendel, an analyst at industry advisor Forrester Research.

So while a BSM implementation may involve considerable consultation and demand a business process driven outlook of the IT staff, the operational benefits of these interventions might afford the IT shop more recognition for its work.

The technology – and the philosophy – that will underpin BSM is already gaining traction. “There is an awareness of business service management in the mainstream already,” says Dale Powers a consultant with systems integrator Morse. “For a lot of the large enterprises, it will be tabled for the next twelve months.”

Others concur. “Out of the Top 500 companies,” says BMC’s Allan Smith, “490 will have business service management in their thinking already.”

As that thinking turns to buying, systems management will have attained the level of abstraction it has sought for over a decade – from a focus on systems metrics to the measurement of service provision, and, ultimately, to the fulfilment of business processes.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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