One message has resonated throughout the technology industry during the past 18 months of economic decline and budget cuts: IT simply has to work more closely with business.
Scores of software suppliers have latched on to this trend. Not least systems management software company BMC, which in April announced a “new strategic direction” of business service management, or BSM. BSM, according to BMC marketing, is “the linkage of IT resources and management solutions with the goals of the overall business”.
Most organisations, argues BMC, have traditionally focused on monitoring discrete applications or devices within the IT infrastructure, reacting to problems as they occurred. Increasingly, these organisations are beginning to piece together how these components influence the performance of the services they support. Few, however, are able to measure the impact the underperformance of certain applications within that infrastructure have on their business overall.
BMC has undergone a series of acquisitions in the hope of building a service management software suite that will plug this gap. In November 2002, it bought CRM and IT helpdesk software supplier Remedy from ailing competitor Peregrine, and in March 2003, it recruited the former general manager for OpenView – Hewlett-Packard’s rival systems management software suite, to manage the Remedy division. Most recently, it spent $42 million on Belgian software company IT Masters.
IT Masters, says Bert Meerman, vice president of BSM at BMC in Europe, is the “missing link” in service management. Its MasterCell product enables organisations to define business services, identify the technology components that support it, and determine the impact on the business if any of these components underperforms.
One of BSM’s early customers is Swedish bank FSB. If FSB gets a message that its Oracle server is down, says Meerman, that does not mean much in real terms. What it really needs to know, he says, is if that server failure is impacting its e-banking system or its human resources applications. “If it affects its e-banking system, then it’s losing money,” he adds.
According to Jean-Pierre Garbani, an analyst at Forrester Research, BMC’s focus on business services, rather than applications, is a sensible move. In future, as systems become more like utilities, and hardware suppliers such as IBM move towards autonomic computing, this service-centric model will become increasingly important, says Garbani.
However, delivering an accurate view of the impact of underperforming systems on business goals may not be as easy as BMC makes out. Although it has acquired strategically in a bid to flesh out its applications and database management capabilities – IT helpdesk (from Remedy), network and event management (from French software company Perform, acquired in 2001) and now IT Masters – it will take time to integrate these elements into a full service management suite.
BMC argues it is uniquely positioned to offer service management to users. Of the four major systems management software suppliers (BMC, HP, IBM and Computer Associates), BMC says it is the only company focusing purely on service management. And it is honing this focus further: in March, the company eliminated its storage management software line, reallocating staff to service management.
But if, as Forrester’s Garbani points out, the future of systems management lies in autonomic and utility computing, then BMC’s competitors HP and IBM will be able to cherry-pick the early adopters, as it is their systems that will underpin the new computing models.
BMC may have the early lead in service management, but there is plenty of time for the others to catch up.