Overdue services

For too long the IT department has engaged with the wider business on purely technical terms, its performance measured in downtime, response times, and CPU usage. But today, forward-thinking CIOs are implementing a range of monitoring and reporting techniques and tools, ensuring that IT objectives are clearly spelling out how these support business processes.

This new approach is referred to business service management (BSM). It promises to redefine the relationship between the IT function and the business. But as discussed during the latest Information Age webinar – sponsored by Hewlett-Packard – the road towards this “IT Nirvana” is a long one.

The very idea that the relationship between IT and the wider business may need redefining is “a total admission of failure” by IT, says Tony Price, IT service management practice principal at HP.

Business users demand that IT reports to them in a process-centric format, says Peter O’Neill, principal analyst at IT advisory group Forrester Research. “The users see IT as enabling business processes and will measure its effectiveness against those terms.”

Alongside these internal demands, external forces are also driving IT down the path of BSM. Regulatory compliance, for one, is now an essential part of business operations.

This has led to resurgence of interest in methodologies for controlling the IT infrastructure, such as the IT infrastructure library (ITIL).

The concepts with ITIL support the IT function’s ability to act as a service through the planning of consistent, documented and repeatable processes that improve the delivery to the business. “The single biggest factor in ITIL adoption in the US over the last two years has been Sarbanes-Oxley,” says Price.

But while frameworks such as ITIL play an important role in preparing the IT department to move towards BSM, many of the early proponents of ITIL have failed because they do not understand the need to embed the principles in processes across the business, says Price.

The transformation to a process-centric view of IT has implications far beyond the IT department, says Aidan Lawes, CEO of the itSMF user group. As departments have become used to owning IT infrastructure, they can be “reluctant to lose control” – but it is a necessary part of moving towards a service-driven IT function.

One of the key stages in building an ITIL framework, overcoming internal resistance to a change in IT service delivery, and ultimately in moving toward BSM, is to build up an accurate process for tracking IT assets, says Forrester’s O’Neill.

IT asset management can be hugely beneficial to businesses, providing a consistent method for managing the lifecycle of both hardware and software, while providing the foundation for BSM.

“It seems so fundamental that you wonder why anyone wouldn’t be doing it,” says David Osman, vice president for asset management at financial services giant, Deutsche Bank. “But IT asset management also requires sharing information across all kinds of departments that don’t often talk.”

It has been large organisations that have, understandably, shown the greatest appetite for IT asset management. According to Forrester’s research roughly half of all global businesses with revenues in excess of $1 billion have implemented some form of IT asset management programme. But anecdotal evidence suggests that “up to a third of those may be failed projects”, says O’Neill.

Given such failure rates for even the earliest stages of BSM, it will be years before the majority of IT departments make the transition. Indeed, as O’Neill points out, some may never make it all.

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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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