Looking back, the emergence of business service management (BSM) seems inevitable. This new generation of tools helps IT organizations manage technology infrastructures within the context of the key services they provide for their customers. BSM tools are critical enablers for the increasingly popular process-focused IT Service Management (ITSM) approach.
What's driving this evolution to BSM and its related IT management paradigms? Executive Consultant Troy DuMoulin of Pink Elephant, an ITIL events and consulting firm, explains, "The interest in ITIL, the evolution of legislation like SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002), and the interest in standards is symptomatic of something much more rudimentary. At the base of this growing focus on formalization and legislation is a growing awareness of exposure and dependency that the business has on IT. Before, IT was seen as an enabler, supportive but yet somehow separated from the business processes themselves. But now there is a realization that there is no true separation between the business process and the underlying IT services and systems."
Information technology has become so vital to business today - so ubiquitous in every aspect - that most businesses literally cannot function without it anymore. Even simple manual tasks like filling a car with gas or cashing a check now require the support of an IT system.
This heightened reliance on IT has placed companies at a crossroads. They are compelled to address this new dependency by putting processes and technology in place to ensure IT does its job serving the business effectively. So the move to BSM can be seen as a natural reaction to the new way IT interacts with and enables business.
"BSM is a way for a company to agree on what the business expectations are, and manage the IT performance to those agreed upon expectations," clarifies Brian Childers, a consultant who also serves on the Board of Directors for itSMF USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting best practices in IT services management. "Once we understand the expectations, we can build the processes to suit the expectations, and manage against them."
Vendors are responding rapidly to these new service management imperatives. Leading software providers - like HP, BMC, Mercury and Managed Objects - are already introducing new BSM-versions of their popular tools to help revolutionize the way IT managers gauge technology performance and leverage that knowledge to meet business needs. And new kinds of automated, self-learning software from companies like Netuitive, are making it easier than ever for managers to cut across their technology silos and tie together their existing management tools.
"Over the years - especially during the frenetic IT build-out of the late 1990s - companies cobbled together a mishmash of systems within their IT organizations," adds Tony Gilbert, vice president at Netuitive. "The result now is a heterogeneous set of components in the IT environment, and individual departmental silos for managing each one. The right set of BSM tools makes it possible to tie together all of these pieces of technology across an enterprise and to monitor IT from the perspective of the service it delivers."
BSM tools help IT groups see technology in terms of how it impacts their business services, and zero-in on the cause of a particular performance issue that is affecting that service -- a capability companies do not have when they manage IT solely through technology silos. The new BSM tools can also enable a company to prioritize resources based on the relative importance of multiple business services. For example, a brokerage firm could manage online trading or online banking services holistically instead of piecemeal within silos: the server group, the database group, the application group.
More Than Just Technology
But completely changing a management approach is not easy. "For the last 20 years our industry has been focused on managing technology. Management of IT has been by domains, such as mainframes, networks and databases. But those domains don't truly live in isolation." Pink Elephant's DuMoulin continues, "A basic premise is that there is a business requirement for IT to understand how any given IT component relates to another and how these devices support or potentially disable a business process. When you understand IT from this perspective you see that you cannot manage by technology or device. You need to understand the relationship between those devices, and how they relate to IT services, and ultimately how IT services are consumed by business."
The people factor remains an issue, too. For many organizations, BSM often requires a corporate culture change. IT personnel must learn that they don't just manage boxes and applications, but actually provide services that the business consumes in order to survive and thrive. Most experts agree that the tools are out there, and are necessary, but they go hand in hand with changing processes and changing the way companies perceive the value of IT.
"Some people believe that it doesn't matter what technology you use as long as you have the right processes in place," comments Ken Wendle, the ITSM Solution Lead at HP. "But I have always said that IT service management is a combination of people and process, enabled by the right technology, all working in synergy with each other. It is about the intelligent blending of technology to enable and enforce the right processes, which then will allow an organization to execute around business priorities."
"I have seen companies that put the right processes in place, and trained the right people, but then created process silos," HP's Wendle also notes. "But ITSM is about cutting across the technology silos, not just creating another set of process silos on top of them. ITSM is about taking a holistic approach."
The BSM Evolution Continues
Where is BSM going from here? "One of the missing ingredients today is the enrollment of the business community," itSMF's Childers believes. "They need to understand what BSM is and why they would want to support it. I think the better job everyone does with bringing the business side onboard, the faster BSM will progress."
"I don't think companies have gained all the benefits of technology that they could," HP's Wendle agrees. "The business people need to understand and appreciate what IT can do to help the business side of the organization."
Clearly there is work to be done, but the adoption of ITSM and the BSM tools that support it continues to gain momentum as more companies realize this is a prerequisite for success in a new world where business and IT have become one.
"The prediction is that over the next five years, ITSM will be as impactful as ERP systems were, or maybe more," itSMF's Childers concludes. "I don't think ITSM is going away, because it makes too much sense." And innovative BSM vendors will continue to develop new tools to help.