Regardless of whether the business environment is one of booming expansion or global contraction, one universal truth remains; that is, the pervasiveness and evolution of information technology (IT) has increased the dependency of common business processes on IT services. Often these business processes form the foundation for driving competitive differentiation and revenue growth. Almost every single activity in a business process, whether the process involves taking an order or billing for delivered products, is tied directly to the effective functioning of one or more software applications and the underlying computing and network infrastructure. Yet, most process owners have no understanding of the impact of the complex mesh of technology on the performance of their business processes. Worse, process owners have no means to proactively monitor the status and trending of underlying IT services to prevent potential problems, or catch them early before the effect is experienced by a wider constituency. In the face of today's tight budgets and organizational cutbacks, business services management (BSM) stands to take traditional network and systems management to a new level of value within the enterprise.
A common misconception is that the issues summarized above are relevant only to the largest organizations and enterprises. In fact, the reality is that these problems are prevalent across all enterprises - large, medium and small - as most enterprises lack the operational IT budget, staff and infrastructure to identify and resolve service-related problems. Furthermore, the room for error in many smaller companies is zero. The breakdown or lack of performance of key business processes can actually have a disproportionate impact on smaller enterprises as they struggle to survive, much less thrive.
Process owners can no longer stay uninformed, or discover issues after-the-fact, or be wholly dependent on an understaffed and over-worked IT operations team for service and process assurance. The business environment today demands that process owners take charge and become more accountable for the effective execution of their processes. In order to get there, business process owners need to be empowered and provided with a view to monitor the health of their business services IT infrastructure. Business process owners and the IT operations team need the tools that enable them to collaborate in ensuring the smooth running of the business.
The BSM Promise
Traditional network management systems focus on measuring and monitoring the technical metrics and trends of IT applications and infrastructure. The primary users of these systems are technicians and systems administrators in the IT operations organization. Although these systems enable the IT operations team to identify problem areas from a technical point-of-view for a given piece of the infrastructure, significant gaps exist in determining the business impact of a specific problem. If a router and a server fail at the same time, these systems offer no way for the network operations center (NOC) operator to determine which of these is more critical or which business services have been impacted by the failure of these devices.
The challenge is compounded further by the accelerating adoption of next-generation technologies, such as service-oriented architecture (SOA), virtualization, cloud computing, portal frameworks, grid architectures and mash-ups. A single business process or service may be supported by a number of composite applications, all of which could be dependent on a diverse set of distributed computing and communications elements. An isolated issue anywhere in this complex web may impact one or more tasks in the business process. Traditional network management systems and technology-centric monitoring approaches are incapable of determining the business impact of an issue in such a complicated infrastructure environment.
Given the disconnect that currently exists between the business owner's understanding of problems with his processes, and the IT team's view of what is going at the technical level, there is a need for solutions that bridge the information gap. Organizations need solutions that enable preemptive or rapid identification of business issues, accurate identification of root causes in the supporting IT infrastructure and quick resolution of problems.
A growing number of enterprises are recognizing the important role that Business Service Management (BSM) systems
play in connecting the worlds of IT and business. They see the value in having business process owners and the IT operations team collaborate as BSM system users in assuring the effective functioning of IT-enabled business processes.
Within a BSM-enabled environment, issues impacting the business are dealt with proactively and rapidly, with the business owner remaining informed and in control of setting priorities on the problems that need to be addressed right away versus things that can be postponed. Additionally, information is presented in a way that is relevant to the user roles within the organization. The business process owner may want to see a simple dashboard view for those IT services on which his business depends. The information in this view is described in business terms. An IT operations person may want to view the detailed performance data plots for a given server cluster for example, where the data is defined in technical terms.
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of IT management frameworks and concepts, has recently identified BSM as a best practice for IT infrastructure management and operations. Adoption of ITIL helps organizations improve the overall quality of IT services and reduce the total cost of ownership, and ITIL best practices impact the bottom line for all businesses. Enterprises need to view BSM as an integral part of an end-to-end IT operations strategy and approach.
To address the growing complexity of their IT-enabled business services, enterprises are often left to decide between two extremes: inexpensive point monitoring products that lack functionality versus expensive, legacy enterprise solutions that require significant ongoing administrative support resulting in high TCO. Enterprises require a BSM solution that is robust, easy-to-use and affordable - a solution that does not require businesses to make tradeoffs between functionality, solution cost and implementation expertise.
An ideal BSM solution for enterprises is an integrated, feature-rich solution with advanced capabilities, such as end-to-end correlated network and application monitoring, real-time status of IT services, integrated business/technical views and SLA management. At the same time, the BSM solution has to be easily installable and configurable, require minimal training to use and administer, have the ability to be made operational within days, and most importantly, require less than one or two dedicated personnel to manage.
Until recently, BSM solutions were being offered only by the large legacy systems management vendors. These solutions contain a confusing array of complicated features, require deep, specialized application-specific expertise to install and manage, involve execution of complex projects to complete an implementation, and have a very high TCO. The good news is that innovative solutions have emerged in the marketplace with a differentiated proposition where businesses are able to get advanced BSM capabilities at an affordable price, and more importantly, are able to get the solution implemented quickly and efficiently.
The increased reliance on IT for business process enablement and automation requires service management and monitoring tools that enable business process owners and the IT operations team to collaborate in ensuring the smooth running of business services. Businesses need to deploy advanced BSM solutions that provide real-time visibility into the performance of applications and IT services. BSM systems that offer enterprise-class functionality at a lower price point and lower ongoing operational cost are available in the marketplace today.
About the Author
Vikas Aggarwal is founder and CEO of Zyrion Inc., a provider of BSM and IT infrastructure monitoring software solutions. Mr. Aggarwal has been an entrepreneur and senior executive at multiple technology startups over the past 20 years. He was the founder and CEO of Fidelia, a venture backed IT infrastructure management software company, where he led the company's growth to about 100 customers before their acquisition by Network General. At Network General, he was the VP of Product Management where he oversaw product strategy through their acquisition by Netscout in late 2007.