The Next Big Thing: ‘Kool aid’-style business service management

A holistic way of tackling application and infrastructure issues was one of the main topics discussed at a recent BMC user conference

Some IT executives who have, in the past, adopted a service-centric approach to infrastructure management report that the change has delivered cost savings, streamlined operations and (in a few cases)generated greater revenue for their companies.

At BMC Software’s recent UserWorld conference, held in San Francisco, some of these users extolled the virtues of aligning infrastructure-component management with critical business applications and using industry standard best practices to reduce downtime, become compliant and eliminate the chaos in which many IT departments have operated in the past.

BSM (business service management) is an approach to application and infrastructure management that involves identifying critical business services and managing the infrastructure to support those services. However, industry watchers say BSM should not be viewed as the ultimate goal, but more of an enabler to other IT initiatives such as datacentre consolidation, enhanced automation and reduced complexity.

A recent report by Thomas Mendel, research director of Forrester Research, says that eventually, BSM will save IT departments money and help them move budget dollars from maintenance to strategic projects.

“By hitting all the stepping stones towards BSM, Forrester estimates that companies can save as much as a third of their IT operations budget,” the report says.

“As 76% of the IT budget goes to operations, firms that implement BSM can potentially save 25% of their overall IT budget.”

The idea is to manage the various network, server, storage, database and other IT components comprising the service as a whole — rather than tracking individual uptime and performance metrics on the components. That way, BSM supporters say, IT shops can more quickly identify the root cause of a performance degradation and prioritise their fixes based on those applications deemed more critical.

“It could take us two days to find the problem, and then it could have been one of the easiest things to fix,” says Tracy Foy, director of infrastructure systems at healthcare provider HealthSouth.

HealthSouth invested in BMC products and “drank the BSM Kool-Aid”, Foy says, to evolve IT operations from responding to issues reactively to a department that used consistent processes and managed services across some 1,200 network devices and 650 production servers. Committed to getting results within 90 days, HealthSouth worked with a systems integrator, used processes laid out within BMC’s product sets and dedicated two staff members to making over the department’s approach to infrastructure management.

“It’s a whole culture shift. It was a tools and knowledge transfer,” Foy says. And the BSM implementation is not complete by any means. “It’s an ongoing process, but our executives have started to notice there are fewer calls to them about systems being down.”

BSM technologies are helping David Colburn manage an ever-changing infrastructure at retailer Coldwater Creek. Colburn, who heads the chain’s technology operations, says the company invested in BMC technology to help it be more proactive about systems management.

“The only time we would focus on building capacity into systems in IT was when they broke,” Colburn says. “The business was getting annoyed by repeated incidents. We needed to get control over how we delivered services.”

With about 10,000 employees (6,000 of whom are seasonal), Colburn says Coldwater Creek needed consistent, repeatable processes in place to quickly provision and de-provision systems to support spikes and lulls in business demand. The company moved from HP OpenView Service Desk to BMC’s Remedy and decided to follow BMC’s processes, which are based on ITIL and other industry standards.

As a result, says Colburn, Coldwater Creek has reduced its annual expense budget by US$1.8 million (NZ$2.7 million) and achieved more than US$1 million in gross profit by accelerating the speed at which new locations opened — the IT group reduced this from about a week to a few hours. The streamlined operations also saved the retailer US$500,000 in annual software licences and US$200,000 in negotiations with hardware vendors.

Accenture is teaming with BMC not only to use its technology inhouse to streamline operations, but also to deliver outsourced infrastructure management services to its customers.

“BSM can help deliver a consistent and well-maintained environment in which to operate,” says James Harris, managing director of infrastructure outsourcing at Accenture.

Harris says his company has invested “just north of US$30 million over 24 months” to make the shift, which Accenture expects will help it avoid outages, failures and downtime caused by “self-inflicted wounds”. One goal involves enabling 75% of the IT workforce to be able to solve tier one problems.

That means front-line support workers would ideally solve the majority of day-to-day issues while the company focuses its higher-level engineers on more strategic IT projects. Harris reports the company has seen “up to a 90% tier one resolution rate.”

And while all BSM technology — from BMC and others — is “not yet fully baked” in his opinion, he says the process-oriented approach to infrastructure management will get results.

“If you follow proven technology-enabled processes religiously, that will pay for itself in spades,” he says.

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