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What IT Management Should Enable: Making Money

This morning I had dialed into a fun teleconference with one of Tivoli’s customers. This customer told us how it’d used Maximo to establish an ITIL-y service desk. The company had gotten the ITIL fever and was on a “journey” (that’s a key-word to pay attention to in enterprise software as the unspoken adjective cluster is usually “painful and expensive, but necessary) to convert it’s IT process to ITIL. Pink Elephant would have been happy to see their name up there. With Maximo they’d established a service desk along with dashboard-cum-portal for different IT roles to login, check if there were any pending “SR’s” (Service Requests) for them to handle or, if they were the appropriate role, get over-all data about how IT was going.

I didn’t get details on how much this implementation cost, how many people it would require (though the customers said they were targeted less head-count), but, as you’d suspect from a customer call like this, they seemed happy enough. The customer was a large out-fit that did some heavy-duty US government outsourcing, so I figured that spending wasn’t too much of an problem.

Another funny-cause-it’s-true anecdote was an answer to a question about integrating other processes into the ITIL-seasoned IT backbone: well, we were planning on integrating process XYZ, but that guy just retired, so we’re a bit slower on that than we’d like. Yuh!

Mo’ Data

At one point, one of the customers mentioned that after implementing the service desk, they had a much richer set of data to deal with when making IT decisions. While we didn’t dig too deep into that, you can imagine that:

  • tracking the types of requests that come in and metrics about how much it costs (in time and money) to fulfill those requests, and,
  • having a mental model (probably ITIL-based) for looking at all that data would give managers a more informed ability to make answer questions like “are we provisioning new employees as effectively as possible?” or “are those $10,000/month servers worth what we pay for them (yet)?”

While I like to abstract up the scope to company-wide levels (as I quickly get to below), the same principal applies at all levels in a company. Unless you’re just entertaining yourself or looking to pass the time, when you’re operating in a business context, you need data about your situation that informs what you do next when it comes to business process, whether that doing next is making a change or supporting the current “way things are done.”

IT as a “Lever”

Now, I can’t say for sure if Maximo and other Tivoli products in particular actually do that from this mornings call. But, I like that topic of IT management theory a great deal. I was talking about it in-depth most recently on another call where I was asked what the deal with BSM (or “Business Service Management”) was. The cliché answer is that it provides “business/IT alignment,” which is sort of like saying “it’s mom and apple-pie.”

More nitty-gritty, the answer is that the vision of BSM is to reduce IT to a component of the over-all way the business makes money instead of temperamental silo of patch desktops and clunky services. On the face of it, that means attaching cash amounts to various IT “services” and “assets” such that business managers can start to make decisions about how IT is used, maintained, fixed, or killed off.

For me IT management serves one primary scenario: when VP’s are yelling at each other. You know the drill, there’s a room (or teleconference) full of execs and vice presidents playing CYA hot-potatoe or trying to convince each other to follow some plan to profit success. In what most people call “immature” setups, the issue is often finding out what went wrong in IT and how to go about fixing it. In more “mature” shops, the issue is getting the IT department to do the things the business plan du jour requires.

When IT Gobbles up Profit

In either case, the company is trying to make money by caring out the business processes most effectively (be that high margins, volume sales, customer satisfaction, or whatever the plan is). In the stereotypical example, the IT department retards that effectiveness by either

  • breaking and preventing the company’s eventually collection of cash from customers, and/or,
  • costing too much or taking too long to fulfill the IT needs of the business plan.

For me, the idea of BSM and contemporary IT management in general is centered around fixing those stereotypical IT problems. In modern business, this largely means giving decision makers in the company the data and processes needed to figure out what’s going wrong and then deploy corrective plans. Otherwise, as a manager, you’re left with making leaps of faiths for solving problems or deploying new ways of making money.

Much of the dashboards, reports, and other enterprisey feeds and tick-lists are targeted towards providing those sets of data and processes. The scenerios here are nothing revolutionary: you could be loosing customers because your web-site is slow when it comes to checking out; your IT staff spends most of it’s time keeping desktop application up-to-date and increasing inbox storage quotas, so they can’t go implement that new service; store managers are getting their nightly inventory reports days late, so they can’t hit the re-stocking window quickly enough to get more product to sell.

Instead of just telling you that a server is down, the idea is to tell you that your customers can’t but toothpaste (and you might want to check cluster 40bravo.atlanta). People need that toothpaste!

Mo’ Money

At the first stage, the IT department has to answer the question “how can I stop loosing money for the company,” at the next stage, the question is, “how can I use less money,” and the final stage is “how can I make the company money?” When IT was more simple — probably because there was less of it more so than individual IT chunks being “simple” — you generally knew that if everything was up and running, the business was doing all right.

When your IT threw-up a bunch of events and the icons turned red, it was time to scramble. Now that we have an endless amount of IT, both new and black-box legacy, the question is more complex than simply keeping machines up. The baseline for IT management, then, is turning lights green and red. While the “upper level” features you’re looking for are attaching conclusions and relationships to those lights that let you determine how you should respond to to make more money.

Disclaimer: IBM is a client, as are the BSM-fans, BMC.