Is the lack of ITSM and ITAM alignment causing application sprawl?

Urban sprawl

I’ve written before about the negative consequences of the lack of industry alignment between ITIL-focused ITSM functions, and the IT Asset Management groups which typically evolved somewhat separately.

A recent CapGemini study of CIOs and IT decision makers concisely illustrated one impact this is having:

  • 48% believe their business has more applications than it needs (up from 34% over the previous three years).
  • Only 37% percent believe the majority of their applications are mission critical.
  • 70% believe at least a fifth of their company’s applications share similar functionality and could be consolidated.

The majority believe a fifth of those applications should be retired or replaced.

This shows a very strong consensus amongst IT leaders: IT is spending too much money and time on too many applications, with too much overlap. And in the rapidly evolving application landscape, this impact is by no means limited to traditional on-premise software: Skyhigh’s 2013 study on cloud service adoption found that enterprise respondents used, on average, well over 500 cloud services (the largest number of services found in one organisation was an eye-watering 1769).[Update for Q1 2015: SkyHigh now put the average at over 900]

If we want to remain serious about understanding the business services our IT organizations are managing, overseeing and underpinning, surely we can’t lose track of key assets like this?

How can IT possibly aim to control this sprawl, understand its impact, pinpoint its risks and and remove its vulnerabilities, if there is no unified overseeing function? Who is tracking which users are entitled to which services? Who ensures that users are equipped with the right services, and who removes their access once they leave, to ensure both data security and cost control? Who can identify the impact on key services if an application is removed or consolidated?

Concerningly, this does not appear to be high on the agenda in ITSM discussions. We still see two separate threads in the conference ecosystem: ITSM conferences rarely address asset management. Asset management conferences talk about suppliers and infrastructure without putting them in the context of the services they underpin. My own role involves product management of an ITAM system which is part of an ITSM suite, so I attend both sets of conferences, see both parallel tracks, and experience nagging concerns in each case that the other side of the picture is overlooked.

Recent initiatives such as the Pink Think Tank 14 are, welcomely, addressing in increased detail the multi-sourced, multi-vendor evolution of IT service delivery, but there still does not appear to be a detailed focus on the actual assets and software being supplied by those vendors.  That’s a gap. Those vendors fill the IT environment with assets, from physical kit through software services to less tangible “assets” like critical people with vital knowledge.  All those things cost money. They may have contractual associations. We may need to know, very quickly, who owns and supports them. And if a supplier is replaced, we need to know what they might take with them.

The harsh reality, as clearly shown by CapGemini’s study, is that CIOs and leaders are asking questions about consolidation that will require a detailed, holistic understanding of what we are actually spending money on, and why it is there.

Let’s work together to fix ITAM’s image problem

Intel Datacenter

Intel Datacenter

This is a long article, but I hope it is an important one. I think IT Asset Management has an image problem, and it’s one that we need to address.

I want to start with a quick story:

Representing BMC software, I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM).  I was curious about how well attended my presentation would be. It was up against seven other simultaneous tracks, and the presentation wasn’t about the latest new-fangled technology or hot industry trend. In fact, I was concerned that it might seem a bit dry, even though I felt pretty passionate that it was a message worth presenting.

It turned out that my worries were completely unfounded.  “Benchmarking ITAM; Understand and grow your organization’s Asset Management maturity”  filled the room on day 1, and earned a repeat show on day 2. That was nice after such a long flight. It proved to be as important to the audience as I hoped it would be.

I was even more confident that I’d picked the right topic when I’d finished my introduction and my obligatory joke about the weather (I’m British, it was hot, it’s the rules), I asked the first few questions of my audience:

“How many of you are involved in hands-on IT Asset Management?”

Of the fifty or so people present, about 48 hands went up.

“And how many of you feel that if your companies invested more in your function, you could really repay that strongly?”

There were still at least 46 hands in the air.

IT Asset Management is in an interesting position right now.  Gartner’s 2012 Hype Cycle for IT Operations Management placed it at the bottom of the “Trough of Disillusionment”… that deep low point where the hype and expectations have faded.  Looking on the bright side, the only way is up from here.

It’s all a bit strange, because there is a massive role for ITAM right now. Software auditors keep on auditing. Departments keep buying on their own credit cards. Even as we move to a more virtualized, cloud-driven world, there are still flashing boxes to maintain and patch, as well as a host of virtual IT assets which still cost us money to support and license. We need to address BYOD and mobile device management. Cloud doesn’t remove the role of ITAM, it intensifies it.

There are probably many reasons for this image problem, but I want to present an idea that I hope will help us to fix it.

One of the massive drivers of the ITSM market as a whole has been the development of a recognized framework of processes, objectives, and – to an extent – standards. The IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL, a huge success story for the UK’s Office of Government Commerce since its creation in the 1980s.

ITIL gave ITSM a means to define and shape itself, perfectly judging the tipping point between not-enough-substance and too-much-detail.

Many people, however, contend that ITIL never quite got Asset Management. As a discipline, ITAM evolved in different markets at different times, often driven by local policies such as taxation on IT equipment. Some vendors such as France’s Staff&Line go right back to the 1980s. ITIL’s focus on the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) worked for some organizations, but was irrelevant to many people focused solely on the business of managing IT assets in their own right.  ITIL v3’s Service Asset Management is arguably something of an end-around.

However, ITIL came with a whole set of tools, practices and service providers that helped organizations to understand where they currently sat on an ITSM maturity curve, and where they could be. ITIL has an ecosystem – and it’s a really big one.

Time for another story…

In my first role as an IT professional, back in 1997, I worked for a company whose IT department boldly drove a multi-year transformation around ITIL. Each year auditors spoke with ITIL process owners, prodded and poked around the toolsets (this was my part of the story), and rated our progress in each of the ITIL disciplines.

Each year we could demonstrate our progress in Change Management, or Capacity Management, or Configuration Management, or any of the other ITIL disciplines. It told us where we were succeeding and where we needed to pick up. And because this was based on a commonly understood framework, we could also benchmark against other companies and organizations. As the transformation progressed, we started setting highest benchmark scores in the business. That felt good, and it showed our company what they were getting for their investment.

But at the same time, there was a successful little team, also working with our custom Remedy apps, who were automating the process of asset request, approval and fulfillment.  Sadly, they didn’t really figure in the ITIL assessments, because, well, there was no “Asset Management” discipline defined in ITIL version 2. We all knew how good they were, but the wider audience didn’t hear about them.

Even today, we don’t have a benchmarking structure for IT Asset Management that is widely shared across the industry. There are examples of proprietary frameworks like Microsoft’s SAM Optimization Model, but it seems to me that there is no specific open “ITIL for ITAM”.

This is a real shame, because Benchmarking could be a really strong tool for the IT Asset Manager to win backing from their business. There are many reasons why:

  • Benchmarking helps us to understand where we are today.
  • More importantly, it helps us to show where we could get, how difficult and expensive that might be, and what we’re missing by not being there.

Those two points alone start to show us what a good tool it is for building a case for investment. Furthermore:

  • Asset Management is a very broad topic. If we benchmark each aspect of it in our organizations, we can get a better idea of where our key strengths and weaknesses are, and where we should focus our efforts.
  • Importantly, we can also show what we have achieved. If Asset Management has an image problem, then we need a way to show off our successes.

And then, provided we work to a common framework…

  • Benchmarking gives us an effective way of comparing with our peers, and with the best (and worst!) in the industry.

At the IAITAM conference, and every time I’ve raised this topic with customers since, there has been a really positive response. There seems to be a real hunger for a straightforward and consistent way of ranking ITAM maturity, and using it to reinforce our business cases.

For our presentation at IAITAM, we wanted to have a starting point, so we built one, using some simple benchmarking principles.

First, we came up with a simple scoring system. “1 to 4” or “1 to 5”, it doesn’t really matter, but we went for the former.  Next, we identified what an organization might look like, at a broad ITAM level, at each score. That’s pretty straightforward too:

Asset Maturity – General Scoring Guidelines

  • Level 1: Little or no effective management, process or automation.
  • Level 2: Evidence of established processes, automation and management.  Partial coverage and value realization. Some automation.
  • Level 3: Fully established and comprehensive processes. Centralized data repository. Significant
    automation.
  • Level 4:  Best-in class processes, tools and results. Integral part of wider business decision support and strategy.  Extensive automation.

In other words, Level 4 would be off-the-chart, industry leading good. Level 1 would be head-in-the-sand barely started.  Next, we need to tackle that breadth. Asset, as we’ve said, is a broad subject. Software and hardware, datacenter and desktop, etc…

We did this by specifying two broad areas of measurement scope:

  • Structural:  How we do things.  Tools, processes, people, coverage.
  • Value: What we achieve with those things.  Financial effectiveness, compliance, environmental.

Each of these areas can now be divided into sub-categories. For example, on “Coverage” we can now describe in a bit more detail how we’d expect an organization at each level to look:

“Asset Coverage” Scoring Levels

  • Level 1: None, or negligible amount, of the organization’s IT Assets under management
  • Level 2: Key parts of the IT Asset estate under management, but some significant gaps remaining
  • Level 3: Majority of the IT Asset estate is under management, with few gaps
  • Level 4: Entire IT Asset estate under full management by the ITAM function.

This process repeats for each measurement area. Once each is defined, the method of application is up to the user (for example, separate assessments might be appropriate for datacenter assets and laptops/desktops, perhaps with different ranking/weighting for each).

You can see our initial, work-in-progress take on this at our Communities website at BMC, without needing to log in: https://communities.bmc.com/communities/people/JonHall/blog/2012/10/17/asset-management-benchmarking-worksheet.  We feel that this resource is strongest as a community resource. If it helps IT Asset managers to build a strong case for investment, then it helps the ITAM sector.

Does this look like something that would be useful to you as an IT Asset Manager, and if so, would you like to be part of the community that builds it out?

Photo from the IntelFreePress Flickr feed and used here under Creative Commons Licensing without implying any endorsement by its creator.

Ticket Tennis

The game starts when something breaks.

A service is running slowly, and the sounds of a room full of frustration echo down a phone line. Somewhere, business has expensively stopped, amid a mess of lagging screens and pounded keyboards.

The helpdesk technician provides sympathetic reassurance, gathers some detail, thinks for a moment, and passes the issue on. A nice serve, smooth and clean, nothing to trouble the line judges here.

THUD!

And it’s over to the application team.  For a while.

“It’s not us. There’s nothing in the error logs. They’re as clean as a whistle”.

Plant feet, watch the ball…

WHACK!

Linux Server Support. Sure footed and alert, almost nimble (it’s all that dashing around those tight right-angle corners in the data center).  But no, it seems this one’s not for them.

“CPU usage is normal, and there’s plenty of space on the system partition”.

SLICE!

The networks team alertly receive it.  “It can’t be down to us.  Everything’s flowing smoothly, and anyway we degaussed the sockets earlier”. (Bear with me. I was never very good at networking).

“Anyway, it’s slow for us, too. It must be an application problem”.

BIFF!

Back to the application team it goes.   But they’re waiting right at the net.  “Last time this was a RAID problem”, someone offers.

CLOUT!

…and it’s a swift volley to the storage team.

I love describing this situation in a presentation, partly because it’s fun to embellish it with a bit of bouncy time-and-motion.  Mostly, though, it’s because most people in the room (at the very least, those whose glasses of water I’ve not just knocked over) seem to laugh and nod at the familiarity of it all.

Often, something dramatic has to happen to get things fixed. Calls are made, managers are shouted at, and things escalate.  Eventually people are made to sit round the same table, the issue is thrashed out, and finally a bit of co-operation brings a swift resolution.

You see, it turns out that the servers are missing a patch, which is causing new application updates to fail, but they can’t write to the log files because the network isn’t correctly routing around the SAN fabric that was taken down for maintenance which has overrun. It took a group of people, working together, armed with proper information on the interdependent parts of the service, to join the dots.

Would this series of mistakes seem normal in other lines of work?  Okay, it still happens sometimes, but in general most people are very capable of actually getting together to fix problems and make decisions.   Round table meetings, group emails and conference calls are nothing new. When we want to chat about something, it’s easy.  If we want to know who’s able to talk right now, it’s right there in our office communicator tools and on our mobile phones:

It’s hard to explain why so many service management tools remain stuck in a clumsy world of single assignments, opaque availability, and uncoordinated actions.  Big problems don’t get fixed quickly if the normal pattern is to whack them over the net in the hope that they don’t come back.

Fixing stuff needs collaboration, not ticket tennis. I’ve really been enjoying demonstrating the collaboration tools in our latest Service Desk product.  Chat simply makes sense.  Common views of the services we’re providing customers simply make sense.  It demos great, works great, and quite frankly, it all seems rather obvious.

Photo courtesy of MeddyGarnet, licensed under Creative Commons.