In search of IT service assurance

IT managers and the IT management software industry evolved from tracking technical component availability to seeking the nirvana of true business service assurance.

IT managers abandon the separate worlds of their past and embrace managing network, system and application elements as one cohesive service.

Remember the days when the network team didn’t really talk to the server team and the application team existed in a creative bubble? I do, but not as an IT professional, as a journalist tracking the IT management software industry. 

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Much has changed in my 10 years watching vendors such as BMC, CA, HP and IBM, to name only a few, and their efforts to provide visibility and control to increasingly-complex environments. But one thing hasn’t changed: IT managers are tasked to do more with less and squeeze more services out of existing environments – and now they must guarantee business service levels that border on the impossible.

The evolution from component management to IT service assurance was not a fast one. Vendors would deliver monolithic frameworks of software designed to ease management and streamline operations, yet the products themselves often became too cumbersome to deliver the value they promises. Vendors responded offering mix and match product suites, even offering to work with competitor products – eliminating the rip and replace mandate of switching management vendors. Yet integration among third-party products, and in some cases a vendor’s own wares – still lacked the intuitiveness that IT managers needed to get the return on investment they deserved from these big software purchases.

And IT faced a few economic downturns during the years it was asked to deliver optimized services for lower costs. Aside from the job losses and budget cuts, a benefit of the financial foibles was not only an acceptance of but also the embracing of automation technology. Seen in the past as an unnecessary and potentially troublesome technology, various sorts of automation started to emerge as a time-saver and potential lifesaver for IT operations professionals.

Yet there was work to be done prior to putting the integrated software suites that could tap automation capabilities in place. IT departments needed to get their respective houses in order. That’s when seemingly stagnant best practice frameworks such as the IT Infrastructure Library and COBIT started to garner much-deserved attention. ITIL, for one, made a lot of sense to IT managers who found themselves fighting fires and never really finding time to focus on big, long-term IT projects that could benefit the business.

IT departments in 2010 are in a position to evolve how they deliver services and essentially do business for their business units. The recent economic woes have shined a spotlight on the need to operate as a streamlined business unit, adding to years of discussions around the ultimate nirvana of proper IT service management: true service assurance.

“IT is still struggling with growing pains, meaning that the current economic conditions present a catalyst for change and an opportunity to mature. These conditions present a catalyst because they bring more stringent budgets and the need to control IT expenses, and they present an opportunity because they open the door to initiatives that would have been considered lower priorities in times of abundance and complacency,” reads the Forrester Research report “It’s Time for IT Management Software 2.0.” “We therefore think that IT is on the way toward being managed as a business within a business: It means that IT will now make choices based on economic principles rather than technical whims.”

As IT managers are working to evolve their processes and streamline environments, this year I will also be evolving my role as a spectator in the IT trade press. This will be my last edition of the Network and Systems Management Alert for Network World. I am leaving to edit and author a vendor-sponsored blog (CA) on IT service assurance and other technologies, dubbed Service Assurance Daily. My goal is to continue to deliver objective content and analysis on the high-tech industry with a special focus on the trials and tribulations faces by IT operations and management professionals. Please feel free to message me there, on Twitter or contact me with any thoughts on the IT industry at denisedubie@gmail.com.

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