Nationwide formalizes capacity management

An IT insider recounts cross-company effort to create a process model.

An IT insider tells how he helped the insurer Nationwide formalize capacity management.

In January 2004, I was selected as process developer for Nationwide Financial in a cross-company Information Technology Service Management project for capacity management.

ITSM is a process-based framework for managing IT services. My responsibility as the process developer for Nationwide Financial was to work with process developers from Nationwide Services Co. and Nationwide Property and Casualty to develop an enterprisewide capacity-management process.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the de facto standard in IT service management worldwide, defines capacity management as "the process for ensuring that IT infrastructure capacity matches the evolving demands of the business in the most cost-effective and timely manner."

The most attractive aspect of this project was the opportunity it provided to create a common language that would be accepted and used by three organizations within the same company. To achieve this, the process developers compiled the best practices they had in common and applied them to each participating organization.At a high level a project like this would add value by accomplishing these goals:

  • Promoting a common awareness and understanding of capacity management.

  • Improving communication.

  • Improving current practices.

  • Creating and retaining valuable information.

  • Developing repeatable processes.

  • Reducing capacity costs.

Having considered these potential benefits, the project should easily sell itself and add value for the entire enterprise. The team included three process developers, a process architect, a technical writer, a project manager, a program manager and a project sponsor.

Ken Clark, Nationwide During our initial sessions, we gathered information from various sources to gain a general understanding of the industry's approach to capacity-management development. Because this was Nationwide's first effort to develop such a process, the experiences of other companies were examined.

To remain consistent with previous ITSM processes, the capacity-management approach to be developed would comply with the standards of ITIL.

With this directive, the capacity-management process was developed to apply to all three Nationwide participants. That proprietary model depicts how information flows through the primary and non-primary capacity-management processes. In addition, the model depicts the output of the process and shows how constant communication is built into the flow.

After the process model was approved, the next step was to develop procedures for each activity in it. Although input from the three Nationwide organizations differed at times, the group had to keep in mind that it needed to retain current best practices as well as maintain ITIL compliance in developing the procedures. To do this, we conducted a current-state analysis with practitioners in each Nationwide organization. Practitioners are generally individuals at the specialist or consultant level who monitor and handle daily activities related to capacity management.

To prepare for this analysis, the team distributed a questionnaire to the target application areas with the goal of identifying capacity-related best practices and incorporating them into the process.

The development team found that all three organizations had a common approach to capacity management: It was usually addressed after something had broken or a threshold had been exceeded, events that frequently resulted from practitioners not being informed in a timely matter about new capacity needs created by the addition of equipment. There also were no signs of proactive problem management. Both situations communicated the need for a formal capacity-management process.

Keeping current conditions in mind, the team developed process flows for each activity identified in the model. For example, the model includes primary processes, such as managing business, service and resource capacity. For these processes, the team gathered and assessed data, made recommendations to customers and notified stakeholders about potential effects on capacity.

These process flows had to satisfy the needs of each participating organization to add the greatest value to Nationwide as a whole. Accompanying each process flow were activity descriptions and work instructions. When the flows were completed, the process architect reviewed them for accuracy, continuity and ITIL compliance. Then we conducted a training class for practitioners to review the process.

This training was a critical element in improving the capacity-management process - and, in some cases, introducing one. All practitioners agreed there was a need for a formal process and were able to see the benefits it would yield. They also had the opportunity to compare notes on capacity-related incidents, identify common points of pain such as the timing and flow of communication, and ultimately see how the process can help.

Throughout the development process, the team kept in mind that the success of the capacity-management process would depend on its acceptance by practitioners and systems users. To help achieve this, current ITIL-compliant best practices, including mandatory testing, communication procedures and establishing data repositories, were retained and incorporated into the capacity-management handbook. As a result, practitioners' acceptance came without opposition.

The group is preparing to move into the implementation phase and is confident that the practitioners and systems users will remain enthusiastic about the ways the capacity-management process will benefit their daily activities.

Because these key players were involved in the development process, we learned from each other, listened to and addressed each other's needs, and created new processes that add value and efficiency. Nationwide's consolidated, cross-company approach fostered interactions by developers and practitioners that otherwise would not have occurred. Maintaining this level of engagement and collaborative input will ensure success in subsequent phases of the capacity-management project.

Clark is a process developer for Nationwide. He can be reached at CLARKK14@Nationwide.com.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.