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The three faces of business service management

Nov 21, 20056 mins
Data Center

* Three approaches to BSM

Business service management has become a subject of significant industry attention (albeit mostly among vendors than IT adopters). This is partly because the definition of BSM remains a mystery to many in IT – as my colleague Lisa Erickson-Harris has indicated in her recent research. While I like to refer to BSM as “business-aligned SLM,” the reality is that it’s far more varied than one might think. There are currently three fairly dominant approaches to BSM within the vendor community which are easily summarized and differentiated.

One way is to look historically at how service-level management has been marketed and adopted. SLM got into public prominence when network planners had to manage the WAN services – most notably frame relay – more than a decade ago.  Those initial SLMs were based on technical parameters involving guaranteed network throughput at guaranteed cost and made sense in a linear sort of way.

Since then, however, many in the user and the vendor communities have come to recognize that application performance when aligned in some way to business processes was the most meaningful way to approach SLM and service-level agreements (SLA). Rather than working from the bottoms up with technical metrics, it has become apparent that tiering downward from a meaningful and desired baseline involving some specific business service performance is a more effective and relevant way to plan SLAs.

As this awareness dawned within the industry in stages, the first term fairly universally applied was “business process management” or BPM.  In the most conscientious of conditions, this means applying clear metrics to moments of business impact – most notably transactions – with some modeling of not only IT services but the business services impacted. However, more often BPM was sloppily applied to describe just the management of the performance of IT applications. To make matters worse, BPM also had a different meaning and applied to a different market – as a means of documenting actual business vs. IT processes in granular workflows that very few IT vendors had any clue about – or any real interest in. 

As an example – while shipping a package from Detroit to Moscow might include 250 steps, only 15 of those might meaningfully intersect with IT applications.   Other related acronyms that seemed to crop up (and some still are) were – what I like to call the “BIM, BAM, BUMs” or business intelligence management, business activity management and business usage management. It was the beginning of a nice percussive array of sounds, but didn’t do much to clarify marketplace options.

More recently the term ‘BSM’ has come into prominence as a way of characterizing what just plain old folks like me might describe as “business-aligned SLM.”  This frees BPM to be what it is – a separate and still only marginally related market – but even so BSM still opens the door to a whole host of approaches.  I’ve selected three as most evident from the vendor side – but a word of caution should apply, since not all vendors use the term “BSM.” It’s still a free market after all. The three examples below can also be combined in large platform or framework offerings, as well as in some mid-tier suites, but virtually no vendor offers true leadership in all three.

* BSM as application performance in the context of impacting business performance is the first and most prominent by far, as well as one of the most varied in terms of scope and depth. Sometimes this includes some sophisticated transaction monitoring and alerting based on similarly sophisticated insights into relevant metrics for user quality. In some cases, these transactions and application performance metrics are modeled to capture end-to-end application component ecosystems (e.g. Web server, app server, database server, systems and network interdependencies) and to represent specific consumers and business workflows impacted. And to a large degree – at least in terms of basic modeling of business application performance – this first approach is a prerequisite to the second two examples.

* BSM as primarily workflow is the second – where the actual sequence of business workflows and IT transactions are captured and monitored. Taking the instance above of mailing a package from Detroit to Moscow, in this approach alerts could be generated at each of those 15 critical intersections when progress slows or halts in the actual business process. The problem might be an application failure or, for instance, a warehouse strike, and alerts could be appropriately sent to both the IT inventory application owner and the warehouse foreman. This is a nascent and hugely interesting approach to BSM – and in many of the instances where it’s being deployed, it is most heavily utilized as a means of alerting business process owners (e.g. the warehouse foremen of the world). 

* BSM as financial modeling is the third. This approach is also fairly nascent, and includes, in the best of examples – a rich mix of asset and service costing, as well as modeling consumer demand for services. If you believe as I do that there are three primary drivers for IT empowerment – understanding quality, cost and demand – this approach focuses on the last two. It can not only lead to generating “chargeback” billing, but it actually informs on “how” services are being used and how usage can impact both performance and cost. It, too, holds huge potential for the future as IT accountability becomes more business relevant and less technical voodoo.

I don’t wish to oversimplify what is becoming a useful and rich discussion within the industry surrounding BSM by suggesting that there are only three approaches. Each of these approaches contains many variants, and there are also other variants that come into play – such as managing business applications as a lifecycle effort – pre- and post- deployment. But these three approaches stand out for my money as the most meaningful, relevant clusters. They are certainly all areas to watch. If you believe there are other meaningful clusters or variants, or if you have some other comments on these three approaches to BSM – do feel free to contact me at