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Next-Gen Tools Help IT Run Like a Business

By Dennis Drogseth

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Next-generation asset management (NGAM) was conceived around the idea that enterprise IT is becoming more and more of a business as business services and IT services become more closely intertwined. At its core, the NGAM vision is a simple one: IT services are “products” and so all capex and opex assets associated with IT are investments made to support the creation, provisioning, management, optimization and retirement of these services.

Such a vision isn’t even especially new. It was and is logically the model for service providers (most specifically telecommunications service providers) where this type of service lifecycle costing and valuation is old hat. But in enterprise IT it is a new idea; sometimes countered with the argument that most capex and opex investments support many services, not just one. This argument is in large part just an excuse for sloppy accounting and planning, and a great way to avoid the thorny issues of understanding real usage and costs for individual services. It also circumvents the even thornier issues of how to assign meaningful dollars-and-cents values to them. On the other hand, a more service-centric model offers the visibility, control, and responsiveness to changing business conditions that’s needed both today and in the years ahead.

NGAM Landscape

Is there such a thing as an NGAM market? To define an “NGAM marketplace” in 2009 would be to create fiction. Rather NGAM is a landscape of many markets and technology, logically associated more in the way that species evolve than in the way an engineer or philosopher might create a platonically perfect set of categories from scratch.

The NGAM technology landscape fits in two complementary buckets: Foundations and a category called Analytics, Optimization and Business Planning. This latter category is best optimized when significant Foundation technologies are in place, but the interdependencies are not absolute, and it would be wrong to assume that the only way to proceed is to get all the “foundations” in place before even considering good analytic tools. In fact, a judicious migration towards more advanced analytics after just some of the foundations are in place can do wonders in delivering value early in the deployment cycle.

A list of market and technology choices is below:

Foundations

Inventory and discovery – Inventory and discovery combines multiple markets only some of which are directly linked in the minds of most in the industry with asset management. For instance, while desktop and systems discovery and inventory has a fairly direct asset linkage, Layers 2 and 3 network topology is more closely associated with root cause. Yet as many IT organizations are beginning to realize, these multiple discovery tools really do need to support and reinforce each other. Inventory and discovery is easily worth a whole column in itself, spanning domain-centric markets and application dependency mapping across a wide range of providers.

Procurement and contract management – This is at the core of traditional asset management, and is an area largely addressed by platform solutions in all four major platform management vendors (BMC, CA, HP, IBM) today, where it is increasingly becoming a part of asset lifecycle management (ALM).

Software license management – One of the fastest ways to achieve ROI in an asset management deployment is through ensuring that software licenses are both utilized and compliant with provider requirements. Platform vendors, desktop and systems vendors, and some niche providers make up this group.

Change and configuration management – Change and configuration is central to ALM. The growing importance of configuration management has been one of the most transformative factors in supporting IT’s growth and maturity in the last several years. However, even after a rash of acquisitions, in many areas configuration management still reflects its fragmented, domain-centric roots.

CMDB/CMS – A configuration management systems (CMS) can provide a more reconciled, automated and more easily analyzed approach to managing assets in support of IT services. Once dominated by platforms and service desks, CMDB/CMS offerings are becoming more diverse, and should continue to diversify as more individualized requirements become addressed through federation.

Incident and problem management – ALM requires associating incident and problem management with specific assets for both ongoing maintenance and support, as well as to support lifecycle planning and troubleshooting. Incident and problem management has been for years the province of service desk vendors.

Domain specific – Just as asset management in IT organizations is typically fragmented by domains, the technology markets also reflect this fragmentation. In some areas, such as printers and peripherals, storage and telecommunications expense management, the focus is unique enough to define quite distinct markets.

Analytics, Optimization and Business Planning

Chargeback, demand management, and customer usage analysis – While traditionally linked in thought and definition to bill generation for lines of business, some of these products can also support an understanding of service value from a demand perspective (and infrastructure optimization from a usage perspective). This is one of NGAM’s capstones; mostly available today outside of domain-specific accounting (e.g., database usage) through platforms and niche providers.

Service value management (including SLM and BSM) – Service value management in Q2, 2009 remains more of an aspiration than a reality. And yet, in parallel with costs, it represents virtually 50% of the equation when it comes to financial planning. You can begin to piece it together through SLM, QoE, service portfolio management chargeback and other investments.

Capacity management and infrastructure optimization – Capacity management, as separate from traditional performance management, is still a largely under-addressed area with a scattered set of categories and markets. These include a handful of vendors with capacity-oriented if/then analytics, facilities planning vendors, and Green IT vendors, among others.

Service catalog and service portfolio management – The service catalog can become an actionable contributor to IT efficiencies by automating request fulfillment and approvals, tracking demand and financial information, as well as other relevant parameters. In more mature IT organizations, service portfolios are becoming central points for collecting service costing and usage information. Platforms, service desks, and some SLM vendors have offerings here.

Enterprise/ project portfolio management – Project and portfolio management solutions can be an important component of forward-looking asset management strategies. Vendors range from platforms, to service-centric and/or financial-centric solution suites.

Financial planning, risk management and advanced analytics – This is one of the most significant areas for potential growth in NGAM, and complementary to more bottoms-up initiatives such as CMS-driven capabilities for assimilating and reconciling service-to-infrastructure interdependencies. With technologies ranging from data mining and OLAP to other advanced analytics, these capabilities are available from a small but growing number of platforms and uniquely focused solution sets, some of which offer SaaS options.

I realize that this is a lot of technology to consider. Many of technologies you may not have thought of in the context of asset management or even financial planning. So, the point here is not to suggest that you go on a huge buying spree to fill in every nook and cranny. Rather, it’s to give you a roadmap for capturing synergies in existing and planned investments to leverage them more effectively and to empower you to become more “financially” proactive.

Dennis Drogseth is vice president of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates, an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can reached at ddrogseth@enterprisemanagement.com.