So Many Acronyms, So Little Understanding

By Drew Robb

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What do IT and the army have in common? Acronyms. Lots and lots of acronyms. In fact, IT-speak, or geek-speak, is so rife with acronyms that non-techies cannot even begin to understand what those in the tech world are talking about let alone engage in a meaningful discussion about IT/business alignment.

But, even for us techies, acronyms have a funny way of blurring the very things they set out to simplify leading to confusion within IT and, therefore, even more confusion for the business folks we are trying to bring into the fold.

As case in point: Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), an IT research and consulting firm, just completed a report on the service level management (SLM) sector.

What they found was the SLM field has blossomed into a $1.4 billion industry. Very nice. But researchers also detected much confusion in the definitions of SLM, business service management (BSM) and other related terms all striving to say the same thing.

Some people use the terms to describe low-level technology management, others include functionality that only peripherally includes IT, such as business process management (BPM), and some use SLM as an all-encompassing term for the management of IT services. Yet, technically (no pun intended), they are all speaking about essentially the same thing.

“There have been a number of attempts to define what’s going on and there’s a great deal of overlap in these definitions, said Jon Collins, principal analyst for UK-based IT analyst firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton.

“The end result is confusion in the end user community, as vendors attempt to differentiate themselves on the basis of what amount to poorly specified marketing vehicles.”

With all the vendor yak about which is best, or which approach is more thorough, anyone who is confused about this area would do well to follow the advice of Greek Philosopher Plato: "If you would converse with me, please, first, define your terms."

Let’s follow his advice and see if we can make some sense out of all this.

Lisa Erickson-Harris, research director at EMA, defines SLM as defining, measuring, and managing IT services based on technical metrics. SLM metrics would include downtime, mean-time-to-repair, response time, etc.

Thus SLM is oriented toward technology and is important to IT or technical leaders. Reporting includes the number of SLA (service level agreement) violations, the number and length of downtime or outages, and other metrics concerning the functionality of the infrastructure.

She then attempts to clarify things by separating SLM from BSM, which she defines as the measurement and management of IT services according to business metrics.

BSM measures service quality on the basis of financial data and business transactions as defined by the company, including measures such as the number of orders completed per hour and dollar values of pending transactions.

BSM is meaningful to business leaders, yet is still a measure of IT service quality. Unfortunately, the EMA report then lumps them both together as both being part of the overall SLM market.

Confusion is fueled further by definitions that vary depending on the vendor and analyst being consulted.

Thomas Mendel, an analyst with Forrester Research, for example regards SLM as an IT-specific term dealing whereas BSM dynamically links business-focused IT services to the underlying IT infrastructure.

“A complete BSM system maps business processes and infrastructure resources; dynamically links the two together, and provides end-to-end management for the whole system,” said Mendel.

If that clarified things nicely for you, don’t relax too long. Mendel goes on to say he actually prefers the ITSM moniker (IT service management) as it encompasses the people, processes and technology tools needed for service management.

Hair Splitting and Quibbling

So far, we haven’t achieved much in the way of clarity. Some prefer the term SLM, some BSM and some ITSM—mostly based on personal preference and not, if there was such a thing, the IT dictionary. So beneath all this hairsplitting and quibbling over definitions, which term should CIO’s pay most attention to?

Erickson-Harris feels BSM adds the most value to CIOs, as they have to be cognizant of the value IT provides to the business and also of how the business perceives IT.

Because the CIO often sits at the table with the other line-of-business executives, he or she needs to present IT in terms that business executives can understand. Thus BSM solves one of the big problems for CIOs: Business cannot understand technical metrics and/or cannot relate those metrics to their goals and objectives.

Mendel and Collins, though, prefer ITSM as the umbrella term.

Collins is of the opinion that acronyms such as SLM and BSM will eventually be dropped in favor of the ITSM label, which he said, is more about using structured, measurable operational processes in the context of measurable service delivery, so that IT service delivery can be linked to business need.

“IT service management is a term that overlaps with several of the others,” said Collins. “Through the increased interest in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework and a more general acceptance of the term, ITSM is developing as a more acceptable marketing vehicle than those above, in the end user community.”

SLM Drivers

Whatever label it goes by, EMA found the SLM market—for which they combined both SLM and BSM even though, depending on who you talk to may be the same thing (or not)—to be $1.4 billion per year.

The leading vendors—BMC, CA, IBM, HP and Mercury Interactive—account for 58% of the market. So what’s driving this growing market forward at a 17% annual clip?

EMA found that SLM is in demand as it tends to lower IT costs, provides greater IT accountability, improves service levels, increases customer satisfaction and can help the business be more competitive.

Erickson-Harris cautions, though, that SLM (a.k.a. BSM, ITSM) is not a simple fix for an IT organization. It is a process methodology, which frequently requires reorganization of IT staff and the definition of new processes. Therefore, regardless of what you cal it—SLM, BSM, ITSM—IT must first have a good grasp on the business priorities in order to align IT with the overall corporate objectives.

If you can do this, then the only acronym you really need worry about is: SUCCESS.