No Panacea: The Vendor Hype Around Complete Solutions

By Pam Baker

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“Business alignment” has almost become a mystical chant as IT executives everywhere try to conjure the magical power of technical oomph combined with business zing that will ultimately turn ideas and processes into bankable gold.


Vendors, of course, are highly aware of this quest and have souped-up their offerings in an effort to offer the perfect elixir. The vendors, regardless of the type of technologies they peddle, all call these new creations “end-to-end solutions.” But at the end of the day, are end-to-end solutions truly a philosopher's stone or are they merely snake oil?


“A lot of vendors position themselves to be end-to-end solution providers, but I have yet to see a true end-to-end solution that can address all of our needs,” said Maricel Cabahug, CIO at Yaskawa Electric America.


Does that mean that “end-to-end” solution is just another buzz phrase?


“While it’s not just a buzz phrase, it does mean different things to different people,” said Julie Craig, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). “At this point, we shouldn’t be looking for a ‘complete’ product. Instead, assess a given product in terms of the capabilities it contributes to the broader perspective.”


Cabahug agrees. She said that all end-to-end solutions are weak or lacking in one area or another. “Bottom-line, end-to-end solutions can work but I would not call it complete. Rather, it is a work in progress.”


The key is to understand what your needs are and then find a solution that is solid or robust where you need it to be. “This is where a CIO's understanding of the company comes into play,” she said.


Does this mean that business alignment is still a manual job for CIOs? No.


“If a CIO can just buy an end-to-end solution then sit back and relax, then life would be good and they should return a big chunk of their pay,” laughs Cabahug.


Still, most CIOs aim for simplification and standardization, hence, the push for end-to-end solutions. Cabahug said she tries to leverage her company’s investments in end-to-end solutions. “Unfortunately, occasionally, we come across business needs that, at that time, our standard solution cannot handle without a lot of additional investments on enhancements or modifications,” she explains. “In those cases, we do bring in a niche application or technology but set expectations that it is an interim solution.”


Her motto is to “use it, learn from it, but don't get emotionally attached to it” because the long-term plan is to replace it with the company’s standard solution.


If end-to-ends are more “end-to-mid,” how do you use them to your overall advantage? First, understand the underlying paradigm shift. “It’s no longer about managing networks, databases, or servers,” said Craig. “It is about managing applications.”


However, end-to-end application management is a term with so many different meanings it is virtually meaningless. So, what’s the best way to really navigate the application management landscape? Craig said that rather than requiring a single product to be complete, see true end-to-end application management as requiring a set of capabilities that, together, yield insight into the “multi-dimensional application fabric.”

The broad product capabilities that are needed to provide a true end-to-end view include the following:


       Data center analytics—traditional element managers such as server and network management solutions.


       Application discovery and dependency mapping—products that discover packaged applications and map them to their underlying infrastructure.


       Application code analytics—products that provide insight necessary to identify, track and manage custom applications.


       Networked application management—products that provide insight into transactions, transaction flows, and the relationships between transactions and underlying infrastructure.


       Application integration analytics—products that provide insight into middleware and variable transaction paths across distributed systems.                   


The configuration management data base (CMDB) and reporting products are also part of the end to end equation. The CMDB provides the “glue” that makes building a big picture of an application possible, said Craig, and reporting and analytics provide tools needed to make management information actionable.


As far as actually selecting and investing in a particular end-to-end solution, Cabahug said there is far more to it than simply adding the numbers and measuring overall need. “You have to know where you can and cannot compromise."


Cabahug recommends a deep understanding of both the product and the vendor before you buy. “Ask questions early: Does it address all of your primary concerns right now? If not, does the vendor plan to address those weaknesses in the future and when? Can you wait? Is there a work around you can offer to the business in the meantime?” 


The Dark Side


No matter how great the end-to-end solution appears, it is only half the equation. Vendor reliability is equally important. “At one time or another, we have all experienced the pain of having our vendors ‘disappear’ and then we're left with a legacy application that might just as well be home grown,” she said.  


Despite the very hands-on approach needed to weld end-to-end solutions into IT’s arsenal, end-to-end automation is undeniably the way to go.


“It’s important to keep in mind that all best practices point to increasing levels of automation being fundamental to IT maturity,” said Craig. “The degree to which CIOs leverage automation as it continues to mature will have a direct impact on the levels of service the IT organization can deliver to the business.”


Cabahug agrees that in today’s business world where technology must talk seamlessly and information must flow from one system to the other, in real time, there are few alternatives  For an organization that chooses to spend most of its IT dollars on IT innovations rather than on maintenance expense, she said, several options are quickly eliminated. “Building our own end-to-end solution is out of the question.”