Operating IT as a business still a challenge

newsmaker The only department missing most of the efficiencies non-IT units within an organization boast about, is often the IT department, says BMC CTO.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

newsmaker Cloud is overhyped, IT departments are still not operating efficiently as a business, and service level agreements are essential for IT organizations to mature.

These are issues that BMC Software CTO Tom Bishop say organizations today are still trying to work through.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Bishop explained that while non-IT departments in enterprises are supported by technology-dependent systems and tools that help automate manual processes, ironically, IT departments are missing most of these efficiencies.

He added that operating IT as a business in its own right remains a challenge today, and noted that more organizations today rely on service level agreements to drive their IT departments.

Bishop, who owns nine patents in fault-tolerant computing, also discussed how BMC is currently looking to separate hype from reality in addressing cloud computing. Touching on why the U.S. software company's approach in this space must be tied to the "unique management challenges" within IT data centers, he said a "blended" cloud environment could be what customers need.

It has been three-and-a-half years since you took over the CTO role at BMC in March 2005. How has the ride been? Have you achieved most of the things on your to-do list?
Bishop: We have witnessed a fundamental shift in the industry in the last three-and-a-half years, and now, with the business service management (BSM) platform and solution areas such as automation, we are truly beginning to transform the data cente, and as a result, IT's reputation to the business. When I first arrived, some of my objectives were:

  • To develop a BSM Dashboard product;
  • To establish and solidify Atrium as the platform for the integration services critical to the correct implementation of BSM;
  • To establish BMC as the premier Configuration Management Database (CMDB) vendor in the industry;
  • To extend BSM to include a full-featured IT automation suite (what we now call Service Automation); and
  • To extend BSM to include a more business-oriented set of solutions, which we gained with the acquisition of ITM Software.

We've accomplished all of these goals. I'm thrilled with the very positive reception we've received with regard to the ITM Software acquisition, establishing BMC as the leading vendor of IT business management solutions. With the acquisitions of Marimba, Emprisa, RealOps, and BladeLogic, we now have the industry-leading IT automation suite. And customers and analysts alike continually tell us that we have at least a two-year lead over the rest of the industry on large-scale CMDB implementations.

Of course, there is still a lot of work to do. We need to continue extending our Atrium integrations across the board, including with our partners. We're now completing the integration of the ITM Software solutions suite with the rest of our BSM solutions, while extending our Service Assurance suite with stronger integrations and the predictive intelligence capabilities gained from our ProactiveNet acquisition.

We're extending the capabilities of our industry-leading BSM solutions to embrace management of virtual environments, and we're working hard to dramatically decrease time-to-value and reduce ongoing cost-of-ownership. There is still plenty to keep me busy!

What do you make of the whole hype around SaaS, and now, cloud computing? Where, and how, do you see BMC placed in this space?
Well, there probably isn't a more overhyped concept these days than cloud computing. So the first task for BMC is to separate the hype from the reality, and to recognize that BMC's approach must be tied to the unique management challenges associated with the specific ways IT data centers will exploit some of the trends that come under the heading "cloud".

There's no question that IT organizations are looking for ways to avoid having to build out data centers to "peak demand". They want to leverage low-cost alternatives to dynamically adjust to changes in demand for computing capacity. They also want to move certain workloads to lower cost alternatives while continuing to maintain control over business-critical workloads.

So, we believe our customers will have both local capacity--the "traditional" model--and remote or cloud-sourced capacity. We think of this as a "blended" or "hybrid" cloud environment, what some have termed "partly cloudy".

Furthermore, IT organizations will likely support the most business-critical workloads in the local environment while migrating lower priority workloads to and from the "cloud" as the available local capacity requires and permits. So our challenge will be to augment our existing solutions to address the additional management challenges associated with this blended IT capacity model.

What is the one thing that has remained a challenge in the realm of IT services management? Is the monitoring of applications, or the management of cross-organizational systems, still a problem?
The challenge of monitoring applications and business critical services, and their associated infrastructure, has largely been addressed. The technology for such management is now largely available, including from BMC--although we know there are ways to do this more easily and with lower cost of ownership.

What has remained a challenge, and where we have seen the largest gains in IT management over the past several years, is getting IT not just aligned to the business they support, through the identification and management of business services, but also operating efficiently as a business in its own right.

When you look at non-IT departments in enterprises, all boast many technology-dependent systems and applications that have automated once-manual tasks. These gains have accelerated the speed at which business operates, while also reducing the cost of operating the business in general.

The only department missing most of these efficiencies and automated processes is often the IT department itself. We're just now coming to an era of realization where automating IT is essential, and the solutions to do so are becoming increasingly mature and easy to adopt by IT organizations of varying levels of maturity.

BMC believes IT should be more predictive and automated, capable of taking actions based on service-centric policies. In fact, you once described the future IT room as one that's maintained by a man and a dog, where the man is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to keep the man from touching anything. But, surely, there are areas of IT that cannot, and perhaps, should not be automated?
You are correct. There are areas of IT that should not be automated, and that prediction was intended to challenge us to think more holistically about automation than a real objective.

However, in a time where the macroeconomic environment is unstable and the budgets for IT departments are shrinking, the need to look at ways of automating processes that are highly-repetitive, labor-intensive, and error-prone is a must.

The reality is that expectations on the level of service provided by IT to the business and end-users will not decrease, even with an IT department operating on a scaled-back budget and staff. Automating certain things in a data center can help maintain or improve that level of service, while not requiring staff time to satisfy such basic requests and/or operations.

Examples of things that will not be, or even should not be, automated include the specification of policies, the definition of the business services delivered by IT to the business, and the implementation of business processes. These all have a critical collaborative component that will not easily yield to automation any time in the near future.

What is the one area you think companies need to improve with regard to how they implement and manage IT?
Definitely the business management aspect of IT, which is what we acquired with the ITM Software acquisition. Financial management, resource management, project and portfolio management, and vendor management, are all areas that need to be more holistically managed within the IT organization.

However, until recently, these could not be done so in an integrated manner. To become a better corporate citizen and servant to the business it supports, IT needs to be able to manage these very basic business-related aspects of their day-to-day operations. This will ensure they are efficient, effective and support the charter of the business, just as any other department is held accountable to the business, such as marketing, finance, and so on.

I know you hold nine patents in fault-tolerant computing, but what is the one patent you wish you owned or can one day lay claim to, and why?
That's a difficult question to answer. My nine patents were the result of the work I did while I was at Bell Labs, working on the systems software that runs the core switches in the public switched-telephone network, and many of them don't really translate easily into the non-telco world.

But, perhaps the one that might have applicability to data centers someday is my first patent, software update-on-the-fly. In the telco environment, it's typically not allowed to reboot the systems when the software needs to be upgraded, so we had to find a way to literally patch programs in place while they were running.

It's not easy to do, but it can be done. We might someday see IT systems become so business and real-time critical that reboots need to be avoided. When and if we do, a similar capability might be useful.

Some years back, companies were encouraged to manage their internal IT departments like they were external/contracted service providers, where IT would be penalized if they failed to meet stipulated SLAs (service level agreements). Is that something that you see more organizations doing these days?
I'm not sure I see many organizations where actual penalties are imposed--though there are a few--but certainly more and more organizations are being driven by SLAs.

We believe this is a very good thing and essential if an IT organization is to mature. The problem with SLAs is that too many IT organizations have them associated with low-level or infrastructure-related metrics--often called "technical" SLAs--as opposed to the much more useful business service-oriented agreement, or "business" SLAs.

This is changing, but it's happening slowly.

Gartner says some 23 percent of CIOs now report to the head of finance, compared to 38 percent who report to the CEO, and predicts that more IT heads will report to their CFOs by 2013. How do you think this will impact the way IT is deployed and managed?
The linkage between business and IT is only going to strengthen in the coming years. CIOs reporting to CFOs are indicative of this trend.

I think we are already seeing the transformation of IT and the transformation of the data center along these lines. The alignment of business and IT and the management of IT in direct correlation with business needs is what BSM is all about.

As IT gets further integrated with the business, having a platform such as BSM, is going to be essential to meeting service expectations, while operating as an effective business unit within the larger corporation.

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