During the first Internet bubble, one prominent IT journal promoted itself with the tagline that IT equaled the business.
Obviously that was a bunch of hype, but a chance conversation with a colleague from a financial data firm reminded us of the central role that IT still plays. His firm was dumping Documentum as its content management platform in favor of a homegrown system because managing content comprised the heart of its business. And their business was simply too unique to be addressed by anything off the shelf.
But in most cases, exceptions like these prove the rule. For most firms, technology helps them run some aspect of the business, but doesn’t define it. And that explains why packages have become facts of life across large, and in growing cases, small-midsize enterprises (SMBs).
Admittedly, enterprise apps aren’t exactly a hot growth sector. Aside from targeting SMBs (which will generate barely a fraction of the revenues of the Global 2000 heyday), most enterprise players like SAP are focusing more on expanding the footprint with their existing base.
Actually, let’s correct ourselves. While ERP is mostly a mature market, there’s at least one enterprise segment that’s begging for common solutions: the management and delivery of IT services.
Problem is, this has long been a fragmented, technical, and highly custom market. Infrastructure management players like BMC, CA, HP, and IBM have traditionally sold to varying silos within IT operations with products that were tools that required significant time and money to customize and integrate.
Yet, with regulatory compliance initiatives consuming greater chunks of IT bandwidth, something’s gotta give. When DBAs tweak databases, system admins provision servers, desktop support adds new users, or operations phases in a new Oracle or SAP upgrade, how do you document that their activities aren’t compromising the sanctity of financial data or the privacy of customer records? The only practical solution is adopting common processes that leave audit trails.
Over the past couple years, a new category of software with the incredibly awkward name of “Run Book Automation” has emerged to orchestrate some of the processes required for managing and delivering IT service. It’s drawn startups like Opalis and iConclude plus attention from the usual suspects. You model the workflows that it takes to handle a trouble ticket or provision a new user, tie in the appropriate management systems, then dashboard or report how the processes are orchestrated. Call it BPM (Business Process Management) for IT.
“Run Book Automation” is a pretty awful label because it implies that vendors are still designing this as a technical solution addressing their usual data center constituencies.
But executing and documenting that users are provisioned according to standard workflows is critical to the folks who own the business apps and conduct the audits. They’re the people who control the budgets, and they’re not going to buy “run book automation.” But they might pony up for something like “Business Service Management,” “Business Technology Orchestration” or maybe even BPM for IT.
Changing labels is the easy part. The challenges are to offer comparable functionality to prove to the folks writing the checks that this is a real market with products (not tools) that can be compared. Equally daunting to vendors is building an effective go to market strategy that reaches a higher-level business audience.
Fortunately there’s an answer here. The IT Infrastructure Library (or ITIL) is a framework that defines things like, what are the elements that comprise incident management or change management. More importantly, ITIL initiatives are being embraced by a critical mass of the Global 2000, primarily as one of the pillars of their SOX, HIPPA, or Basel II compliance initiatives.
For Run Book Automation (or whatever you want to call it) vendors, ITIL provides the blueprint for developing standard orchestrations that could become the next enterprise off the shelf application. OK, ITIL itself doesn’t prescribe implementation, so you can’t design solutions from it. But organizations like the IT Service Management Institute are beginning to develop formalized bodies of knowledge that might fill the gap.
All this is redolent of what happened the last time a cross-industry group formalized processes. Nearly 30 years ago, the American Production & Inventory Control Society (APICS) defined the processes for managing manufacturing inventories, something that eventually broadened to areas like finance and costing. The result, MRP and MRP II (and later, ERP), provided a fat target for technology vendors to develop packaged solutions. It eventually spawned a $25 billion market.