Systems management hits impasse

by Martin Atherton

Most of what the IT department does these days can be rationalised as a service. Whether or not the organisation sees it in those exact terms is not important for now.

Nomenclature aside, IT components all the way up to the functions used by business users have to offer visibility, precision, timeliness, speed, repeatability and efficiency.

This has become especially true in modern business, where the marginal and the not so obvious can constitute the edge over the competition.

Most organisations can track the health and performance of components
at granular levels. But as far as an evolutionary process is concerned, this represents a dead end. The need for greater accountability means strategies for IT systems management now have to include business context. What IT delivers has to be aligned with business goals and outcomes.

The performance of individual widgets means little to the business, whereas, for example, the level of customer satisfaction with a returns process does.

What this means is that those responsible for systems management strategy need to step back and ask themselves several key questions.

What is the result of our historical investment, where do we need to be heading, what changes should we be exploring to allow it to happen, and what might our capabilities look like once we are on the right road?

Interestingly, the answer to the last question is ’it depends’, while the answer to the first is almost universal and constant.

Recent Freeform Dynamics research among a significant number of IT professionals – more than 1,400 – has pinpointed the result of historical IT investment and the area that needs addressing to take the right direction. They are one and the same: fragmentation.

Being good at granular management of IT components has developed through serial investment in tools over the years. In different formats, solutions and places they allow IT professionals to maintain an overall, but highly disjointed view of their IT estate.

The health of these components will always need monitoring but modern businesses require a more coherent view. On top of that, they need a way of translating that view into something that has business meaning.

This is the route towards creating a strategy designed to deliver services to the business. It is also the way leading organisations are starting to optimise the way IT supports the business.

What should be becoming clear now is that these changes will not be achieved by looking at systems management products, other than in identifying weaknesses and gaps as part of a strategic overhaul. Strategy and mindset first, tools second.

But what systems management capabilities might look like in the medium term is as personal to the individual business as its reason for existing in the first place.

We know that much will depend not just on the capability of a given tool but on the relationship with the vendor and how its own strategy aligns with that of your own business.

Research shows that the legacy of fragmentation at the systems management level is almost universal and consistent, not just for those that spread their investments across numerous different IT vendors. Furthermore, future vendor alignment does not have to match the past. This is especially true because over the past few years shifts such as the growth of Itil have revitalised the operational IT management market.

Small vendors with big ideas now offer new ways of automating areas of the IT department that previously required multiple products and tools.

Historically, the perceived difference in capabilities gained from following a single- or multi-vendor investment strategy has been a red herring. Our research proves this. Most organisations have ended up in the same place.

The resulting fragmentation of systems management capabilities needs addressing because it is preventing organisations moving forwards.

The smart thing is that by focusing here, historical shortcomings, current issues and future goals can all be tied into the same line of improvement and evolution. Thus, it represents a significant opportunity: goodbye to the past and hello to the future.

If you would like to read the report on which this article is based, click here.

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