All-in-one systems management software sounds like every IT manager's dream, but the reality of implementation can be disappointing. Make sure you start with realistic expectations and are aware of the pitfalls, then plan an execution strategy.
by Garry Kranz
Software suites like Hewlett-Packard's OpenView, Computer Associates, Unicenter and IBM's Tivoli Systems are said to help companies give customers the best possible online experience from beginning to end. Using these suites, IT departments can offer clients a range of integrated systems management services, acting more like a service provider than a traditional IT department. In this interview with TechTarget, research director Cameron Haight of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, offers tips on how to proceed.----------------------------------------------------
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TechTarget: We've heard a lot of hype about these all-in-one systems management software suites. How truly effective are they?
Haight: Well, there's the promise and there's the reality. The promise is this: You have this base functionality that sits on top of everything, giving very tight data integration, integrated security models, and the ability to share information between applications. Unfortunately, the reality is that these suites or frameworks have been fairly complex. Traditionally, we see relatively high failure rates associated with them, for two reasons: improper setting of expectations and inadequate process development within companies.
These products have been sold as the panacea to all a company's ills. We've been told that our systems will never have another minute of downtime, we'll all have happy customers, and the installation will be painless. Then we get to the proctologist and find it's going to be a very painful procedure. Companies need to ask the right questions and not assume technology is a savior.
TechTarget: How do IT organizations overcome this complexity? Are the advantages worth it?
Haight: We have several clients who are very happy with those suites. But they went into this process knowing up front it was going to be a 12- to 18-month deployment. They had processes that they either had developed or were going to develop. The goal during implementation is to have lots of little successes, not one big success. You need to identify major pain points, address them, and then move on to the next pain point.
TechTarget: What's the best strategy for implementation across an enterprise?
Haight: It's important to remember that these suites offer more than just event management. They include software distribution, inventory management, storage management, security management -- all kinds of different functions. You need to sit down and create an implementation plan. For every dollar you spend on the product, you're going to spend between $3 and $7 on deployment and operation. So, while the upfront licensing costs are significant -- in the seven-figure range -- it is, in fact, the tip of the iceberg. It's the ongoing stuff -- deployment, planning, implementation, monitoring -- that makes this quite an expensive proposition.
TechTarget: In what industries are these comprehensive software packages gaining traction?
Haight: Early adopters tend to be in financial services industries. That's because financial services companies usually have a good grasp of the costs of downtime and the cost of customer satisfaction. Major investment and financial sites typically have invested very heavily in IT and manage the product to ensure high performance and availability.
TechTarget: Since these suites consolidate a range of different functions, what's the implication for IT departments?
Haight: The IT department acts as a hosting service for the various lines of business within a company, so you could extrapolate that IT departments are to lines of businesses as application service providers are to corporations. Which raises a good point: what if your IT department doesn't do a good job? Those lines of business may go elsewhere. If you have a line of business that has new applications coming online, and past performance by IT has been sub-par [the customer] may choose to go elsewhere.
TechTarget: How can IT managers assess return on investment when using these suites?
Haight: Companies need to look at the possibility of reduced downtime and increased availability to applications. They also need to look at possible reductions in the total cost of ownership, which tends to be a hidden capital cost. In other words, how much does it cost to perform these functions manually versus using automated software?
There are also potential improvements in customer satisfaction that can be measured by increased customer loyalty or by increased activity on an e-commerce Website. Let's say you're able to monitor your e-commerce site for number of Web hits or the number of shopping cart checkouts and the resulting sales. If you can directly tie those figures to increased server capacity, for example, that's very powerful evidence, and it's ultimately what companies want to be able to do.
TechTarget: Could you give an example?
Haight: Say you're buying a book or sending a package via the Internet. That transaction crosses many computing boundaries. There really isn't a way to tie that transaction together, to uniquely identify it across multiple computer or server boundaries. Complete end-to-end integration doesn't really exist yet. But the promise of potentially providing as good a base as possible is there, with the right level of IT support.
TechTarget: What are some key issues companies should address once an implementation is complete?
Haight: Several questions then have to be asked. Who takes ownership of that information? How do problems get resolved? What's the escalation procedure? How do you know the problem has been solved? These are fundamental blocking and tackling items that ought to be known before making a heavy investment -- and it doesn't matter what the product is. If you were making a major addition to your manufacturing line, for example, you'd understand who your customers are, what the assembly line is going to look like, what your expenses are, etc. Those same concepts apply to your IT department.
Garry Kranz is an independent business and technology journalist in Richmond, Va.
MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC:
SearchHP.com has a section of links on OpenView, the Hewlett-Packard software suite.
SearchSystemsManagement.com covers end-to-end software in depth.
This was first published in August 2001