At its core, IT is a set of tools designed to help organisations meet their corporate objectives and business goals. IT performance management used to be the exclusive domain of system administrators who focused solely on IT stability, with little or no understanding of business impact.
Now, with multi-dimensional business models, on-demand business services for both internal and external customers, and with the pervasive use of complex web-enabled applications, businesses are realising that the performance and availability of their technologies are critical to their growth and competitive advantage.
With business success tightly fused with technology, and with IT costs rising, organisations expect IT to be more than just a static resource; it is expected to deliver business results with a measurable contribution to the organisation's bottom line.
In addition, information technology best practices, such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®), are also driving a new performance management paradigm as traditional methods of managing technology performance cannot ensure maximised business use, let alone drive business results.
IT best practices
ITIL®, published for the unique purpose of providing guidance for the management of IT, is the most widely accepted approach to IT service management (ITSM) in the world. Launched in autumn 2008, ITIL® v3 brings enterprises ever closer to managing IT in a manner that makes business services serve the business.
ITIL® v2 helped steer IT management in the direction of improving service for business customers by detailing end-to-end IT management processes for each major function within IT, and highlighting the need for sweeping changes in overall approaches to IT management.
ITIL® v3 takes the next step and organises the previous processes into a lifecycle for the management of services. It also provides an emphasis on business service management (BSM), essentially bringing ITIL® into a new era.
The new performance management paradigm
IT is now having to deliver on these expectations as well as continuing to deliver high availability and reduced costs. IT must align closely with business units to fuse IT performance with business performance.
Business managers now insist on understanding how their IT performance enables their business services, and performance management teams are being challenged to demonstrate their contributions to the bottom line, customer and end-user benefits, and revenue.
Organisations must embrace the business technology (BT) concept in support of business service management (BSM). A business-focused IT service can be quite simple, or highly complex, but either way, it must support significant business metrics and be visible to stakeholders outside of IT. Because effective IT performance management is crucial to the success of business service initiatives, it must be BSM-based.
Performance management today
Although current performance tools already provide IT departments with excellent performance information on their platforms, systems, and applications, the emergence of BT and BSM is dramatically changing the IT picture.
In the recent past, IT infrastructures and business processes were essentially linear, with applications housed on single servers, and network activity confined to internal users; detecting, diagnosing, and correcting performance issues was fairly simple. IT managed the systems using standard performance tools, resulting in perfectly acceptable end-user service.
Now, the business / IT landscape is not as straightforward. Even a simplified IT infrastructure involves multi-threaded business processes. Applications are housed on multiple platforms, and users can be customers, partners, contractors, and employees located anywhere. This picture continues to expand in size and complexity. Individual performance management tools offer only limited, lagging views of the specific systems and applications they monitor.
Because performance data used to make complex operational decisions arrive piecemeal, or simply too late, a new approach is needed. It's time for performance management to catch up with business reality.
Internal and external customers expect internet-speed business services that are always available, and poor performance means lost business. The applications that support these services offer extraordinary power and flexibility; leveraging legacy systems, distributing complex applications between multiple service tiers, and integrating a wide variety of technologies. However, they can also stretch the underlying IT infrastructure to the breaking point.
Detecting, diagnosing, and correcting performance issues in this complex, heterogeneous environment presents a formidable challenge. Add to that the BT model, fusing IT performance with business performance, and IT must also be able to understand impacts on business services and explain it all in simple terms that business managers and users can understand.
The paradigm shift: BSM-based performance management
Although most businesses recognise their reliance on technology, growth initiatives often fail to deliver on expectations because they have not adequately considered technology's impact on business results.
The typical business model fully anticipates business objectives, revenue projections, human resources, and initial technology investments, but it often fails to factor in the impact of day-to-day IT performance. Fully exposing and adequately correlating the performance layer between a strategic objective and its execution gives both business and IT teams the missing link to ensure strategic success.
Exposure and correlation are the crucial capabilities missing from today's performance management paradigm. Developing a performance management strategy based on BSM delivers these capabilities. IT performance must be logically exposed to the business users and directly correlated to their business transactions. Likewise, business services must be exposed to IT support teams and correlated to their supporting technologies.
By linking specific business processes to underlying technology performance down to the transaction level, business managers are able to keep track of the business' health in real-time and make fast, well-informed decisions. Simultaneously, IT teams can see how performance is affecting the business, do immediate root-cause analysis, and resolve issues before they become real problems.
Comprehensive performance trending and analysis is an increasingly important capability made possible through BSM-based performance management. Effective SLA management alone demands trending data collection and analysis. SLAs define the standard that IT performance must meet every day.
But with the complex and seemingly erratic nature of day-to-day business usage, simply managing SLA performance in real-time will permanently keep IT teams in a reactive state; preventing the proactive IT management that businesses expect. Real-time-only performance management is also insufficient to support the IT 'profit support centre' model that enables business innovation.
Comprehensive trending and analysis provides a holistic, quantitative approach to predictive business service performance management. Compiling seemingly random capacity problems reveals clear and predictable bottlenecks. Seemingly erratic end-user issues become patterns clearly linked to a specific device or application with cascading performance impact.
Viewing 'moving performance averages' of the business service infrastructure, as a whole, enables IT managers to focus on strategic business optimisation rather than on individual technology efficiency.
Next step: the future of business service management
Businesses expect IT to deliver far more than operational quality and systems management. Embracing BSM-based IT performance management not only enables CIOs and IT management to better manage current infrastructure components, it enables them to accurately forecast value-added infrastructure spending and enable innovation. IT departments embracing this model are ideally positioned to help craft new uses for technology investments.
Innovative uses of technology can change the rules of markets. It is no longer about thinking outside the box. Instead, BSM-based IT performance management removes the 'box' altogether, fusing IT and business performance.