Assessing Your BSM Technology Investments

At least it is now. Sure, when business service management (BSM) first came on the scene six or seven years ago, many of us analysts groaned, “Yet another acronym!”. And for a while it seemed to be just that―another acronym squeezed mystically between SLM and BPM (or service level management and business process management) as the dominate terms were back then. A little bit later, it seemed that no one except a few vendors could distinguish very well between IT service management (ITSM) and BSM. And now ITIL v3 is sending its own definition to BSM―a good one, but, like everything in ITIL, it’s probably more of a departure point than a definitive answer.

So, there’s still plenty of confusion but BSM seems to have staying power and hard data along with dialog shows that there’s actually something of a model for business-aligned service management underneath the idea. In this column, I’ll share some of the highlights of the BSM model as I see it and why it’s relevant to you and your decision making.

A Little History

By obvious word association, BSM combines “business” and “service” and so most literally suggests some measure of alignment between business requirements and IT. One might also argue that BSM’s roots go back to SLM. EMA research data confirms that for most IT managers and professionals at that time, SLM and BSM were easily confused terms with no clear separation between the two. Since then the term SLM has become more specific in meaning focused on the management and optimization of services based on prior service level agreements (SLA) and/or other less formal commitments. In contrast, BSM has come to suggest a model for managing IT services and IT performance overall in alignment of business outcomes.

In ITIL v3, specific attention is given to “Business Service Management” in Service Design. Not surprisingly, ITIL’s focus is very much around metrics and mindset. As per ITIL: “Business Service Management (BSM) is a strategy and an approach to enable IT components to be linked to the goals of the business. This way the impact of technology on the business and how business change may impact technology can both be predicted.” To do this ITIL stresses the value of a “totally integrated service catalog – including business units, processes and services, and their relationships, and dependencies on IT services, technology and components … ”

ITIL v3 also creates a hierarchy of metrics for prioritizing IT activities based on business impact and urgency, increasing business productivity and profitability, creating competitive advantage, ensuring regulatory and legislative compliance, and minimizing risk, among other things. This is an excellent departure point for looking at BSM in market context, but, as is classic with ITIL, it is of course a “departure point.” ITIL is fundamentally not about architecture, software or markets but about process and cultural readiness.

The Popular View

What do your peers have to say about BSM? When asked earlier this year if BSM was primarily about “process,” “philosophy or approach,” “products” or “marketing,” process led the pack and trumped philosophy or approach by five percentage points (see EMA’s research Business Service Management, Strategies for Success in 2009 for more info When asked about “solutions/components” most critical to BSM, respondents prioritized SLM (75%), end-to-end service monitoring (71%) and CMDB or CMS (67%). These are followed by business impact dashboard, end user experience management, service catalog or service portfolio management, and end-to-end service provisioning. This suggests that most in IT view BSM as something of a model for managing IT to optimize business alignment rather than a single technology area in itself.

So, cutting to the chase, my working definition of BSM is: “Optimizing IT processes and technologies to more effectively manage, monitor measure and govern IT from a holistic business contribution perspective in terms of costs, value and competitiveness.” BSM as it’s evolved has a distinctive emphasis on understanding application-to-infrastructure interdependencies, as well as a growing requirement to assimilate the impacts of change on service performance. As such, BSM can best be understood not as a single market, but as a confluence of sub-markets with different lineages, characteristics and advantages to the IT adopter.

The list below is not meant to be complete but I believe it can serve as a useful guide for assessing and planning your BSM technology investments across most enterprise environments:

BSM Foundations – These vendors have their deepest roots in end-to-end service monitoring with strong business impact analysis capabilities that include but are not usually limited to SLM. Strengths in user experience management, or application-to-infrastructure interdependencies, are also often present. In addition to platforms, vendors in this category may range in size from larger vendors such as ASG, Compuware, Novell (Managed Objects), and Quest, to smaller innovators such as Oblicore, Nimsoft, Zyrion and AccelOps, just to name a few.

Cost/ Optimization/ Financial Planning (BSM/NGAM) – These vendors focus on the financial side of BSM. It is here where the challenges of assigning value to IT services becomes most granular and meaningful, while managing costs become service-centric versus component-centric. This requires new types of technologies that go beyond traditional IT asset management. Platforms are dominant in this group, but there are also smaller, innovators such as Digital Fuel, and SaaS capabilities such as Apptio.

Lifecycle BSM – The BSM model wouldn’t be complete without a strong focus on lifecycle issues, in particular those targeted at governance, planning, configuration and change and associated requirements for “continuous service improvement.” As a part of these, CMDB/CMS, configuration and change management and service desk capabilities to enforce workflow and support service provisioning through service catalogs are fundamental building blocks. Once again, platforms providers are major players here, as are some service desk vendors and other vendors able to combine change, configuration, and service management from a lifecycle perspective.

Ecosystem-centric BSM – Internet-businesses have created new models of interdependencies that require a strong balance of monitoring solutions inside and outside the firewall. These models, including supply chains and partner relationships, as well as Cloud computing and other service provider relationships, however, are no longer limited to strictly Internet commerce, even if they remain centered in Web-based applications. Managing a community of interdependent partners, suppliers and service providers represents new terrain for BSM, and suggests a critical new area for innovation.

In my next column, I’ll bore more deeply into the technologies that make up BSM foundations to provide you with a more detailed check list of what technologies to seek out for your BSM initiatives, and how the technologies should, ideally come together in a workable and consistent model.

Dennis Drogseth is VP of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates, an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can be reached at [email protected].