IT Still Struggling with Application Management

If your organization is struggling to monitor and manage the applications being delivered to the business, you’re not alone. As business applications become more complex and mission critical, managing them becomes increasingly complex and mission critical as well. The problem is, IT as a whole is much better at deploying technology than it is at monitoring and managing it.

The results of EMA’s latest research on the subject, completed by over 200 application management experts in June 2008, are in the process of being tallied. One early finding is that, after all of our investments in enterprise management solutions over the years, the way that IT most often finds out about application problems is still via calls from end users (54%). This figure is actually up over a 2006 survey that found that 48% of problems were reported by users.

So, are all of the investments in enterprise management products really worth it? Or should we just tear out the management solutions and give every end user a direct telephone line to the NOC? To gather additional information about the state of application management in the enterprise, EMA followed up the survey with multiple interviews to answer these questions and to find out about current management challenges and the ways in which IT organizations are solving them.

One executive we spoke to was responsible for Service Level Management for a worldwide financial services organization. His responsibilities included all geographies and both internal and external customers. His stated goal was to provide a “McDonald’s experience.” That is, the goal was for the IT organization to achieve what McDonalds has achieved for fast food—to provide the same level of experience everywhere.

This goal is difficult to achieve even for companies in a single location. Dealing with multiple providers, different governments, multiple languages and time zones, and other cross-geography differences complicates the enterprise management activity exponentially. Nevertheless, when asked to quantify the level of difficulty in achieving this goal rated on a scale of 1 to 10, his rating was a six.

I was somewhat surprised, as I likely would have rated it higher, if only from a technology perspective. When asked to explain his rating he answered that, from a technology perspective, the difficulty level was a four. From the cultural level it was a nine. Multiple regulations by business unit and geographic area along with differing cultures were the biggest factors to overcome, at least in his opinion.

Technology and Process are Helping

His group was solving it with a combination of technology and process standardization. According to this executive, ” … automation alone doesn’t cut it. With money as tight as it is, it is extremely difficult to work in an environment that has no standards or where people don’t adhere to standards. It’s important to understand what is in place right now, to build standard processes and related technology that are meaningful.”

Needless to say, they are extensively leveraging standards and best practices with a variety of frameworks. They use the IT Service Management books of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) for developing and standardizing IT processes. They also use Six Sigma for quality, COBIT for audit and governance guidance, and various project management methodologies. Use of one framework should not exclude another. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and all are complementary to one another.

These interviews support our initial assumption in focusing on end to end management during 2008: almost every IT organization is struggling to manage applications more effectively. Although getting processes right is certainly one challenge, choosing the right tools is another. One of the key problems is that, although most IT organizations now have infrastructure monitoring and management tools in place, few have tools that provide the broad spectrum of information necessary to effectively monitor and manage applications and business services.

The fundamental problem is that application management requires visibility to hardware and software, infrastructure and transactions, along with the interrelationships among them. EMA believes this is one reason why we are seeing a threefold increase in ITIL adoption by U.S. companies over the past two years. Many ITIL projects initially focus on configuration management, with the goal of developing a logical model of the IT enterprise. Such a model builds a foundation for managing and troubleshooting applications in context with the infrastructure that supports them.

This opinion was echoed in an interview with the lead manager of the analytics and performance team at a large insurance company. His team is responsible for selecting, implementing, and maintaining the enterprise management tools needed to manage both internal and external applications worldwide. His company has created web services that deliver information processed on the mainframe. Multiple infrastructure management tools are in place. However, IT has little or no visibility into the J2EE-based web services or to their interactions with the mainframe. As a result, one of their key business services runs in a virtual “black box” composed of heterogeneous hardware, software, and application code. Troubleshooting performance problems is a nightmare requiring specialists with skills in multiple technologies.