Using BSM to Strengthen the Network

Business service management (BSM), an emerging approach to IT management, is changing the way IT departments offer services: 15% of Global 2000 businesses will be using BSM as a competitive advantage in just two years time, according to research and consulting firm Meta Group, while some 90% will have BSM initiatives underway by 2007.

But Visa USA appears to be ahead of the curve and, at this week at Meta Group’s METAmorphosis 2005 conference in San Francisco, discussed its BSM approach to improving Visa’s financial-transaction clearing house business.

As Ben Rewis, Visa’s vice president of Global Systems Management explains, BSM is all about managing technology as a business service instead of a collection of IT infrastructure elements. In his presentation, Rewis describes how Visa has used this approach to improve reliability, performance, client services, corporate agility, repair times and Visa’s bottom line.

“BSM is about getting your house in order,” said Michael Buchheim, a senior vice president and director at Meta. “It’s a fancy way of saying we take service-level agreements and orient them to business services.”

In this way, BSM takes a step beyond IT service management (ITSM). BSM focuses on the business results of proper IT management, working primarily towards the business goals rather than pure-IT goals.

To get started with BSM a company first needs to analyze its IT infrastructure to see what’s in place, then it finds out what critical business needs that infrastructure can serve and then it puts the missing pieces in place to construct a BSM approach.

At Visa, the business challenge Rewis faced can be best explained in numbers: the firm’s payment clearing house processes $1.7 trillion annually for 21,000 member financial-services firms, some 20 million merchants and 1.3 billion cardholders, all spread over 200 countries.

If that’s not enough to wear you down just thinking about the network needed to process those numbers, consider that Visa handles 100 million daily transactions in 172 currencies. Plus, net volume is growing about 20 percent, year-over-year (YOY), Rewis said.

Transactions may begin at a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, for example, then travel to a bank, then on to a messaging gateway before going to a coastal data center, along to the credit card’s issuing bank and then back again through the entire chain, Rewis explains. “And we do that about 5,000 times a second.”

As Buchheim said, Visa’s transaction processing facility (TPF) mainframe may sit at the center of the Visa’s network but there are any number other systems attached to the same transaction network and “some of them are outside the control even of Visa.”

Any glitch along can cause tremendous trouble, along with the need for a substantial call-center staff standing by to handle calls from banks and merchants.

So Visa set a goal of shifting “from an infrastructure-management attitude to a discipline of business-service management,” Rewis explained.

After evaluating a dozen vendors, Visa settled on Interlink Software (with headquarters in Manchester, England) and built a BSM solution using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a framework.

“ITIL is a great way to get everyone speaking the same language,” Buchheim said.

Now, Visa’s business customers get technology transparency and the ability to predict and react to changing business conditions — all from a dashboard interface that offers endless views on indicators such as network performance, status, software loads and speed.

“We get end-to-end visibility of customer service,” Rewis says. “We’re able to monitor the entire ecosystem.”

Through its own monitoring of the dashboard, Visa is able to spot potential service glitches before they become problems. If a problem does develop, BSM has helped Visa realize a 75% time savings in finding problems in its transaction-authorization system.

“Every second lost is worth millions of dollars,” Rewis said. “In the past year, we contacted members about potential issues 44 times. They used to call us. By using these tools, we’re saving these financial institutions money and potential headaches.”

“As a result of taking the business-service management approach, Visa is agile,” Buchheim comments. “We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the benefits a system like this can bring to Visa.”