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Workshop IT increasingly plays a pivotal role in business processes. The importance of systems to the efficiency of business operations makes maintaining the quality of service delivered by IT platforms a matter of mounting attention and concern. How can systems managers ensure this quality, especially with the expanding use of virtualisation solutions, the potential impact of “cloud” based tools and rapidly changing business needs?

The starting point is to ensure that the IT team has deployed (the easy bit), and is using effectively (the harder bit), management tools that are modern, consolidated and integrated to administer the entire service delivery stack. Indeed, this requirement is anything but new, yet many organisations remain dissatisfied with the management tools that they use to administer IT systems operations. This disconnect between systems and management tools is critical for a number of reasons.

The greatest dissatisfaction tends to be around the day-to-day grind of operations such as IT asset management and software licensing and distribution. The difficulty this presents is that these are not new, emerging technology areas, presenting challenges because they are immature and fast-changing. Rather they are well-established, mature areas of IT that are particularly challenging to manage and which have enjoyed relatively little attention. This makes the type of dynamism that IT is looking to achieve in the face of changing demands from the business difficult to achieve in practice.

It is worth noting that, in many organisations, there is far more dissatisfaction than satisfaction across almost the entire scope of management technologies. This dissatisfaction is even more apparent when looking at the systems management tools available to handle emerging areas such as “performance management” and “virtualisation management”. It will be interesting to monitor whether this proportion increases or decreases over the course of the next couple of years, especially as organisations look to make more effective use of their virtualised platforms to support changing business demands.

Management integration is a major bugbear too. It is by focusing on improving the integration between tool sets and systems, rather than ever increasing feature counts, that service quality can be driven up. However, the challenge is scaling the integration. We tend to see that when more structure and process is required to manage IT, then the headcount required goes up too, particularly as the size of the company increases. There is a lot of manual intervention required to make things work, and this makes scaling management a major headache. It is also clear that few organisations have access to suitable “best practice” experience to scale their administrative operations.

However, we also find that senior management too often neglects to approve funding for investing in management tools, not realising the link between the tools and the quality of IT service delivery. So the challenge becomes partly political in building the case for the tools needed for management transformation.

As one systems manager said, “The importance of systems management cannot be overlooked, but in the current times of downturn and budget cuts, it is one of those things that can be set aside for the time being.” Systems monitoring tools are the unsung and unseen backbone of IT systems that allow organisations to work effectively - yet we still have problems explaining their true value and importance.

From both personal experience and past research it is clear that making a business case to acquire, implement and run systems management solutions is never an easy task. In times such as these when IT funding in general is under pressure it can be nearly impossible to compete successfully with other solutions that are perceived by the business to be of higher priority. That said, the effective deployment and utilisation of systems management tools holds the potential to deliver significant business benefits as organisations seek to become more responsive to changing market conditions. The task is to communicate the benefits that can be delivered by investments on systems management in a way that both management and the business find to be compelling. ®

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