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Next Practices in Business Service Management

 

 

Control and Agility in IT: An Interview with Evolven's Sasha Gilenson
by Rick Berzle

BSM Review's Rick Berzle interviews Sasha Gilenson, CEO of Evolven, a relatively new entrant to the BSM space.  Although focused on IT operations and serving companies at level 1 and 2 of the BSM Maturity model, Sasha offers some interesting insights into how Evolven's configuration analytics solution supports companies trying to move to level 3 by balancing IT’s agility to meet business requirements with control to ensure stability.

What is you professional background and experience, and can you tell us about Evolven and how you describe your target market??
I have both technology and business background. Prior to founding Evolven I spent 13 years with Mercury Interactive where I began as a software developer. I managed the QA organization and ran a SaaS operation. I was part of the Mecury’s BSM strategy team, which is now known as BTO (Business Technology Optimization) under HP. As a founder of Evolven I have been involved in marketing and sales and took on the CEO position a year and a half ago.

Evolven is a privately owned company backed up by venture capital firms Pitango and Index Ventures. We are headquartered in Jersey City, employ 30+ employees and have acquired close to 30 customers.  Our customers today represent a diverse group - from Fortune 100 companies, to midsize organizations and startups in variety of industries such as finance, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing and Web. We target midsize and large enterprises where IT is a critical success factor for the business.

Our buyer is VP of Operations in large organizations and CIO/CTO in smaller organizations. However, our product is used by numerous teams including; infrastructure management, operations management, application support, devops, change and configuration management, release management and Q/A.

What are the key challenges your customers are facing?
We see our customers daily facing a challenge between demands for agility coming from the business and the need for better control to ensure operational stability and quality of service. This balance is difficult to maintain, and recent changes caused by transition to virtualized data centers and cloud computing has exacerbated the challenge.

The challenge manifests itself in operational stability issues (i.e. growing number of performance and availability incidents, increasing mean-time-to-resolution), slowing time-to-market and increasing cost of operations. Our customers need to find a way to support the high pace of changes demanded by the business while maximizing operational stability of the critical business environments.

So Evolven is delivering tools to IT Operations. How do you see the tie to Business Service Management?
Yes, we are IT operations management and automation solution provider – so, what is our tie to BSM?
For me BSM has a very clear definition; BSM is all about ensuring a high degree of alignment between IT and the business.

I see the challenge of IT today is to meet rapidly changing business requirements, so IT must be agile. That is what we see with our customers. The pace of change, the pace for demand for new requirements is accelerating. Ten year ago customers would put out new releases annually and updates quarterly. Now we see customers putting out new releases quarterly and updates weekly if not daily. These are not simply infrastructure changes, but changes in business applications. 

Now when you have the situation to meet the need for agility, the question for IT is how do you deliver agility while maintaining a high level control. You still need to make sure it is safe, that you are meeting your SLAs and meeting the quality and stability requirements to support the business. So, there is a conflict between the need for agility and the requirement for control and stability.

How does Evolven’s solution address these challenges?
One of the key reasons causing IT to lose the balance between agility and control is the lack of visibility into the complex and dynamic configuration of IT environments. There is a twilight zone in IT where key IT process issues/gaps remain open and key operational questions are not answered. For example;was a change successfully distributed and deployed; are there any unexpected changes, inconsistencies, drift; is an incident caused by a configuration issue, etc.

Evolven provides configuration analytics that deliver actionable information to support IT operational decisions that are derived from the complex and dynamic state of the IT configuration.

How does IT make the business case for new investments tools and infrastructure?
It is always the same story. You want me to be agile, move fast, but also need me to invest in the infrastructure to ensure it is safe and stable. You have to sell the business on having the flexibility to move quickly. In highly competitive markets, new products and services must simply come on-line quickly and be stable to remain competitive.  In the investment-banking segment, the trading desk needs to meet the window of opportunity for a product or revenue is lost. Every IT investment decision today needs to be based on value to the business, and ideally articulated in terms of competitive differentiation, customer acquisition or revenue attainment.

How do your customers think about BSM?
Depends on the maturity of the IT organization. Frankly, it surprises me a bit that companies aren’t more BSM mature because the philosophy and discipline of BSM has been around for 10 years. We see most companies at level 1 and 2 of your maturity model. We see afew at 3 and fewer at level 4. Many of these IT organizations view BSM as meeting an SLA, which is not managing IT from the business perspective, actually far from it. Our customers completely get the idea of BSM from an alignment perspective, but getting there has been difficult due to a variety of factors that range from company culture to leadership.

Is it a challenge getting IT to sell your value proposition to the business?
Yes, it sometimes impacts our selling strategy. Sometimes we go directly to the business because they are dissatisfied with IT and won’t listen to them. We often see a communication gap between IT and business that gets in the way of moving forward quickly. Typically IThas a difficult time expressing what they are doing in terms of the business, and business has a difficult time understanding how technology will make a difference,

I see IT often frustrated with the demand that comes from business. They often state that the business just doesn’trealize what it takes to meet the demand. And the frustration from the business is that they just don’t get from IT what they are asking for.

Why do you think this exists? IT certainly has a strategy and it must be accepted at the executive level.
CTO/CIO definitely have a strategy and to a large extent the business skills, but these strategies don’t trickle down to the lower levels in the organization.

In my experience, CIO’s have a strategy and formulate it in the right terms, but when it gets translated it loses its meaning. I believe this is because of a combination of things. On the people side I think it is people skills and education. If you look at a web or system administrator or DBA they don’t talk BSM at all. And on the process side, nobody pushes them in the business direction. Their view is all rolled up in the dashboard that is part of service level management and they are totally accustomed to communicating a service level back to the business. But, again this infrastructure operations expert only sees his specific KPI – for example, my server was up 99.5% of the time.  And the tools are a similar story. You have the capabilities for IT governance and financial management used by the CIO, but they get translated in very technical terms to the rank and file and, as such, lose the connection to BSM.

We think the industry needs to develop a common vocabulary and a set of KPI’s that work for both IT and Business to address this gap. Do you see this as a requirement for BSM?
Absolutely. Back in the late 90’s we were speaking about the common language. It didn’t really succeed because it was vendor driven – driven by the tools, not the industry. If you have the common language, you can create a technology platform to support it. If I am a DBA and handling a specific issue and can clearly see how this is impacting the customer situation, then BSM, as we define it, will start to work.

Finally, how do you see the CIO role changing in the context of delivering IT-as-a-Service?
With transition to cloud and various flavors of SaaS and PaaS, the CIO role is changing. The traditional CIO is akin to a manufacturing manager – the focus is on the manufacturing floor (IT infrastructure) and production of products (services). With the move to business services, I see the CIO role changing from an infrastructure manager to an aggregator – effectively delivering internal services while shopping for and buying services from others. In the context of delivering business services, I see the CIO becoming a mediator and much more of a business strategist with deep IT experience.

In mature organization where technology is viewed as strategic, we are seeing the reporting relationship of the CIO moving from the CFO to CEO – in at least one case that I am aware of the CIO sitting as a board member and still holding CIO responsibilities.

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