How to Spell "BSM"
by Tom Bishop
For those of you that read my blog while I was VP and CTO at BMC, then you know some of what I believe about Business Service Management, or BSM; there simply isn’t a more important aspect of an IT strategy than one built around the concepts of BSM. The reasons are as fundamental as they are essential.
First, it should now be taken as a given that IT must be strongly aligned with the business or businesses they serve. IT is no longer a support or back-office function, and hasn’t been for most of this decade. Most businesses today are so dependent on IT that, if an IT organization does not understand how the business depends on its services, or does not manage those services with that business perspective in mind, they are dooming the business to slow, steady death.
One of my favorite quotes comes from a CIO of a large healthcare provider: “All the employees of our company are healthcare workers; some of them just happen to do IT.” I’ve long said it and long believed it – any IT organization that fails to understand this is destined to be outsourced.
This is the “B” in BSM.
Second, IT is a service provider …period. Some of those services are internal or technical – “add a workstation for a new employee” – and some are external – “process a credit card transaction” – but all are services at the end of the day. Not all these services have the same priority from moment to moment, but someone somewhere is dependent on those services or they shouldn’t be provided. The service-oriented nature of IT means that IT shops should live and die by two key requirements.
The first is that the IT shop should know, at any moment in time, what services the business depends on (i.e. a service catalog of some sort), how they’re doing in delivering those services (creating service level agreements and tracking them in real-time), and what those services are worth to the business and what they cost (service-based cost tracking). If the shop is really good, their service catalog is a living document, constantly being reviewed and updated with direct participation from the business, and the business gets regular reports on what they used, how often it’s used, who used it, and what it cost the company to provide it.
The second is that every piece of IT infrastructure – networks, hardware, software, applications, storage – should be tied to one or more of those services (I call this the service model – a map that tracks the IT components used by each business service offered by IT). Whenever a problem occurs in one of these IT components, it should first be observed as an impact to some business service. If not, then either your model is broken or you have components you don’t need – fix the model or get rid of superfluous IT gear. Whenever a problem occurs in a business service, you should be able to quickly track it to some component that can be repaired, replaced, or upgraded.
This is the “S” in BSM.
Finally there’s the “M” – management. Lots to say here, but let’s just hit on the highlights for now. Even if you have all this alignment stuff right, and your service catalogs and service models are top-notch, there’s the management activity you put around it to make it all work, make it all work right, and keep it working. Of course, IT process will be a key part of this. There are simply too many moving parts (people, process, technology). Whether you like things like ITIL or not, most IT environments are too complex, changing too often and too rapidly, and made up of too much stuff from too many different sources to think otherwise. So things like process maps, process owners, and continual process improvement must be a part of this or it all quickly falls back to chaos.
The payoff for taking this part of BSM seriously comes in two flavors. The first is this elusive thing called “IT efficiency” – how well does the IT shop do what it’s trying to do (hopefully supporting the business). The second is this becomes the roadmap you’ll use when you’re ready to invest in IT automation – actually being able to take those IT processes and automate them (to make them cheaper, faster, and of higher quality).
The MIT Sloan School published a nice article about two years ago called Avoiding the Alignment Trap. Without trying to repeat what they already wrote, one of the key takeaways from that article is how to balance the competing needs of business alignment and IT efficiency. They make a terrific argument that the savvy IT shop will start with a little alignment, get really efficient at it, increase their alignment, get even more efficient at it, and so one. I know half a dozen IT shops that have gone down this path, and not only are they a sight to behold, but the businesses love them (wouldn’t dream of outsourcing them).
This is the “M” in BSM.
So, by now, the ideas around Business Service Management aren’t particularly new, and there’s lots written all over the place about many of the ideas I’ve touched on above. But the two observations I’ve made through my years of travels across the IT landscape are this:
For the IT shop that’s used to doing things the non-BSM way, the transition from the paradigm of managing piles of stuff without regard to what’s actually being done with it or how well it’s being managed can be quite scary. Like most tasks, though, there are logical ways to break this down into smaller, less-risky steps, and the returns will be almost immediate.
The second is you can’t fake it. You can’t pretend you have business services if you don’t, you can’t pretend to be establishing or using IT processes if you’re not, and you can’t get any of the real benefits that lie at the end of this particular yellow brick road (happy business users, higher quality, lower cost, more nimble infrastructures) unless you do.
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