How Automation Can Improve Business Service Management

Is IT getting the most from its BSM investments?

Companies have invested millions in Business Service Management (BSM) to align IT and business objectives, but are they getting the most out of their BSM investments? BSM solutions aim to take a proactive approach to “keeping the lights on” by alerting IT of any performance or availability problem that adversely affects users. In many cases, however, the data collected is often just a representative sample of the actual end-user experience and requires considerable maintenance to keep up with ever-changing environments. Imagine the power of BSM if a better picture of application performance was enabled by automation.

First- and Second-Generation BSM

Traditional BSM tools have relied on a “bottom-up” approach to gathering data, where proxy agents, synthetic transactions, and enterprise events monitor feed data up into the BSM tool to drive the tool’s performance reports and impact analyses.

For the most part, first-generation BSM tools were often little more than static hand-coded containers reflecting IT’s understanding of the relationship between IT assets, business processes, workflows, and application performance data. When an IT component failed, these first-generation tools alerted IT to the potential of a negative business-service event. They provided little detail as to the real-time business impact in terms of revenue or business productivity. As a result, only 35 percent of experienced enterprise BSM users reported that their current BSM tools met all IT and business goals, according to a 2005 survey by research analyst firm Summit Strategies.

These solutions were challenging to build and maintain because IT relied on scripting and other manual methods that were difficult to keep current with ever-changing infrastructures. In the case of synthetic transactions—where agents collected sample performance data (perhaps measuring business transactions from a few geographic locations every 15 minutes or so)—IT was not getting a complete picture of application performance.

Enter second-generation process-aware BSM tools, bringing increased sophistication to the analysis. These newer tools provide improved visualizations, real-time analytics, and relationship mapping across increasingly virtualized IT infrastructure and component- based application architectures.

Despite the increasing sophistication of their analytics and the growing range of available data feeds, most BSM tools still rely on synthetic transactions, manually coded process-flow maps, and agents embedded in code to create and maintain business service and IT infrastructure relationship maps and status reports. As with first-generation business-service representations, these models have proved to be difficult to maintain in an accurate and timely manner as IT environments become more flexible and virtualized.

As a result, the time and money required today to launch and maintain BSM tools limit their applicability to a handful of mission-critical transactions or business-process flows. For BSM to become a widely used and valued IT management tool, the relationship mapping and status reports connecting IT assets and business services must become more automated.

BSM implementations will be more successful (more accurate, more quickly implemented, with fewer deployment obstacles) if they are layered on top of an already automated operational environment. To maximize BSM initiatives, IT experts should consider automation tools that begin by automating the service-execution processes that run and control the business service itself.

How Automation Can Help BSM

With automation, IT organizations ensure truly repeatable processes for best practices. IT can control the processes that run business services by automating the more mundane tasks which, in turn, leads to reducing costs, eliminating human error, and improving performance.

In addition, through automation, BSM vendors and their customers are offered a new option for tracking the real-time status of business services. Unlike traditional BSM data collection agents, a “top-down” approach with automation at its core eliminates the need for custom coding, synthetic agents, or other business-service proxies. Rather than building service models from the bottom up, IT can now begin automating the service execution processes that run and control the business service itself.

Implementing an automation platform, IT can automate a few simple business-service execution functions at a time, building more elaborate, integrated cross-platform automation and reporting environments gradually. Users can automate existing run-book procedures and business-process workflows in just a few hours. Once a process is designed, no additional software development or scripting is needed to automatically execute the desired services and workflows. Automation designs can be updated as needed with minimal effort.

Automation can be used to create new business services from scratch or to incorporate existing scripts. Once a process is instrumented and automated, the system will document the status and outcome of each business-service execution to meet compliance goals. This business-service execution information is published as a real-time data feed, to be consumed by existing BSM analytic programs and dashboards. This provides BSM users with business-relevant data and metrics, which clearly indicate the health of key checkpoints within the business process.

This type of business process-centric data provides the missing link between the component status and health data, long analyzed by BSM tools, and the higher level business process impact proxies and transaction monitoring information provided by application performance management tools.

Successful business-service execution automation adopters (including retailers Harley Davidson and Woolworths) automate and instrument such complex business services as global inventory and sales-report generation. Financial services customers (such as State Street Financial) automate the collection of partner data feeds, data transformations, and transaction processing to enable real-time investment decision making. Health care providers (such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center) have automated and instrumented insurance claims, billing, and remittance procedures. These enterprise companies report that the ability to add real-time business-service execution data to their broader BSM environments has increased the ability of IT to stay in synch with the business.

An automation solution can further accelerate BSM initiatives by providing integration with the leading BSM tools to enhance their ability to automate and report on real-time business-service execution activities.

This approach to enhancing BSM dashboards and tools requires IT organizations to rethink their strategies for automation, scripting, and business process execution and reporting. Today, businesses grappling with complex, script-based business-service execution environments may view the automation approach as a lifesaver simply because of its ability to integrate and streamline existing processes. Over time, if this technology successfully finds its way into commercial BSM tools, it should noticeably enhance the relevancy of BSM installations both large and small.