The IBM Tivoli suite of products is a pretty broad church. The range of functions it can manage varies from monitoring and discovery of assets to business service management (BSM), which links business services and organisational value.
"Over the past few years we've been translating the model from systems management to service management," says Mark Fieldhouse, strategy manager for IBM Tivoli.
In this respect, IBM could be accused of aping BMC's positioning - putting process over technology - but it includes some advanced event-management features.
The challenge it faces is in meeting the demand for IT governance. It is working on a better link between a project and portfolio management capability, a level of integration which is a fundamental characteristic of IT governance. This is itself only significant because IBM has made such a key priority of IT governance, because it allows the company to build on its product and consultancy offerings.
Witness IBM's statements about its commitment to its governance and risk management strategy. Analysts say they expect further progress in the coming months.
IBM Tivoli needed to offer greater flexibility in the IT workforce. This was a pre-requisite to CIOs to being able to bring about major benefits for their companies, by redeploying resources to the more productive, value-adding activities.
"IBM Tivoli provides a comprehensive product but it's easy to use," says Roy Illsley, senior researcher at analyst The Butler Group. "It is properly integrated at the data layer, not just a veneer on top of existing management tools."
This level of integration is essential for any enterprise-wide tool set, says illsley. "As long as third-party tools can also be integrated at this level IBM's Universal Agent (UA) provides this capability," he says.
IBM Tivoli has, like many large vendors' products in this market, tried to follow the best practice guidelines of ITIL. But on the other hand, when IBM is in a more expansive mode, it has created a far-reaching set to tools. Its integrated suite of products can cover the entire spectrum of ITSM. This enables IBM Tivoli to provide an all-encompassing, single role-based portal approach to the user interface. The upshot of this is that all of this information can be made available to all the relevant people.
The link to BSM is a significant capability in any systems management tool, says Illsley. In particular the configuration of business rules that can drive a fully automated response.
It might, for example, work on the basis of predictive analysis of the systems to invoke a security or backup response. This would completely transform the IT support function from a reactive response unit to a proactive added-value unit.
One of the downsides of this technology is that these advanced, predictive capabilities are only possible for certain event types. Additionally, they require the supporting technology for implementation. However, analysts say that as IBM builds on the potential capabilities of its IBM Tivoli product range, these automatic, predictive responses will be the foundations of an impressive value proposition. Businesses will be able to see where they can expect their return on investment, and it won't be difficult to visualise the scale.
IBM has one important differentiator, say analysts. The IBM Tivoli unified process (ITUP) product is a point of difference between IBM and its competitors, says Butler's Illsley, because it provides a tool that helps managers to define processes. This tool and these processes can be based on any number of standard frameworks, from control objectives for information and related technology (CoBIT), to ITIL, Six Sigma or any others.
Butler Group's Illsley thinks this is in line with what CIOs have been telling him. IBM has delivered a suite of products that provide most of the tools the market wants today, he says. But there is still scope for improvement.
How does IBM compare to the competition though? Other vendors have developed products along similar lines. However, differences are in the detail. These depend on the range of capabilities offered and these in turn hinge on a vendor's ability to integrate them with business processes. This is where IBM has an advantage, as its service capabilities have blessed it with the ability to shape technology around business processes, and not the other way around.
The vendor's ability to implement the solutions in a modular format, which can then work the third-party tools that the end user may already have invested in, is a major strength
"IBM Tivoli is one of the best tools on the market for anyone needing comprehensive feature sets keeping control of a complex IT infrastructure," says Illsley.
IBM was canny in recognising this shift at an early stage. It started converting its Tivoli product range from the previous architectural framework towards this Web-enabled delivery mechanism. Who would have thought IBM would triumph at a competition to provide open systems?
If there is a criticism, it is that understanding the individual product capabilities is not easy. Particularly if they were optional add-ons. Overall, though, analysts say IBM Tivoli is an excellent product with features that other competitor products lack.
- Main products: Tivoli, ITUP
- Major customers: Coca Cola, Barclays, British Airways
- Market share: 25%
- Annual revenue: $7.7 bn
- Number of staff: 12,000 worldwide
- Licence fee: Not disclosed
- Butler Group/Datamonitor Financial rating: 9.64