ITIL drives merger of help desk and asset management tools

ITIL's drive for a wholistic view of IT incidents is changing the products CIOs use to manage their infrastructure.

One of the main tenets of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is enabling the ability to view individual incidents in a collective manner. That way, IT departments are best equipped with the historical and contextual information they need to prevent the larger problems that create system downtime, or at the very least speed the resolution of such problems. This integrated approach to solving technical issues has led many big systems management vendors down the acquisition path as they try to offer customers integrated suites that support ITIL rather than point solutions.

As ITIL has extended beyond large companies and permeated medium-sized proponents toward a more integrated approach has affected smaller vendors that target medium-sized companies as well. Recently, FrontRange Solutions, a provider of software for IT service management and PC lifecycle management acquired Centennial Software, a U.K. based niche vendor that offers software for asset management, IT inventory and network security, among other products.

The move toward ITIL and integration

The acquisition "supports the trend we're seeing," said David Coyle, the vice president of IT service desk and IT service management at Gartner 

"While there's nothing necessarily new in a service desk vendor acquiring an inventory and asset management vendor, the IT organisations at small and medium-sized (SMB) companies are increasingly looking for a full suite of tools." Indeed, the FrontRange acquisition is only the latest move in a long line of consolidations affecting the IT service management market. A few years ago, the big vendors began snapping up asset management companies such as Remedy and Peregrine (acquired by BMC Software and Hewlett-Packard, respectively) to provide customers with a full suite of service management products.

According to Coyle, companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees have now begun to turn to ITIL and continuous improvement processes to streamline IT operations. And while BMC, CA, HP and IBM have long targeted large companies with ITIL-supporting integrated tools, smaller outfits typically can't afford their wares. (Nor do they need all the functionality, Coyle noted.) The FrontRange/Centennial deal indicates that the best-of-breed, point-solution approach no longer appeals to smaller companies that adopt ITIL or other similar process-improvement approaches, Coyle said.

"These companies have traditionally used best-of-breed tools," Coyle said. "Five years ago, it may have worked to have an IT help desk tool all by itself and run it in a vacuum." But as IT becomes infinitely more complex – and more ingrained in every facet of smaller businesses – the best-of-breed approach no longer flies. "Smaller companies are looking for vendors that can provide most of what they are looking for in an integrated suite," Coyle said. "They want the same functionality as big companies."

Getting to IT service management

As ITIL adoption has increased, John Ragsdale, the vice president of technology research at the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA), a trade group for technology service and support professionals, says that it's no longer practical to have separate point solutions for incident management, change management and asset management. "The assets are also key to any proactive monitoring and support initiatives, which we are seeing our members adopting heavily," Ragsdale said. Combining the relevant products of FrontRange and Centennial into a single portfolio stands to provide a more complete IT service management capability, according to Steve Dreyer, president of SMA Management Systems, a US-based provider of ITSM services and products. "Customers want that 360-degree view of assets and incidents." Dreyer said, adding that customers also want a one-stop shop in which they have to deal only with a single vendor for IT service management needs. One FrontRange and Centennial customer epitomises how consolidation among vendors could potentially foster better IT operations. Since 2004, a senior IT manager at a credit union (whose company policy requires him to remain anonymous) has used FrontRange Heat. In 2005, he then implemented Centennial discovery products. For him, the possibility of combining the capabilities of both help desk and asset management products into a single portfolio makes eminent sense. "Pulling asset information into our incident management system will certainly ease our troubleshooting," the IT manager said, who added that his company is an ITIL shop. "The acquisition will be a big benefit if it means that I have to buy fewer tools and not do the integration."

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