Buyer's guide: Does IT need its own ERP?

Increasingly, there is a need to be able to manage the whole of an IT platform, not only at the server, storage and network levels, but also at the software, performance and even the datacentre facility level, writes Clive Longbottom (pictured).


Increasingly, there is a need to be able to manage the whole of an IT platform, not only at the server, storage and network levels, but also at the software, performance and even the datacentre facility level, writes Clive Longbottom (pictured). This has led to a new term being bandied around - enterprise resource planning for information technology - ERP for IT or just ERP4IT. However, to see whether this has any value to the business, it is first important to see how we have got to where we are today.


Diversity of systems management tools leads to complexity

Initially, in the days of the mainframe, systems management was built-in. When distributed computing came in, different systems evolved to manage each type of environment, leading to specialised tools for managing the mainframe, the midi-server, Windows-based machines and so on. From this, the "super management" vendors emerged - the likes of CA with Unicenter, BMC with Patrol, HP with OpenView and Tivoli (now IBM) with TME. However, these solutions only supported certain aspects of IT management, which led to a need for new sets of tools to manage and support additional IT management tasks.

There are several tasks required in today's broad IT management ecosystem. Vendors such as Flexera Software (was Macrovision) and Frontrange provide license software management systems to optimise the usage of software and operating systems across the IT platform, while the likes of Gomez and Visual Network Systems (an offshoot of Fluke) offer application performance management solutions.

Increasingly, the datacentre facility itself plays an important part of the equation, and the likes of nlyte (was GDCM) and Aperture (now part of Emerson Network Power) provide software to better design and monitor cooling and energy usage.

As organisations were faced with numerous problems, this was matched with an even larger variety of vendors stating they were the only ones who could solve a specific issue for them. The very act of attempting a solution to systems management created a new problem - managing the systems management software itself, a broad collection of mis-matched and complex tools from a range of vendors.

Pulling together all these different solutions led to a further need - a capability to manage IT projects from design to implementation, along with how the resulting systems would be monitored, maintained and managed. Unsurprisingly, a host of vendors were available to help - for example, CA again with Clarity, Primavera (now acquired by Oracle) and Microsoft offered software to provide project portfolio management software to try and pull everything together.

As complexity grew, so did the need to be able to demonstrate IT governance. This is a broad environment, and can mean anything from managing the system to minimise downtime, to areas such as ISO27001 for IT security, ISO14000 for IT environmental governance, or ISO19770 for software asset management. The majority of these solutions are based around COBIT (from ISACA) as a governance framework and process engine. Vendors such as Casewise and Safestone provide solutions here.

Once a project has been completed, any changes to the runtime environment need to be controlled. The IT Information Library (ITIL) approach has now been adopted by most systems management companies - CA and BMC have been prime movers in this area - to enable best practice to be built in to managing various aspects of change. ITIL and COBIT can work hand-in-glove - or be at odds with each other.

Certain vendors then tried to bring everything under a framework umbrella. Users found this constraining and expensive. New suppliers brought out point solutions and a best-of-breed, distributed mess has resulted.


Can ERP for IT pull it all together?

But will ERP for IT make any difference? ERP for IT is based on the same approach as ERP for business - bringing together disparate aspects of process into a single approach to provide a streamlined and efficient means of dealing with the processes involved.

However, ERP for business has had its own chequered history, and a single vendor approach has failed in many cases to show the promised business value. Many find ERP for business to be constraining and find it difficult to build in the flexibility required for dealing with fundamental change, such as surviving a recession. ERP for IT could be hit by this - but also by any perception that it is a "rip and replace" approach.

If a company has made investments in a large systems management vendor's product portfolio, a company coming along with a "rip and replace" story will certainly not be at the top of their priority list. One that comes along with a single pane of glass (SPOG) story will also likely be damned, due to what the users have been promised previously. How about one that adds certain functions to an existing environment, working with the available tools and essentially being seamless in how it works?

It sounds good, but may still be damned through the way that so much has been promised this way in the past - and has failed to match its promise. If ERP for IT is aiming at pulling everything together - just what is "everything"? New architectures will require new thinking, and will ERP for IT vendors be able to embrace cloud computing across value networks - or will it be an internal enterprise view only?


Take a compliance-oriented architecture approach to systems management

From Quocirca's point of view, it is far better for an organisation to take a compliance-oriented architecture approach and start with the desired business outcome, and then work back as to what the required technical steps are. Quocirca's recent research demonstrates good system management underpins good business performance - but only when done well.

Quocirca recommends buyers look for information management systems that can:

  1. Primarily, put the technical environment in a better position to support the business
  2. Demonstrate support for industry standards, such as ISO, ITIL and COBIT without fighting each other
  3. Fit in with existing tools and systems in place
  4. Be flexible to adapt to changes in both the business and IT landscapes

By taking a desired outcome approach, a compliance-oriented architecture (COA) can be built up that not only enables a managed IT platform to be built, but also enables internal and external compliance with standards and legal requirements to be created. This looks at things from an intellectual property (IP) point of view (which is where the business's financial performance will reside), rather than an IT one - but does require IT tools to provide the desired environment.

A COA - when planned and implemented correctly - should lead to good IT management and do away with the concept of a hard-wired ERP for IT system. In itself, ERP for IT is probably yet another IT red-herring - something that could end up being as prescriptive as the systems management frameworks of the late 1990s, rather than the inclusive and flexible solutions that are increasingly demanded by IT and the business alike today.


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