How machine learning is changing IT service management

BMC looks like it is eyeing up CA in a deal to power its digital strategy. We assess the changes in IT service management

BMC is in early discussions to fund the acquisition of its rival, CA, according to reports on Bloomberg. Rumours of the deal come at a time when BMC is shifting from its role in IT operations to an enabler of the so-called digital workplace.

The company is moving from being a provider of back-office IT support technologies to an enabler for new, digitally enabled services, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

BMC has been busy trying to make its products appeal to business leaders who are responsible for digital strategies.

In a blog post following last year’s BMC Engage conference, Forrester principal analyst Nigel Fenwick wrote that the company had positioned many of its current raft of products to help tech leaders deliver a more efficient and agile tech capability for the business.

“One of the biggest challenges for many large technology teams is their lack of agility,” he said. “In the age of the customer, tech teams need to tap into every opportunity (and automation capability) to drive greater agility and efficiency throughout their technology delivery capabilities.”

Fenwick said that over the past three years, BMC has been refocusing its products and strategy to partner with customers around digital enablement and has been undergoing its own digital transformation in an effort to bring a “solutions-oriented approach to customers”.

BMC recently introduced the Digital Workplace, a cloud-based service that it said redefines the future of work by transforming the digital workplace experience with employees at the centre.

The idea is to provide employee self-service, according to one of BMC’s customers, Tyler Lowe, vice-president, senior service delivery manager at the Bank of America. “Creating a successful digital workplace requires not thinking about a workplace at all, but rather how employees have access to the information, apps and services they need without being dependent on someone else,” said Lowe.

Nayaki Nayyar, president, digital service management at BMC, said of the new initiative: “The future of work will be built on transformative digital workplaces that engage and empower employees by placing them at the centre of an increasingly cognitive enterprise.”

Digitalising IT as an enabler

BMC’s digital workplace appears to be an attempt by the company to align itself with the digitisation trend. In a recent article, Barclay Rae, CEO of the IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF), noted that digital requires a rethink of IT and business. “Going ‘digital’ really means finally joining up the dots of how technology can be made to work for business and not against or as a separate part of it,” he said. “This approach calls on various new or refreshed ideas.

“What is new is that this is driven totally by business expectations and not simply financial or technical constraints. The driver, more often than not, is now very much around collaboration and working to shared goals.”

One example of this joined up-thinking is Aylesbury Vale District Council, which recently won digital transformation project of the year at the Professional Service Management Awards. Its Right Here Right Now digital transformation programme started with a simple website refresh, but soon turned into a complete overhaul of council services. It went beyond deploying new digital technologies towards creating a more commercially minded, customer-centric council, and pushing channel shift as the most sustainable option.

The council has begun breaking down the silos between departments and restructuring and joining up how services are run in line with a new customer-centric approach. In the second phase, the council said it will be looking at further integration for back-end transactions and the development of artificial intelligence processes.

Joined-up access is essential

For true employee self-service, business systems need to be interconnected in a way that provides managed access. When Computer Weekly spoke to ticket booking company Ticketmaster in March, the company’s senior vice-president for technical operations, Justin Dean, said: “Over the years, we have been adding APIs [application programming interfaces] to modernise the interface to our ticketing engines and platforms.”  In doing so, the company has enabled developers in other parts of the business to access some of its core legacy systems.

In BMC’s vision for the digital workplace, given the right security constraints, employees should be able to access any system they need to complete their job. Both CA and BMC offer a suite of tools to support mainframe systems, DevOps, compliance, API management, IT operations and IT service management.

At the start of this year, CA bought Autonomic, a company specialising in automating business processes.

According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for IT service support management tools, BMC’s nearest rival in the IT service management market is ServiceNow. In January, ServiceNow acquired DxContinuum, a company that it said would provide machine learning for its customers.

Last year, BMC introduced a tool called TrueSight Intelligence, which it said could automatically learn behaviour from machine data, service desk data, business data or even external sources of data, such as social sentiment, traffic and weather. This data is then aggregated and contextualised to show relationships and patterns among metrics, among events and between metrics and events, Shayne Higdon, vice-president of product management, wrote in a blog last year.

Arguably, with Autonomic, CA already has a product engineered to understand certain IT workloads, while BMC TrueSight Intelligence is a more general-purpose tool.

Read more about IT service management

Such technologies are expected to be key enablers of business growth. The McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4% a year.

IT service management is one of the business areas that could benefit from this, and the ITSMF is beginning to see machine learning and AI used to improve IT service management. “Toolsets have become better and you can link to something like Amazon Alexa, but many people are quite sceptical,” said the ITSMF’s Rae.

The real value of IT service management is in stopping failure, said Rae. In the past, the IT department relied on IT expertise, but Rae said he expects machine learning to be applied to software and server logs to identify when corrective actions need to be put in place to avoid downtime.

If BMC does indeed buy CA, it would acquire the Autonomic automation tool plus a suite of rival API management, IT operations and mainframe tools.  Clearly, there will be product overlap, but with its Digital Workplace strategy, BMC is looking to raise the bar and start conversations with business executives. How CA fits in with this remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, BMC is determined to become a digital enabler for businesses.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics