By Loraine Lawson
With Atwell Williams, director of Enterprise Service Management at BMC Software.
This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report on Aligning IT and Business Goals. To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit www.itbusinessedge.com.
Question: I understand your company uses and markets what you call Business Services Management as a method of aligning IT and business. Can you explain what BSM is?
Williams: It's really a strategy that has products that can be used to implement that strategy. BSM is all about viewing IT from a business prospective, and so we have tools (acquired during the acquisition of a company called Remedy) that help you work at that. We'd gotten really good at managing and monitoring our infrastructure. If we had a server crash in the middle of the night, we knew it before the user would find out. What we couldn't do was tell you the business impact of that server going down in the middle of the night. We treated everything as an emergency that had to be dealt with right away. An example of that is we had a user who worked out of her home, and we put a LAN link into her house. We monitored that link in the same way that we monitored the link to any of our other major offices: Tel Aviv, Boston, New York. When that link would go down in the middle of the night, she's sound asleep in bed and we've got people scrambling to fix it. So what BSM does is it allows you to put IT in the proper context of the impact to the business.
Question: What changes has it meant in how IT approaches business and vice versa?
Williams: When you think of IT and business alignment, I think there are two levels—strategic alignment and tactical alignment. Strategically, we felt we were pretty much aligned. Our CIO sits at the table with the CEO and the top executives, so we know that we're basically working on the things that are important to the business. The question is, tactically are you aligned? And that's what we're finding wasn't always the case. For example, we asked the corporate treasurer what things were important to him, and he described a process for currency conversion. Currency conversion is very similar to stock market prices—they're constantly fluctuating. We use a particular system to make sure what our price is before we did the deal, and if that system's unavailable at the time we're trying to do a currency conversion, it could literally cost us tens of millions of dollars. And so I said, "Oh really, what system is that?" He named the system. I said, "What server does that run on?" He named the server, and I leaned over to our lead architect, and I said, "Do we even monitor that server?" He said, "I don't know, but I'll make a note to go see." Here's something that's just vitally important to our business, and we didn't even know about it. Now, as it turns out, we were monitoring it. But prior to this process, that event would have been of equal importance to us as the event of the browser going down at one in the morning for someone who's sound asleep.
Question: What lesson did you learn in this process that you'd like to share with other IT leaders?
Williams: To me, the biggest thing that we've found is that process is vital. Technology is important, but if you take a bad process and automate it, all you've done is figure out how to screw up faster. So, we discovered it was vitally important to make sure we have good processes in place. For instance, it'd be a shame to do all this work and not have a process in place to keep it updated. And so that's what we discovered. Don't underestimate the importance of having the right processes in place.