Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Enterprise Management - What's Missing?

Enterprise Management has been a somewhat strange market over the years. The problem definitions are really tough but are rewritten to lessen the amount of development needed to achieve something that marketing can spin.  Some elements like correlation and root cause analysis have been dumbed down and respun in an effort for many to tout a "me too" to the uninitiated.

Other areas like performance management platforms have become huge report generators. After all, pretty graphs and charts sell. In some systems, it is amazing the amounts of graphs produced, 90% of which may never be looked at.

The other amazing part is that even though a product is evolved and bought out, there comes a point where design decisions of the past dictate what can and cannot be done going forward. And this holds true for not just the older products but some new ones as well.  It is incredible to see a product that in its relatively young life cycle that has already mandated the inability to extend the architecture further.

The emerging technologies that have come to light most in the past 3 years or so are provisioning, configuration management, and workflow automation. This is especially true in the Cloud realm as Cloud needs standard configuration items, a way of automating provisioning, and ways to pre-provision systems overall. After all, virtualization is the technology and Cloud is the process.

OK - What's Missing?

I know we've seen all of the sales pitches on performance management with charts and graphs. And we've been barraged by the constant pitch for business services management with its dashboards and service trees. And we've seen the event and alarm lists, the maps, and even ticketing.

Someone once said that "a fool with a tool is still a fool".  Effective Enterprise Management Architectures and implementations have NEVER been about tools. Tools are the technology and Workflow is the process. Tools do nothing for the bottom line of an Enterprise or Service Provider without someone using it. In fact, the tools that are not used usually become shelfware or junkware. In many cases, you can't even sell the stuff to some other fool looking for a tool.

One of the most interesting assessments of emerging technologies is the Gartner Hype Cycle. Here is the Wikipedia article on the Hype Cycle.

While it is not so scientific and not really a cycle per se, it is a way to describe the subjective nature of a technology and the phases it goes through. Interestingly, there are five different stages in the Gartner Hype Cycle. Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia describing the Hype cycles.

Five phases

Hype cycle for emerging technologies as of July, 2009
A hype cycle in Gartner's interpretation comprises five phases:
  1. "Technology Trigger" — The first phase of a hype cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.
  2. "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.
  3. "Trough of Disillusionment" — Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
  4. "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
  5. "Plateau of Productivity" — A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.
The term is now used more broadly in the marketing of new technologies.

Now keep in mind, the hype cycle is very subjective. Dependent upon perspective, one person could place a given technology in a different category than you would. (This is why you enlist the expert analysis of the Gartner Analysts.)

Workflow Automation

You see a significant number of Workflow automation products that are just now coming into Service Providers and Enterprises. Part of this is being driven by requirements from cloud services. Cloud Services NEED to be automated. The services need to be automated and user driven as much as possible.

Did we ever get to be ITIL compliant? Or is there such a thing? Maybe for ticketing systems.  But do your organizations reall truly follow ITIL Incident and problem management to the letter? Can your organization?

ITIL defines an Incident as : 
Any event which is not part of the standard operation of a service and which causes, or may cause, an interruption to or a reduction in, the quality of that service. The stated ITIL objective is to restore normal operations as quickly as possible with the least possible impact on either the business or the user, at a cost-effective price.
Effective workflow automation and process optimization begins with a baseline of the process. If you cannot define the process or measure it, how will you improve it? In the spirit of getting ITIL Incident Management to be optimized and effective, one needs to implement effective business process management techniques.

But there are psychological and philosophical problems with how processes are approached and presented.   Some of these "issues" include:
  • The belief that documenting the process is to train someone else for your job.
  • The belief that documenting some technical processes is impossible as it takes into consideration judgement and subjective decisions.
  • The belief that documenting processes gets in the way of actual work.
A significant amount of this is Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt or FUD.  But it can block or kill effective process optimization. You have to manage to and reward process optimization.

Knowledge Management

While you see segmented implementations of Knowledge Management by various products or as modules in ticketing systems, rarely do you see somewhat robust implementations beyond the very large Service Providers.

Knowledge Management takes knowledge, facts, and references, organizes that information and makes it available in the various processes as a way or method of putting the knowledge to work. For example, an event is presented to a level 1support person that denotes an actionable event. In the course of this work, knowledge can be presented at several different aspects to include:

  • Notification instructions to contact the customer
  • Escalation instructions to the appropriate Triage Team
  • Recent histories of the elements in question
  • Scheduled actions and maintenance actions
  • Recent Configuration changes.
  • Checks and validations process data.

Knowledge Management takes information and creates confidence and situation awareness in support organizations. The knowledge enables each and every user or support member to work with common technical terms regardless of level of expertise. Even simple knowledge management tasks such as attaching linkages to vendor technical documentation to configuration records,enables users to be able to reference and communicate better regarding diagnosis, configuration, or provisioning.


When take a step back and look at every application on the market today in the Enterprise Management realm, the one thing that sticks out profoundly is the lack of collaboration capabilities and multi-user awareness. Not one single application has user awareness. For example, you open a network map. Who else is in that map? When you open a ticket, who else has that ticket open?

Applications don't really enable folks to work together. They are more geared toward individual actions. Then when that person is done, it is escalated to the next person. And when things move across products, it is even worse.

Consider the customer who calls into a service Provider with a problem. The first level takes down the ticket information, runs through some run book elements, then escalates the ticket to the next level of support. At this point,the customer is told they will get a call from the next tier. So, the customer hangs up and waits on the next call. In this scenario, who owns the problem? What if Tier 2 doesn't call back for a long period of time?

While this scenario is all too common, who is collaborating? The customer is stuck dealing with a bunch of individual contributors to get their problem resolved. There is no team. The only way the customer gets a team is to initiate an escalation to the Service Representative for the Account and crank up a conference call with all of the Managers.

Effective customer service and customer support is a TEAM effort that requires collaboration and socialization. It is not about fielding tickets. It is about taking care of the customer.

There are products on the horizon that will empower collaboration as a whole but still, a significant amount of work needs to be done on each individual product.

The Hype Cycle

The Gartner folks are much more precise and much better at accurately listing the Hypecycle than I am capable of. However, I like the way it depicts a product or technology lifecycle. I am merely overlaying my opinion on the Gartner definitions. While I know its subjective and only my opinion, here's where I put these technologies in the Gartner Hype Cycle:

Workflow Automation – Between the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and the “Trough of Disillusionment”.

There are a significant number of product offerings in the industry that do these functions. And getting more and more each day. While we do see new product offerings for the same sort of functionality, everyone seems to think they do it better. Yet many fall short, are too complex to maintain, or are too expensive.

The big players have purchased many of the initial workflow automation applications and next generation applications are in process. Additionally, BPM related systems are being enhanced to perform more of the workflow automation associated with Enterprise Management.

Interesting links:

Knowledge Management -- “Technology Trigger”

While there are a couple of KM systems offerings, most of the implementations are released as product features or are developed by large service providers for in house use only. For example, there are KM functions in SCOM/SCCM. Additionally, there are KM modules for ticketing systems like Remedy.

What you do see is that larger Service Providers are investing heavily in KM systems. It is done for many reasons, chief among them is driving down the cost of support and leveraging knowledge across multiple customers. Makes sense as these large outsourcing and service providers are usually a training ground for entry level personnel. Implementing KM systems is an accelerator for learning in these environments.

Interesting links:

WiiKno - The company helps organizations put in place Knowledge Management systems and integration.
Microsoft Knowledge Management Architecture paper
BMC Knowledge Management

Collaboration – “Technology Trigger”

There are a couple of emerging technologies here that could very well redefine how IT organizations perform operations and support. You may very well see some older technologies (Like Ticketing) take a back seat to newer collaboration and socialization technologies.

Part of the problem is that ticketing systems rarely capture enough information to do detailed operations analysis and optimization. They are typically too user overbearing to facilitate much of the real time notes that get missed or input after the fact.

When problems are ongoing, do you get the full monte of whats going on? Or do you have to aggregate your own picture? How effective is your post mortem analysis data?  Do you see and recognize involvement by different support functions, business units, and the customers?

Interesting links:

MOOGSoft - Check out the guys behind the curtains.