IT and Business Alignment: Has APM Evolved to Fulfill the Promise of BSM? Part 2
March 27, 2014

Sridhar Iyengar
ManageEngine

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In the first article of this two-part series, we looked at the early days of Business Service Management (BSM), which promised to align IT with business but failed to do so. In short, the technology driving early BSM solutions simply could not perform the tasks that BSM demanded. In Part 2 of this article series, we will look at the rising popularity of Application Performance Monitoring (APM), the resurgence of BSM, and how APM and BSM are converging to achieve the goal of IT and business alignment.

Start with Part 1 of this article

APM Rising, BSM Resurging

When it comes to customer calls — either internal users or users on the other side of the corporate firewall — IT heads and IT managers wish for just two things.

First, they wish that the phone wouldn't ring. That is, everything's running smoothly, and users have no need to call for service or support.

Second, if the phone does ring, they wish that users aren't the ones to tell the IT team what the problem is. On the contrary, they wish that the IT team could tell the users, "We've already seen a change in your IT environment, and it's affecting your service performance. Here's what we're doing about it. ..." This is proactive application performance management.

In the ideal case, the IT team may anticipate the impact of a change in the IT environment and take preventive measures even before the user is impacted. So the users may not call or even be aware that their destiny has been favorably altered. Sounds futuristic? The future may not be that far away. While interest and faith in BSM waned in the last few years, APM has emerged as a stronger technology for IT organizations to rely on.

APM started out with application code instrumentation and transaction tracing of business critical applications. Since then, APM has evolved to encompass and assimilate several technologies such as:

- Auto-discovery of applications along with associated topology of network, server and storage infrastructure

- Service dependency modeling and relationship building

- Infrastructure and applications monitoring

- Tracing business transactions using application code instrumentation

- End-user experience monitoring using synthetic and real user monitoring

- Applying topology and service relationship knowledge to precisely identify the root cause of an outage

- Real-time alerting and alert prioritization

- Historical analysis to understand past patterns and behaviors

- Predictive analytics to anticipate occurrences of IT events that could have negative impact on business

Wait a minute. Don't these capabilities remind us of the erstwhile BSM goals and the pipe dream of aligning IT with business?

It looks like the modern APM solution by virtue of encompassing auto-discovery, application dependency and service modeling along with real-time monitoring of infrastructures, applications and IT services will be able to present us with the true root cause of problems — as they occur.

These capabilities combined with a configuration management database (CMDB) that lies at the centralized heart of IT, and ITIL processes such as incident, problem and change management allow us to model the impact of IT on business processes.

Why Is End-User Experience Monitoring Such a Big Deal in APM?

When APM as an IT management category emerged, it started off focused primarily on monitoring the backend application infrastructure to reflect the status of the application and the application infrastructure. At that time of its infancy, it did not include monitoring from the end-user perspective.

However, in the last couple of years, end-user experience monitoring has emerged as a key focal point for APM solutions and gained monumental importance. So much so that upcoming APM solution providers have been seen to focus on just this one area of APM. Why is this so?

In the past, IT operations often had a frustrated customer call in to report non-availability or degradation of service, yet the system management dashboards showed "all greens". This meant that the operations monitoring did not capture the status from the customer's point of view.

End-user experience monitoring in conjunction with backend application monitoring provides IT teams with a way to see and measure the delivery of IT services the same way a customer would. In turn, IT organizations can become more customer-centric. This customer-centric approach has caught the fancy of IT heads, who have pushed APM to focus more toward end-user experience monitoring.

End-user experience monitoring can help project the IT team as a business-enabling profit center rather than a budget-hungry, naysaying, cost center. One way to do that is to define service level agreements (SLAs), which are a menu card of IT services along with each service's scope, quality and associated costs. This sets clear expectations on both sides. The IT team and the business that uses the IT service have a documented agreement on what can and cannot be done and the cost for using the IT service. Based on the consumption of the IT service, the IT team should charge back to the consumer of that service and demonstrate the value for providing the IT service. In such cases, measuring end-user experience metrics such as availability and response time will be used to define the SLAs.

End-User Experience Monitoring and BSM

BSM is all about aligning IT with business. In today's customer-centric world, business = customer. Here, customer means the end user or consumer of the IT services. So if you put this in context, aligning IT with business (the goal of BSM) is the same as aligning IT with customers' needs.

This implies BSM means understanding, viewing and offering services from the customer's point of view, and that is exactly what end-user experience monitoring offers. Hence the spirit of end-user experience monitoring is in line with the philosophy of BSM and not against it. In fact, it is the business- and customer-focused objective of BSM that pushes the need for end-user experience monitoring.

Where Do We Go from Here?

We are living in interesting times where we can see emergence, intersections and amalgamation of technologies and best practices such as ITIL, BSM, APM and end-user monitoring as well as deployment models such as virtualization and SaaS. And as we've seen in this series, it's starting to make some sense now as various pieces begin to fall in place.

While it's obvious that the concept of BSM is the right path toward a customer-oriented APM, it has to be adopted in a way that makes it easier to manage dynamic changes in the IT environment. The union of the technologies and best practices mentioned above shows promise of getting us ever closer to the BSM dream and the holy grail of IT and business alignment.

Sridhar Iyengar is VP, Product Management, at ManageEngine
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