Who'd be a CIO? He or she has to be a special type of person—who understands the technology used by the business, what it can and cannot do, and be able to give a technical lead to the Board—while also taking the flak from the Board for IT not meeting their business needs.
CIOs need to turn the business policies into IT reality if they can, something getting ever harder to do with the growth of regulatory compliance and security concerns. IT is always under the spotlight; costs are high and rising, while issues include retention of IT staff with appropriate skills, retraining costs and salary bills. Still, CIOs worth their salt will at least have their fingers on the pulse of the IT infrastructure...won't they? Well no.
Much of the IT infrastructure management software available provides masses of information—but not actually the "step back" overall trend stuff that the CIO needs to let him or her see the wood for the trees—to take wise actions and present meaningfully to the Board.
So I found it very refreshing to talk to BDNA (stands for Business DNA) last week. Here is a company that has ploughed its own software furrow, focusing explicitly on the sort of information the CIO is looking for.
BDNA's Insight software does not compete with the likes of IBM, CA and HP with their mega-management solutions, and does little or nothing in real-time. Instead it simply takes regular checks on the infrastructure assets to show what is happening where—and enriches them for the CIO to be able to visualise and then explain the IT situation in language and graphics that are meaningful to the corporate business executives affected by what is happening.
Once you know what the problems are—performance, energy costs, utilisation, gaps in business applications and so on—then maybe you can address the real business needs. Yet the 24/7 real-time IT infrastructure world is often too involved in fire-fighting to stop and deliver the appropriate answers.
At its heart, Insight has an agentless discovery engine which will pick up operating systems, databases, applications, layers and multiple protocols from the whole corporate infrastructure. (This might be run, say, monthly or quarterly; not being real-time it will typically use less than 0.1% of the bandwidth.) It will also go on to run the results against its product catalogue to auto-add vendor content automatically; so the first the CIO sees is when this has been done.
So, you may think: "My IT infrastructure management software does real-time discovery of everything as it changes; so why would I bother to repeat this process?" Here are a few good reasons...
- All these IT assets can be presented by business function to show the line managers what is happening.
- They can, in true asset management style, be highlighted in business terms against what operating systems or applications are out of date, unlicensed, not being used but being paid for and so on. (Who knows, for instance, how many "free" downloads of Linux are in use—even in production systems, let alone why?)
As BDNA's CEO Ray Homan told me, "This answers the simple question of what are you using it [an application, operating system etc.] for?" This information is often a rich seam for revenue retrieval in things such as: deleting unused software, cancelling unnecessary licenses and negotiating better licensing deals with vendors. Major IT management systems providing lots of detailed information do not always provide straightforward answers to simple questions like these.
- Then, if this process is run, say, a week or month later, this builds up trend information, showing clearly at fixed points in time, what has changed, got worse or improved. It also provides some clear evidence for the CIO to take to the Board about the progress on requested actions the IT department—or maybe a department that is a heavy IT user—has made since the last check.
In ITIL v3 there is a best practice recommendation that users should do a regular reconciliation of their configuration management database (CMDB) using an external source. One reason is that the CMDBs the major vendors provide and update in near real-time will typically "age adrift" of the true over time. Vendors may deny this ever happens to their CMDB of course. OK, then run Insight against the CMDB as the external check—and see what it throws up. The results might surprise—and reveal more IT asset savings or improvements to be had.
This is hardly rocket science. Yet it is a practical, commonsense approach. CIOs who use it seem to love it—perhaps because it is the only show in town that really helps them.