Entente Cordiale lives in UK mid-market ITM challenge

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

It’s not often that the French will acknowledge they can learn
from the British, or vice-versa. Yet French IT management (ITM)
software publisher Staff&Line has already benefitted from both
French and British innovation—and this is set to have a
positive impact on how British mid-market companies manage their IT

What is fairly certain is that we are about to hear a lot more
of Staff&Line and its flagship product EasyVista (or EV for
short) here in the UK.

Back in the 1990s, the French government brought in tax breaks
for those French companies who accounted for all their internal
assets—including, for instance, tracking all the company PCs,
their depreciation and the number of software licences. This
quickly created a large French market for IT asset management
systems—with a consequent boom for software companies who
could meet that demand.

This step was good for French businesses, who thereby generally
managed their assets better than their counterparts elsewhere.
Then, when the US (for instance) woke up to the value of such
software, French companies were ahead of the game. In some cases
their software (or the company itself) was snapped up by a leading
US-based player and then became part of its new offering. So let us
Brits acknowledge a wise move by the French.

Staff&Line was one such ITM company, but remained
independent. As such, it gained some large French users, including
a huge contract with the French military, but failed to really
penetrate markets outside France. The high end of the ITM market
outside France is dominated by the likes of CA, HP (partly through
its Peregrine acquisition in 2005) and BMC Remedy. However, smaller
organisations, who might balk at their prices, have struggled to
find a product suite that was comprehensive yet affordable.

From now on competition may start hotting up. Last year,
Staff&Line IPO’d and then embarked on an aggressive plan to
expand across Europe, mostly by acquisition. Following the purchase
of Sight Group spanning Spain, Portugal and Italy, early this year,
it completed its acquisition of UK asset management software
reseller SAM UK on 31st October.

The move looks a shrewd one. Not only were SAM personnel already
well-versed in ITM, but Staff&Line immediately gained some 250
largely SME users from SAM. These do not use EV products of course;
typically they use Centennial Software’s Centennial Discovery asset
management software, for which SAM has been a major reseller. Now
work is progressing apace to provide a direct interface between
Discovery and EV—which in turn will open up a marketplace
among these users to a host of new modules previously not available
to them.

Staff&Line has revamped and extended its software twice. Its
second iteration, Actium, is well-known and still has some large
users. However EV, with its third iteration, is very different. It
was developed from the ground up in English (but so far supports
six languages) and, unusually, is an entirely web-based system
which users access through a portal.

The integrated EV modules together describe what really ought
now to be mandatory functionality for any but the smallest
companies, but is in fact rarely available in its entirety except
among the high-end products. EV is highly scalable so does not
necessarily have to carry high-end pricing for mid-market companies
with less users.

Here is the type of functionality I mean. EV’s asset management
includes licence monitoring, with contracts and compliance status,
depreciation, budgeting and internal chargeback. Its service
management supports incident and problem monitoring and escalation,
plus service contracts such as the all-important service level
agreements (SLAs).

Change management uses a workflow process to deal with requests
for change which can be submitted directly by users through to
their approval or rejection, maintains a service catalogue which
users can access, and records delivery, with a remote distribution
capability for software. Configuration management, inventory and
audit reporting, and discovery of network assets are a few of the
other functions.

But perhaps its most attractive feature is behind the scenes. It
utilises a single multi-layer repository—one federated SQL
database (SQL Server, Oracle or DB2)—to cover all modules.
Typically, such products may carry three or four separate
databases. Because of this, users can implement a new EV module by
doing little more than switching it on.

So far I have failed to mention the British contribution which,
as with the French, has its roots in government. This is the IT
Infrastructure Library (ITIL), developed initially by the CCTA
which was subsumed into Office of Government Computing (OGC). As
ITM practitioners well know, ITIL is a set of best practices, as
viewed from a business perspective, that covers all these types of
functions. Although not actually a standard, it is now being
adopted in various countries across the world—and the ISO
20000 standard has been developed out of it.

Staff&Line really had no option but to embrace ITIL in a big
way, since it is now often mandated for those tendering for ITM
business. So it is unsurprising to find all the new Staff&Line
UK employees scheduled to complete the ITIL foundation course at
least by the end of 2007. Meanwhile EV’s advertising describes it
as an “All-in-one 100% ITIL solution”. If it can truly
live up to that claim, it stands to stir up UK ITM
interest—starting now.