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ITOM: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It Right
Historically, most IT discussions centered on functions such as IT asset management (ITAM) and IT service management (ITSM). But these and other core IT functions are both driven by and are critical elements of a larger topic: IT operations management, or ITOM. In recent years, ITOM has gained prominence as an area of strategic focus for IT management leaders and their teams, and for some IT management solution vendors as well. Now is, therefore, a good time to take a detailed look at ITOM and how your team and your business might approach it successfully.
The Gartner IT Glossary says ITOM includes “all the tools needed to manage the provisioning, capacity, performance, and availability of the computing, networking and application environment.” Gartner divides ITOM into 10 major functional and market segments. These are listed alphabetically below.
This list of things to do is broad, and touches and overlaps with multiple other areas of IT management. That breadth of purview underscores the criticality of ITOM to the effective management of the IT estate of any business. In essence, IT operations management involves activities responsible for the smooth functioning of all IT services that support the business. It manages different aspects like network, storage, servers, and security of your business environment.
Operations management basically got its start the same year the U.S. declared its independence. In 1776, philosopher and economist Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations.” In that work, Smith argued that a team of workers, each assigned a specific task, could build products more efficiently than having each worker build a single product from start to finish. This argument led Henry Ford to create what we now call assembly lines. It was also the foundation of what would become operations management.
With the Industrial Revolution and the rise of mechanization, Ford and others began collecting and analyzing data about production processes, and using that data to improve those processes. Then, as computers started becoming business tools, data collection and analysis became more automated and sophisticated. Inventory management systems began to add more data to the operations management mix.
Throughout most of its history, operations management focused on manufacturing and related areas, such as inventory and distribution. With the rise of the service industry, operations managers began to apply their knowledge and experience to improve the development and delivery of services. And as IT systems grew in popularity and business value, IT service management (ITSM) became a distinct discipline and another area of focus for operations managers.
Today, ITSM is the other area of IT management that is most often associated with ITOM. This is the result of the evolution of IT management, among businesses that both use and sell IT solutions. As IT environments and management solutions became more complex and sophisticated, business IT teams began to implement ITSM solutions. Over time, those solutions gained features that enabled basic, then more comprehensive management of IT operations.
ITSM and ITOM are inextricably intertwined and have important differences as well. ITSM is focused on the development, delivery, and management of IT services. ITOM is more about the management of the processes that enable and govern those services. Put another way, one can think of the “OM” in “ITOM” as short for “outcomes and metrics.” Effective ITOM seeks to optimize operational processes to achieve outcomes and meet or exceed metrics deemed important to the business.
Let’s take a look at an example. Imagine your favorite restaurant:
The waiter, the kitchen, the menu card, and the food you order constitute a service—dining. All these individual elements are responsible for providing an exceptional experience to your senses. This is service management. In order to provide great service, a strong restaurant infrastructure is required— the lighting, the air conditioning, the handheld waiter pads, the music, billing systems, the internet, the electricity to power these systems, etc. This is operations management. As you can see, these two functions are similar and different at the same time. Nonetheless, it takes both sides to deliver an exceptional experience to customers.
Similarly, an organization can perform at its highest potential and deliver the desired business results if both ITSM and ITOM processes are incorporated into the IT ecosystem. By combining the powerful capabilities of ITOM and ITSM, organizations will be able to manage their IT infrastructure performance, availability, and business metrics and optimize systems and applications to meet changing business needs. With that said, to extract maximum efficiency out of your IT environment, an effective IT asset management (ITAM) strategy is necessary. Mapping all the assets in your organization helps both ITSM and ITOM perform better. And subsequently, for an effective ITAM strategy, you need a strong configuration management database (CMDB). As is the case with ITSM vs ITOM, IT asset management and CMBD are two terms that are used interchangeably.
Every business is increasingly reliant upon available, reliable, secure, highly performant IT to do business. The ability to deliver “business-class” IT is directly and completely reliant on the ability of an IT team to manage its operations effectively. Specifically, that team must be able to identify, prioritize, effectively execute, and manage the processes that drive operational tasks and activities. Effective ITOM processes and solutions enable IT teams to achieve those goals efficiently and consistently.
Effective ITOM offers multiple important benefits to any IT-powered business. ITOM can help optimize the delivery and maximize the quality of business and IT services, by improving the processes that drive those efforts. ITOM can improve the ability of IT teams to monitor the health of business IT estates. ITOM can help those teams anticipate and prevent unplanned outages and resolve problems rapidly with minimal disruption of business operations. ITOM can also help reduce business risk and improve governance and compliance with regulations and business requirements.
ITOM can deliver these and other business benefits because it extends visibility into the IT estate and how it functions. ITSM, ITAM, and other IT management functions enable visibility into IT resources and the relationships that link them to each other, the services they enable, and users. ITOM extends that visibility into underlying operational processes and the connections between those processes and the IT estate itself.
ITOM can also improve the execution of key operational processes. By automating repetitive elements of process execution, ITOM solutions can reduce or eliminate inconsistencies and errors that bedevil manual practices. As it also benefits ITSM, ITAM, and other functions, ITOM automation can extend the reach of scarce, expensive human experts, and free staffers for reallocation to more complex or higher-value tasks.
Every business is pursuing or considering some form of digital transformation. This is a business imperative because digital technologies are transforming how almost everything is built, bought, and sold, and how customers and partners expect to do business.
IT leaders and teams are the primary “feet on the ground” for these efforts. And in many ways, IT service desk teams are the primary interface between IT users and IT operational processes.
In March and April of 2018, the Service Desk Institute (SDI) surveyed a number of service desk professionals about digital transformation at their organizations. Nearly half of all respondents (43 percent) said their service desk teams had undertaken at least one digital transformation project. An additional 26 percent said they had plans to pursue such an undertaking “in the near future.”
When asked where the push to undertake a digital transformation project came from, 43 percent of respondents cited their service desk teams, second only to “Management” (70 percent). More respondents cited their service desk teams than “The Business” (41 percent) or “The Customers” (30 percent).
Respondents were also asked how they prepared for their digital transformation projects. Notably, the most popular response, cited by more than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent), was “Reviewed and/or refined processes.” Process review and refinement was cited by more respondents than discussing needs with customers (65 percent).
An April 2018 Grand View Research study predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the cloud managed services market of 15.4 percent through 2025. If that projected growth rate is fully realized, the cloud managed services could exceed $80 billion by that year, according to the study.
The benefits of cloud computing make such growth easy to understand. Cloud computing makes a variety of valuable business computing resources available as pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-grow services. This can shift often prohibitive capital expenses to more manageable and predictable operating expenses, and extend IT resources without creating additional management or maintenance burdens. But cloud computing is challenging to integrate with and manage alongside incumbent premises-based IT resources. And cloud computing services come in multiple versions from multiple vendors with multiple types of licensing schemes. All of this places new and more complex demands on those responsible for managing and executing operational IT processes.
The mobile, social web now includes millions of users, devices, and connections around the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) has added billions of devices and connections to the mix, and promises to continue to do so for some time to come. The number of connected devices today is already estimated to exceed the number of humans on Earth. Predictions for the number of connected IoT devices in 2020 range from 20 billion to upwards of 50 billion.
Those connected devices are transforming commercial, consumer, and industrial markets. Analysts at Accenture estimate the so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) alone could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030. "Arguably the biggest driver of productivity and growth in the next decade, the Industrial Internet of Things will accelerate the reinvention of sectors that account for almost two-thirds of world output."
In its IT Industry Outlook 2018 report, leading IT industry membership association CompTIA cites the IoT as one of 12 “2018 Trends to Watch.” The report also offers a cogent summary of the benefits and challenges the IoT offers to IT managers and their operational processes.
“IoT devices are rapidly making their way into corporate spaces. From gathering new data to automation of infrastructure, companies are finding many benefits from adding connectivity and intelligence to physical infrastructure. Unfortunately, the relatively low cost of IoT devices is not reflected in the cost of system maintenance and optimization. Adding digital capabilities to everyday components drastically increases the scope of IT responsibilities. Additionally, new skills are needed for the different types of data streams being generated and the advanced analysis that companies want to perform. Automation will certainly help ease these burdens, but IoT strategies will still further complicate the already-difficult redefinition of the IT function.”
IoT devices are already performing multiple tasks at business facilities of all sizes and types. Smart video monitors and cameras can be found in conference rooms and public areas. In company kitchens and break rooms, connected microwave ovens and coffee makers respond to user requests wirelessly via smartphone apps.
Unfortunately, many of these devices have little to no security and are difficult or impossible to integrate into incumbent IT management solutions or processes. And users are prone to connect IoT devices to business networks without asking or informing IT management. This means IT can’t manage those devices until they make themselves known, often by causing a support issue or becoming a cybersecurity vulnerability.
Effective ITOM can help make more IoT connection attempts more visible sooner. But every IT team is going to need new or modified operational processes to take full advantage of IoT and IIoT developments without putting their IT estates and businesses at risk.
With IT operations management, there are certain challenges that operations managers have to tackle in both the short and long term. In addition, there are also certain enablers that help with the implementation of ITOM processes within the organization. In this section, let's take a look at some of them.
Beyond the challenges outlined above, there are three broad classes of challenges to success with ITOM or any other significant IT initiative. Below are just some likely challenges to your success as you pursue your ITOM journey.
Do we have the right people?
Are they in the right roles?
How do we get rid of silos?
Do we have the right solutions in place?
Do we have the skills to make it all work?
Can we get what we need and don’t have?
Does our leadership “get it?”
Do we have the right processes in place to get started?
Can we bridge any cultural gaps or resistance we discover?
Enablers of ITOM success can generally be grouped into the same categories as the challenges outlined above.
Clear goals and solid plans
Effective ITAM, including discovery and mapping of assets and relationships
Effective ITSM, including a business-aligned service catalog
A comprehensive, flexible, CMDB or another repository of process-related information
Actionable, role-specific reporting
Regular cross-functional team meetings
Well-defined, well-documented, well-enforced business processes
Acknowledgment, recognition, and rewards
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are poised to bring about paradigm shifts in IT operations management. Several vendors already offer AI-powered solutions designed to enhance service delivery experience and service desk management, through virtual assistants or “chatbots”, intelligent recommendations, and predictive data analysis. Similarly enabled features will soon make ITOM solutions intuitive and more powerful.
ITOM is also becoming more closely aligned with cybersecurity efforts. This follows and parallels the growing convergence of ITSM and security. ITSM leaders and teams are increasingly adopting more agile methods for service development and delivery. These have evolved from more operational approaches first adopted by software developers, and now known as DevOps. ITSM and cybersecurity are being brought closer together via methods known as DevSecOps. ITOM will quickly become integrated into such efforts as well.
The past, present, and foreseeable future of developments in and surrounding ITOM all lead to the same conclusion. To maximize its business value and agility, IT management must become fully operationally focused and guided by business needs and goals. Effective ITOM is a critical step toward that goal. It is also a critical element of the firm, flexible foundation upon which your business can pursue future IT improvements and digital transformation efforts.
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