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.

What Is ITOM?

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.

  • Application management
  • Availability and performance
  • Configuration management
  • Database management systems (DBMSs)
  • Event, fault and log management
  • IT asset management (ITAM)
  • IT service/help desk
  • Job scheduling
  • Network management
  • Output management, including management of printers and other hardware peripherals

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.

ITOM: Deep Historical Roots

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 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 are of focus for operations managers.

ITOM and IT Service Management (ITSM): How They’re Connected

Today, (ITSM) is the other area of IT management most often associated with ITOM. This is the result of the evolution and maturation 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 development, delivery, and management of services. ITOM is more about management of the processes that enable creation of those services are managed. 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.

Why Is ITOM Important?

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.

ITOM: Benefits to the Business

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: More Process Visibility, Better Process Execution

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.

ITOM: A Foundation for Digital Transformation

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).

ITOM and Cloud Computing

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.

ITOM and the Internet of Things (IoT)

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 cyber security 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.

ITOM: Challenges and Enablers

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.

ITOM: Organizational Challenges

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.

ITOM: Technological Challenges
ITOM: Cultural Challenges

Enablers of ITOM success can generally be grouped into the same categories as the challenges outlined above.

ITOM: Organizational Enablers
ITOM: Technological Enablers
ITOM: Cultural Enablers

ITOM: Best Practices

There are multiple prerequisites for consistently effective IT operations management. You may pursue these in an order that differs from the list below, but each item on the list is essential to your ITOM success.

Get your leadership on board

 ITOM success requires a major, sustained commitment of resources to achieve and sustain. Executive buy-in and support can ease pursuit of that commitment. Executive support can also help navigate cultural changes and minimize or overcome any encountered resistance.

Know what you have

To optimize and manage IT operational processes effectively, you must know what they are, and their connections to your IT estate and business goals. This means you need a manageable knowledge base of IT operational processes, and robust solutions for discovery and mapping of your IT estate. If your business doesn’t already have one or both of these, your ITOM goals might help justify acquiring them. Depending on the size and complexity of your IT estate, the scope of incumbent processes, and available management resources, your discovery may begin with a manual audit of your environment and processes.

Define and prioritize your goals

If you choose multiple management methods, you may also need to consider multiple paths to deployment. Alternatives include dedicated management staff, consultants, and vendor-provided “inventory management as a service.” Evaluate candidate methods closely. If external expertise is involved, pay particular attention to relevant experience and transparency regarding costs.

Choose your deployment method(s)

If you choose multiple management methods, you may also need to consider multiple paths to deployment. Alternatives include dedicated management staff, consultants, and vendor-provided “inventory management as a service.” Evaluate candidate methods closely. If external expertise is involved, pay particular attention to relevant experience and transparency regarding costs.

Plan

Ensure that your ITOM plan is informed by your business’ goals for IT and its own digital transformation. Also make sure your ITOM plans reflect inclusion of input from all stakeholders and key influencers.

Clean up your data

Operational IT process decisions must be based on the best available data. Before moving too far down any particular ITOM solution path, ensure your current management data is as accurate, complete, consistent, and up to date as possible. You may need to reformat legacy data before it can be used by your chosen ITOM solutions. You may also need to refresh or replace any incumbent ITAM, ITSM, or other management tools that cannot generate data your chosen ITOM tools can use.

Automate

Identify mundane and repetitive IT management tasks that can be most easily automated. Then, automate those tasks, using rules based on business policies. Automation ensures that tasks are performed consistently, eliminates human repetition errors, and frees skilled workers for more complex and valuable tasks.

Integrate

Wherever possible, integrate ITOM with other IT management functions, especially but not limited to ITSM and ITAM. Avoid acquiring or deploying multiple tools to perform tasks for which you already have available features or solutions. This is particularly important where data collection and analysis and reporting are concerned. If your business isn’t already using a configuration management database (CMDB) to consolidate IT management data, your ITOM and IT management integration efforts could justify the investment and effort.

Learn from others

Trade associations, industry events and publications, online industry groups and forums, and even vendor web sites can provide knowledge valuable to your ITOM efforts. Take advantage of every opportunity to avoid repeating mistakes already made by others.

Empower

Make sure all directly involved in ITOM efforts at your business receive comprehensive initial and periodic follow-up training in your chosen solutions and processes. Communicate with them and your key business stakeholders regularly, to create an inclusive culture of ITOM awareness across your business.

Partner carefully

To deliver sustained benefits to your business, your ITOM commitments must be both high-level and long-term. Your chosen solution and service providers must be equally committed to your business’ success, with ITOM and beyond. You must ensure that those providers have the strength and relevant experience to deliver on the commitments they make to your business, now and in the future.

ITOM: What’s Next?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are poised to bring transformational changes to ITOM. Several vendors already offer AI-powered solutions designed to improve ITSM and service desk management, via virtual assistants (“chatbots”), intelligent recommendations and predictive data analysis. Similarly enabled features will soon make ITOM solutions easier to use and more powerful.

ITOM, is also becoming more closely aligned with cyber security 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 cyber security are being brought closer together via methods known as DevSecOps. ITOM will quickly become integrated into such efforts as well.

ITOM: A Critical Success Factor for Your Business

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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