Evolution Beats Revolution

Delivering the right information to the right manager is not an easy task considering the need for diverse information within an enterprise. Managers need information targeted to their functional areas. An IT operations manager needs availability and performance data on servers, while a sales manager needs to know that orders can be processed efficiently, especially during peak order periods toward the end of each quarter. Requirements vary, even within functions, based on the managerís level and role. The higher the management level, the wider the field of view.



Executive dashboards deliver tailored information in a timely manner and in a format that enables quick insight. These powerful tools aggregate and consolidate atomic data into higher-level information on particular business services, such as online order entry or credit application processing. They convert consolidated data into actionable information. They correlate consolidated data across IT processes such as incident, problem, change, and service level management to support senior managers whose responsibilities span multiple processes. Most important of all, they facilitate the management of IT from a business perspective, known as Business Service Management, which is critical today because of the growing reliance on technology to ensure smooth-running business processes.

Because of the value dashboards deliver, most companies are no longer wondering if they need them. Instead, they are looking for the best way to implement dashboards. Our experience shows that the best approach is an incremental one that starts with IT managers and then expands to support business managers.

Start with IT

The first step in deploying executive dashboards in an enterprise is to roll out the solution in IT. The IT staff comes up to speed on deploying and using dashboards before extending their use to the business audience. It also helps educate IT on the needs of the business, which enables IT managers to communicate more effectively with business managers and do a better job of tailoring dashboards for business people. The rollout in IT involves four key activities:

  • Collecting and consolidating the data. The data is typically scattered across multiple applications and data stores. IT service management applications maintain data on incident, problem, change, release, configuration, and service level management processes. In contrast, asset management applications maintain data on asset configurations, owners, locations, physical and logical topologies, costs, and associated contracts (such as lease, support, and maintenance). The dashboard solution must aggregate and correlate the data from all these sources for presentation in a single view.
  • Making the data actionable. The dashboard must transform the consolidated data into metrics that are appropriate to, meaningful to, and actionable by IT managers. The right key performance indicators (KPIs) must be established to achieve this. That means determining what to measure, how to measure it, and how to communicate it. Presenting actionable information in a composite view that spans multiple processes permits integrated management across disciplines and operational silos.
  • Relating IT to business services. Service impact modeling solutions map relationships between the IT infrastructure and the business. Executive dashboards can leverage this mapping to help IT managers understand how IT supports business services. By monitoring process-centric and cross-functional KPIs that affect the business, IT managers can more closely align IT with business objectives.
  • Targeting information based on role. Information needs differ, depending on role and management level. The dashboard system must accommodate this need by allowing the creation of personalized views that are appropriate to each managerís role and level within the management hierarchy. That means the right field of view, the right metrics, and right level of detail.

Reach Out to Business Managers

To deliver true value, a dashboard solution must present metrics based on business processes, as well as on business services. For example, a bank manager sees an online consumer loan application process as a collection of business services: online application entry, credit check, automatic approval routing, and automatic deposit. To extend dashboards to business managers, you must include business process information in your dashboard views.

Todayís methodologies and solutions can capture business process information and maintain it in a configuration management database (CMDB). Automatic discovery solutions discover information from business process management systems and add it to the CMDB as configuration items, along with descriptions of the activities that make up the processes. With this information in the CMDB, itís possible to map the relationships of IT infrastructure components to business services to business processes. This provides a wealth of new data with which to create business process-oriented dashboards that combine IT-related data with business process data.

By leveraging business process data, dashboards can correlate IT service delivery with business processes. For example, a dashboard can present the overall performance and availability of an entire online consumer loan application process, tying together all the services that support the process and displaying service support and service delivery metrics in the context of these services. This view of IT service delivery greatly enhances the usefulness of dashboards. It not only permits the extension of dashboards to business managers, but also promotes business services-based thinking on the part of IT managers.

As in the case of IT managers, the major challenge in creating dashboards for business managers is to establish the right metrics ó the key business indicators (KBIs) these people need to manage their portion of the business effectively. Tying business metrics to IT-related metrics requires close collaboration between IT and business managers. For example, for a sales executive, the end of each quarter is a critical period for closing deals. IT and sales must agree on acceptable service levels during that period and IT must ensure that those service levels are met. The dashboard supports this effort by permitting sales executives to monitor KBIs, and to understand how they might affect the ability to close deals during this critical period. That requires correlation of the sales managerís KBIs with metrics that indicate the efficiency and effectiveness of IT in supporting the relevant business services.

Conclusion

Dashboards vastly improve managersí visibility into the business by democratizing information both horizontally ó across functional groups, silos, and roles ó and vertically ó through multiple levels of management. Dashboards that present IT-related information are especially important in that they open the door for dialog between IT and business managers. By presenting the right information to the right managers at the right time, IT-related dashboards help organizations increase business agility and deliver higher quality IT business services, all while lowering IT costs.

About the Author

Ash Arora is chief architect at BMC Software. His charter at BMC is to develop innovative, Business Service Management-focused products. Currently, he is spearheading the Business Service Management dashboards. Before joining BMC, he co-founded Vincera Software, a Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) company.

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