Tivoli briefs users on new IT environment

Attendees at the recent Tivoli Systems Inc. user conference in Nashville, Tenn., can be forgiven if at times they wondered if they were at the right event.

Instead of using Planet Tivoli to announce a barrage of new products, the Austin, Tex.-based vendor talked about the future of information technology – topics more often discussed in a room full of CEOs.

According to Tivoli, global competition, the implications of e-commerce and an increasingly savvy – and demanding – buying public is forcing technology to the forefront of every company’s business strategy.

To keep up, IT staff must stop viewing themselves as the keepers of complex gadgets, and instead as providers of internal and external customer service, consistent with the level of service their employers demand.

“Fundamentally, technology is no longer just in the back office, it is now directly touching the customer,” said Martin Neath, senior vice-president of the Tivoli product group. “IT organizations now need to manage customer touchpoints, and the fundamental experience that customer has is determined by service, speed of availability and performance of whatever it is they want.”

To drive the point home, Tivoli invited author, lecturer and “business philosopher” Dr. Michael Hammer to tell the audience that the way their companies get things done is fundamentally wrong.

Comparing IT and other inner departments within organizations to castles “with high walls and deep moats,” he said customer issues get thrown from castle to castle, with no overall framework to deal with them. He recommends that companies establish a common process for handling relationships with their customers. And the same applies to the way IT delivers service, he added.

“This all applies to you, because you’re in a business too,” Hammer said. “Do you have customers? Yes, but you call them users.”

The best way to bridge the two solitudes of business and IT, explained Tivoli executives, is through improved service level management (SLM), framed by an overhaul of the organization’s business processes.

That’s why Tivoli is sticking to its guns. That companies need a framework to manage its assets, even those beyond the firewall, is a given in the world of e-commerce, according to officials, so it’s giving IT managers tools to help them organize themselves and their role in their companies’ strategies. Tivoli calls this its Customer Service Assurance (CSA) initiative.

The first part of that push is Version 6.0 of Tivoli Service Desk — currently in beta, scheduled to ship in September – which features improved integration with Tivoli’s flagship Tivoli Enterprise product, and a service level agreement module to help IT departments create and monitor service delivery.

“We think this is the first major tool by a systems management vendor which lets you capture and codify the agreement to deliver a level of service rather than it just being a piece of paper,” Neath said.

Version 6.0 also features role-based configuration, a single interface for all users and contacts; support for multi-customers that tracks related assets and problems; an open API for third-party application integration; a common administration utility; and DB/2 support.

Tivoli also announced new Tivoli Decision Support Guides, a set of best practices to help IT managers make sense out of Tivoli-gathered data.

Version 6.0 is part of Tivoli’s Service Level Management program, which, combined with IT Process Automation and IT Knowledge Management, make up the Tivoli Enterprise suite.

“We believe [CSA]…will let an IT organization transition purely from getting resources under control to moving to the next stop, which is all about positively impacting the business through delivering high levels of service in a more continuous and repeatable manner,” Neath said.

Dan McLean, analyst with International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto, said Tivoli’s message marks a big change for the vendor. “These are really unusual statements to hear from a company that is dealing with a product and a set of issues that are so core to IT, because they’re not talking about it like it’s an IT thing anymore, they’re talking about it like it’s a business thing.”

Though McLean said there’s nothing earth-shattering in the announcements around CSA so far, he said Tivoli will have to follow through on the promise to integrate process management into its next generation of tools.

“It will be really important to watch in the future to see whether or not they live up to that claim…that’s not going to be any small feat. It’s fundamentally different from how it’s been done up to this point.”

At least one Tivoli customer agreed with the company’s take on SLMs. “[Our IT shop] isn’t just a technical centre…you’ve got to understand the business that you’re in, so you understand the pain that your business community feels when your service isn’t there, which is really serious for us,” said Paul Hutton, IT administrator with Purolator Courier Co. in Mississauga, Ont.

Jay Frey, systems administrator with Niagara Mohawk Power in Syracuse, N.Y., said analysing service level data is an important part of maintaining uptime across the enterprise.

“If we are seeing outages consistently in one area in the same timeframe, and it becomes somewhat chronic, we can go to that timeframe, examine it, and find out the root causes of what was causing that outage during that timeframe, and look at it constructively, instead of just looking at it and finding someone to blame.”