Vice president, Gartner Inc.

Run IT like a business. I’m sure you’ve heard that edict a lot lately from vendors, consultants and fellow IT managers. It seems like a no-brainer. Of course it makes sense to run the IT function like a business. Many large organizations spend $50 million to $100 million on IT annually — that’s a decent-size business. Without solid and accurate sources of data about IT systems, people and processes, it’s impossible for a CIO to have a meaningful conversation about the business of IT.Barbara Gomolski>Text

Yet, there’s ample evidence that we IT types have been so preoccupied with technical issues that we have neglected the business issues of IT. Not surprising, really. If we were that interested in business, we would have become CPAs or CEOs, right?

Still, one of the reasons IT organizations fail to establish credibility is that they lack good information about the business of IT — the kind of information IT systems help to provide for other business units. Without solid and accurate sources of data about IT systems, people and processes, it’s impossible for a CIO to have a meaningful conversation about the business of IT.

Granted, automation is no guarantee of process improvement. We need only look at ERP to prove that. Still, it seems inevitable that IT organizations are destined to take a healthy dose of their own medicine.

The Wrong Information

Most CIOs have ample information about the operational systems of their IT departments — for example, the number of help desk calls answered or the number of gigabytes of storage added last month. The problem is that most of these statistics are way below the radar of C-level executives.

At the same time, the kind of information about IT that top executives are seeking is simply not available. For example, a chief financial officer may wish to determine how much the company spends with a particular IT vendor. Or the risk officer may need a complete Sarbanes-Oxley status report on all IT systems. This kind of information is often essential for important business decisions. Increasingly, CIOs who can’t provide this level of information to other parts of the organization will be seen as roadblocks to business success.

All of this leads me to a question: Can we ever manage IT as a business if we refuse to automate and optimize IT management processes with software tools?

I don’t believe we can. In fact, I would argue that we will never “arrive” as IT managers until we have the same opportunities for automation and data management as the other functional heads within the business have had. For example, the accountants would be lost without their financial tools and reports; the same goes for human resources and even sales.

Certainly, IT has some software tools at its disposal today. Most large organizations have made significant investments in tools for systems and network management, asset management and configuration management, just to name a few. But the bulk of these tools provide technical information that’s more interesting to the people within IT than to executives of the corporation. We’ve really only scratched the surface in terms of how we can use technology to make our own jobs as IT managers easier.

Evolving Tools

The IT management tool landscape is only beginning to take shape, and there are lots of companies approaching from various starting points. Ultimately, this niche will include everything from start-ups to industry stalwarts such as Microsoft, which has begun to promote its Project Server and .Net platform as a mechanism for tying together a spectrum of tools for application portfolio management.

Right now, many vendors are trying to evolve their current tools with new capabilities aimed at helping IT managers take a more business-oriented approach. For instance, companies like Adaptive Networks, Evident Software, Klir Technologies and Relicore offer tools to track IT asset usage and costs. In some cases, these tools can also be used to track the cost and utilization of applications.

Just about every vendor that offers project and portfolio management software is aiming at the IT management tool space, hoping to extend the capabilities of existing packages to encompass additional technology management processes.

Other vendors are building suites from the ground up to help IT managers run their businesses. ITM Software and Enamics both have modular suites that are aimed at processes such as IT financial management and governance.

Although IT management software is a nascent market, it’s one that IT leaders should watch carefully. The offerings in this market will present them with substantial challenges and opportunities.

– Barbara Gomolski, a former Computerworld reporter, is a vice president at Gartner Inc., where she focuses on IT financial management. Contact her at [email protected]

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