For as long as anybody can remember, there’s always been a wall between a company’s IT department and its business units. It’s a problem that manifests itself in many ways: technology plans that are not aligned with business goals; unmet expectations from end-users or undelivered promises from the

IT department; or simply, a mutual lack of respect.

And it’s an issue that again came up at a recent international teleconference where Robert Garigue, chief information security officer and vice-president with the Bank of Montreal was a participant.

Speaking via video conference to colleagues across North America and in Britain, Garigue said there is still a “”disconnect”” between IT and business, and an uneasy dialogue when staff from these two departments get together.

The executive who has overall responsibility for security at the bank as well as a member of the leadership team for all Bank of Montreal e-business projects Garigue said: “”Lacking is some kind of framework, a model that if implemented could get IT and business working more closely together.””

There are no shortage of tools or methodologies that can help him achieve this, they are a dime a dozen. After the conference, Garigue did however admit to some interest in one new idea — so-called Business Services Management (BSM) — a new approach to managing the service IT delivers to business.

What makes BSM interesting, and different from all the others, is the ability to correlate business metrics with technology data, using software tools that make it fast and easy for customers to see the service impact of a technology problem.

For example, a large retailer with 3,000 servers managed by a small IT staff could prioritize their limited resources if they knew which servers supported the most purchasing volume. Or an unusual drop in sales volume can not only alert the staff to look for underlying technology problems, using BSM tools, it will also know the revenue that is at risk.

Proponents of BSM, such as Debra Curtis, research director at the Gartner Group, say it could help close the gap between “”what business units are demanding and what overwhelmed and under-funded IT departments are capable of delivering.””

The problem is that the measurements now in place are either too technical or too old-fashioned. IT departments, for example, may be fixated on database performance which often is measured in computer terms such as transactions per second.

Or companies still use metrics such as “”number of calls to the help desk””, or measure response times to problems with a stop-watch, which really doesn’t tell you all that much. “”We are still stuck in the old modes of behavior,”” complains Curtis.

To fix the problem, the Gartner Group, along with a small cadre of vendors, are attempting to build momentum around BSM, a new set of tools that try to get business and technical staff on the same page.

It could, for instance, indicate the state of a service, and when that state changes and what IT needs to fix first. BSM will also drive you to create business-relevant service levels by linking business processes to service-level agreements (SLAs) now used by IT departments to set base lines for minimum levels of acceptable system performance.

“”If BSM is the method, then SLA are the results of the method,”” says Siki Giunta, president and CEO for Managed Objects, a small Maclean, Va-based software firm working to popularize the concept.

In May, Managed Objects hosted the teleconference which featured the Bank of Montreal’s Garigue, as well as senior executives from Computer Sciences Corp., the U.S. National Weather Service in Washington D.C., financial services firm Credit Suisse, and Progress Energy, an Atlanta- based utility.

Giunta sees three areas for BSM that are ripe for the picking: applications performance, business metrics and the end-user experience. And while all three areas have long been used as barometers of service satisfaction, no tools have been available to put all three into a single platform, she says.

At the session, each executive acknowledged business success is becoming entirely dependent on a company’s IT infrastructure, but lacking are the tools that show this, or more specifically, can combine the business and IT view. One by one panelists discussed their challenges.

Gerald Foy, director of global operations for Computer Services Corp. (CSC) sees BSM as a way to manage risk associated with large outsourcing deals.

“”The penalties we pay for outages are significant,”” he says and could easily wipe out the profit built into a typical deal.

What CSC would like to do is manage its systems in real-time so that “”We can see in the morning what needs to be done for the day,”” which is all-important for trading applications where downtime can be a killer. BSM could also assist by automating the collection of relevant data, he adds.

Nanette Peddicord, manager, operations service management, for Progress Energy thinks BSM could be a good complement to existing systems management processes. Progress Energy now uses these tools to accelerate the time IT takes to find and fix technology problems behind its customer relationship management and energy trading systems.

“”You name it, we have it,”” says Peddicord of the large variety of tools used to manage all of its systems. Progress would like to move to a centralized command centre for all its network operations, and BSM could tie together what are now separate business, technical and administrative functions.

Similarly, other panelists spoke of the requirements for a single view of the entire IT infrastructure and how it impacts the business, which is exactly what proponents of BSM say it delivers.

One problem, however, is real world users are hard to find, although Fidelity Investment may be a notable exception. It uses a BSM tool to look across its entire Web infrastructure and understand how events like server availability may effect service to its customers. And the results are plain to see on a video wall that is the central point for monitoring and managing this enormous infrastructure.

What’s unique is how Fidelty is able to take it one step further, not only does it measure customer response times to its Web site, it employs a third-party tool to do the same kind of analysis of its competition which gives it a basis for comparison, and competitive advantage.

BSM also has its detractors. One problem: except for a small enclave of vendors and research firms, few have heard of the concept.

There are also the naysayers who wonder if BSM will further lead to what may becoming an over-dependence on measurement tools. Measurement has, after all, become “”a refuge”” for organizations seeking solace in uncertain times, says Tom Koulopoulos, president of The Delphi Group, and there are limitations on what can be measured. “”While BSM works well with transaction processing systems such as accounting systems, the question is: What do you do when you get outside of that?”” he says.

BSM could also slow you down, Koulopoulos warns. He cites a recent Delphi Group study indicating that companies who undertake ROI analysis before launching a new system take 30 per cent longer to make purchase decisions.

Still, it’s early in the game, and Gartner Group’s Curtis says BSM helps if only because it provides better information. Her advice? Measure something and then “”go and get the data.”” Then at least you will have some basis for a discussion, leading to “”new communications between IT and business.””

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