HP exec looks at IT evolution

HP's OpenView management technology executives say the time has come to guide IT managers into adopting a more advanced approach to IT management. Russ Daniels, vice president and CTO of Software and Adaptive Enterprise in HP's Technology Solutions Group, recently discussed the evolving role of companies' IT management with Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie.

What issues top the minds of HP customers?

We have been focused on helping customers with a couple of key challenges, one of which is that the relationship between the business and the IT function supporting the business tends to be very strained. And it is strained in two regards. First, the business finds that everything it wants to do requires IT [departments] to execute and implement those capabilities, and that IT tends to be the critical path. But one problematic perception is that IT [departments take] too long to respond to business needs and generally [need] to be more responsive. The other side of that, of course, is that every business has some affordability around IT spend that is driven out of the business model, and that means you can't just throw money at the problem.

What is the starting point of this evolution from IT as a back-room function to IT as a business partner?

It really starts with that perspective -- that [the IT department] is a business that is responsible for sourcing services and delivering services to the business in a way that is consistent with the value that those services represent to the enterprise. For that to work, it requires that the conversation between business and [the IT department] be primarily a business conversation, rather than an IT conversation. The business can focus on the services it needs and the value they represent to the business. [The IT department] can then focus on how to deliver those services, rather than having conversations about latency, response times, availability and capacity and myriad other IT-centric conversations with IT terms. Instead [the IT department] can have a conversation about the delivery of services and the importance and value they deliver to the business.

That sounds much easier said than done.

There are a couple challenges that [the IT department] has to face. Some of these things we help our customers with from a services perspective, and in some cases, with technology. What we have learned is that in some cases technology can be an enabler of all these things, but in and of itself it can't solve these problems. You have to think of it in terms of organizational structure, people and cultural issues. You have to think of it in terms of the processes, the way that [the IT department] goes about organizing itself and accomplishing its goals. Technology can play a key role to enable that.

Considering OpenView Network Node Manager is one of HP's more popular management products, how do you translate those networkcentric metrics into a business mind-set for IT managers?

We provide capabilities that help IT managers who are only focused on these operational considerations get better insight into these operational concerns. Unfortunately, what we find is that when customers have that information, they still find there is a gap that makes it difficult for them to know what to do with it. That information is only useful if you know how to make decisions based on it.

And IT managers need to have firsthand knowledge of the business to make these decisions?

The question for IT managers becomes, do you understand what is more valuable to the business? And then they make the appropriate trade-off. Trying to do this by living only in the world of low-level infrastructure metrics is not a viable approach. You don't actually make things much better. Sadly, you've probably done a lot of work, and maybe you feel just a little bit better about things, but in the end, you actually haven't solved the key problems that your business partners have. When your boss is talking to the business managers, the conversation still is strained in the same ways it was before.

What technology can help bridge the gap?

We help customers with products such as OpenView Business Process Insight. With this product, customers can model very simply at a high level the business service. It helps them to understand the business service as a small number of steps that a transaction takes from initiation to completion. It can identify an operational metric that indicates that a transaction is moving from one state to another. Being able to associate business data with each of those transactions, HP can also provide dashboards that show [the] dollar value of orders in the queue, for instance.

Ultimately, what do IT managers need to do to adapt to IT's role as business service provider?

Customers that are most successful find a balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches to managing IT based on business needs. The concept that you can start from the bottom and build up and eventually get to the right level of business abstraction, in our experience doesn't actually work. IT needs to adopt [a] top-down view that is complementary to the bottom-up efforts. The focus needs to change toward delivering unified services across the network, servers, storage and so on, rather than exhausting operational efforts from the bottom up.

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