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Today, business just doesn’t happen without IT. A large proportion of “business services” – business-critical activities that have a revenue-generating impact – are supported by “IT services”, the underlying IT infrastructure made up of software, hardware, processes and people.

This immediately raises a question about accountability: is the IT service provider or the business process owner ultimately accountable for the success or failure of the business process? The correct answer is “both” and for those responsible for keeping IT systems running, this creates a significant challenge.

Organisations are demanding an increasingly business-like view of the services provided by the IT department. Despite a significant investment in application and infrastructure management tools as well as service desk software, IT leadership and their line-of-business counterparts often lack effective means to align IT service delivery with business objectives.

Many organisations run silos of different kinds of technology, resulting in sprawling IT departments that are hard to manage. In addition, IT management resources are never enough, forcing IT to provide a better service while minimising cost. This makes measuring the effectiveness of IT a formidable task, and the challenge of demonstrating its value to the business considerable.

As the pressure for IT departments to demonstrate their value grows, the visibility of IT processes becomes key. Business Service Management (BSM) addresses this need with top-level comprehensive views of the health of IT systems in terms that make sense to the business.

These solutions analyse system quality, report on the service experienced by users and then provide the data to initiate improvement activities where service levels fall short of business requirements.

A vital by-product of this process is the alignment of IT services with the business processes they enable, allowing IT managers to make service decisions in the context of the business and promoting better communication between IT and the business. IT efforts are prioritised according to business impact and the time taken to repair IT-related problems can be significantly reduced.

This is done through real-time, business-oriented service views that map critical business processes to IT infrastructure. These real-time “dashboards” provide information about business status, including IT service quality, to improve the operational efficiency of critical IT-dependent business processes. The term “dashboard” is used consistently throughout the IT industry to mean a real-time information display.

BSM dashboards also contain historic information about Service-Level Agreement (SLA) breaches. If a breach occurs within an application, the dashboard shows the history of the cause of the service breach, how the IT department handled the problem and the estimated cost to the business.

Operational managers get the necessary information to manage IT problems, and they no longer have to fly blind at the mercy of IT problems. By providing an insight into how well the technology enabling the business is running together with status information about the business processes themselves, these dashboards create an unbreakable link between IT and business processes.

This integrated, cohesive view of service delivery enables IT to engage effectively with line-of-business counterparts and communicate service delivery in business terms, so service delivery can be optimised based on business priorities and impact.

So, armed with the dashboard, operational business managers can deal with both the cause and effect of IT problems and are in control of the business processes for which they are responsible. Clearly, the value of the dashboard increases the more the business process depends on IT, but in today’s modern organisations most, if not all, critical business processes are supported by IT.

Associating business services to the supporting application infrastructure enables IT to identify which resources and actions are most critical based on business impact and metrics.

This means that when the help desk is addressing performance problems, they can see which IT services map against which business services and, therefore, determine which need to be prioritised. For example, an application that crashes or becomes unacceptably slow but only affects employees out off hours would not be as important as an accounts receivable application at noon on a busy day.

Another potential benefit of using a Business Service Management tool is that it helps IT show its business unit customers a business-oriented display of how well IT services are performing in support of critical business processes. Business people can see what level of service is being provided to customers, in real-time, and can measure customer satisfaction levels. Having real-time information on the quality of service enables organisations to be more flexible and responsive to ever-changing customer needs.

Serving the core needs of the business with reliable, high-performing applications is critical to success. Specifically, aligning IT to the needs of the business is vital. When IT deliverables are aligned with the business, there is a direct correlation with an improved bottom line.

On the other hand, when there’s a lack of alignment, then IT projects fail, the IT department is viewed as reactive, when fragmented silos that impede organisational collaboration and the IT department no longer serves as a competitive advantage to the business.

Michael Allen is Director of Service Management at Compuware