Combined ITAM/ITSM Systems – A Convergence Strategy for Success

By Chris Borkert

The IT landscape continues to change and evolve. One major development is that organizations, of all sizes, are moving toward a multi-supplier IT service model. People, groups, processes and tools are all playing important roles. In the IT organization of the future, ITAM will clearly be at the center of delivering IT services. Some convergence with what would traditionally be called ITSM services is extremely likely as well. We should see convergence in what has traditionally been called ITAM, ITSM, SACM, SAM, etc.., but instead of being fearful of change, there is reason to be optimistic about the future, because the value of ITAM skills remains critical. This organization delivers IT services using a fabric of people, processes, automation, tools, and data.

Becoming a Fabric

In the large company of the past, the separation of ITAM and ITSM was clear, for several reasons. Asset, after all, is a financial term. ITAM often serves the groups interested in the financial aspects of the overall IT estate. ITSM serves the operational groups. These are often different functions in the company, reporting up different chains of command and with different budgets and priorities. Tools are often also separate. Enterprise software systems can last a long time, their use in the company measured in decades. The move to “the cloud” is the common headline, but what underlies the move to the cloud, and other trends in IT like outsourcing, is the transformation of the IT organization into a fabric, where the physical location of people and services is almost irrelevant.

Legacy Tool Consolidation

Tools, the applications that manage ITAM and ITSM data, are changing as well, and must support the fabric instead of the traditional monolithic IT organization. Consolidation is also a trend, in fact, a mandate in many corporations, and legacy tools are increasingly being retired and consolidated. Newer systems consolidate the ITAM and ITSM functions, which are more compatible in a combined system than say, trying to combine a procurement system with a problem management system. The evolution of the tools to become converged ITAM/ITSM systems, provide an instantly available complete picture of the asset from both the financial and CI from the operational perspectives. The good news, for those of us in the ITAM world, is that our skills are extremely important within the people, groups, processes, tools, and data that make up IT services. The need for accurate data about the IT estate remains, although we may have a future where ITAM and ITSM are much closely aligned than they are today.

The latest versions of the combined ITAM and ITSM systems are encouraging. Hosted (a.k.a. Cloud or SAAS) systems are still in their hyper-growth stage of rapid adoption. An overall data strategy is needed for the converged ITAM/ITSM/CMDB, and is being developed today by many companies, who want to take full advantage of the opportunity to replace legacy systems. However, even in a brave new world of SAAS applications and global IT fabrics, some traditional rules still apply. Those organizations that have made the effort to create a dedicated ITAM group to focus on process and tool development are succeeding, in fact having great success using the new converged, and in many cases cloud-based tools. Those that refuse to take ITAM seriously enough and make the proper organizational commitment to the integrity of the data which sits at the core of their IT fabric – are failing. They may be getting by and keeping the lights on, but they are being left behind by more forward thinking organizations, and missing out on opportunities to enable delivery of a wide range of new services more quickly and cost effectively. In the past, this would mean saving costs. In the emerging multi-supplier delivery model, it could mean the gain or loss of contracts and survival of the business itself, as more nimble and capable service providers replace slower providers.

Data Strategy

An optimal data strategy for the converged ITAM/ITSM systems of the future keeps assets and CIs as separate, but related, items. This allows the system to manage the Financial (ITAM) and Operational (ITSM) attributes separately. Using this loosely coupled model, asset and CI data can be separated but related, in a single ITAM/ITSM system. Even in systems that may also include related functionality like contract management, procurement, incident, problem, or change management – the managed piece of IT infrastructure – which is often both an asset and a CI, sits at the center of the data model. It is important to remember that some CIs are not, and should not be considered assets, for instance IP addresses. In that case, the CI record exists and there is no corresponding asset record. For asset classes that are both assets and CIs, for instance, a physical server – both an asset record and a CI record exist for that server. The asset record for the server maintains its financial information, like cost and depreciation schedule. That is associated to a separate CI record, which keeps its operational information, like hardware CPU, RAM, and network connections.

This loosely coupled asset/CI model accommodates some interesting scenarios which have challenged organizations who are trying to properly manage items from both the financial and operational perspectives. For instance, it can be difficult to manage the asset and CI lifecycles when trying to use only assets or CIs in a system. Financial attributes are often added to CIs, or operational attributes to asset records. This customization of the ITAM or ITSM database is problematic and makes for difficult upgrades and an inconsistent data model. The single system, separate asset/CI record model allows management of the asset and CI, each according to their rightful attributes and lifecycles.

Classification Problems

Another traditionally difficult problem in implementing ITAM and ITSM systems has been the classification of items. Items are commonly classified to a model, for instance, an HP DL 360 server. These models may have different names when brought in from different systems, for instance a procurement system (asset) vs. a discovery tool (CI). Multiple sets of models have to be reconciled against each other and in managing thousands of models, which is very common in large corporations; it can be a painful process. The loosely coupled asset and CI model allows assets and CIs to be associated each to their own appropriate model. For instance, the asset models may come from the procurement system, and the CI models from the discovery tool. This is a perfect example of the benefits of the loosely coupled data model. Financial consumers, such as the CIO office, may only work with the asset part of the system, whereas operational teams only work with the CI part of the system. It also becomes important in sharing information with external partners. The separation of concerns allows financial data to be kept private, while the operational information can be shared so that partner can manage the infrastructure.

Accurate data is essential in the IT organization of the future, even more that it is today. The management of the attributes of the items that make up the IT estate sits at the center of the IT services fabric. Their accuracy, not just for reporting purposes, but for continued service operation depends on a sound and consistent data strategy. When that is implemented and incorporated with good processes to carry out the IT business functions, IT delivers on its promise to business and companies are successful in their efforts.

About the Author

Chris Borkert is the Principal Consultant – ITAM for Linium, LLC.