Thursday, January 15, 2009

People, Process, Technology - The Right Tool

In my day job, I manage products for managing applications at Oracle, so I spend an awful lot of time with management technologies. From this, you probably think that I would tell you to go get a tool whenever you have a problem to solve. Tools are important, but the truth is they don't replace people and processes. Having the best tools in the world isn't going to help if they are not used properly. I wrote about ITIL v3 in the last article of this series. ITIL is one of the many frameworks available, and different people have different opinions about ITIL. The important thing is not whether to implement ITIL, but to have the right people to implement the right IT management processes using one of the best practice frameworks as guidance first.

Tools come in after that. Theoretically, one could implement many IT best practices manually, especially if you throw enough people who know what they are doing at the problem. Realistically though, processes are enhanced through the use of tools, and many important IT management tasks simply do not get done without tool support, as there are not enough people to do things manually in most cases. In this regard, having the right tools can really make a difference.

Picture: Is this the right management tool?

So what are the attributes of the “right” tool? Here are a couple of my ideas.
#1 - It solves the problem.

This may seem obvious. The tool has to work. How well a particular tool works depends on whether it is designed specifically for the job. For example, it isn't rocket science to build a basic monitoring tool that collects a bunch of data from a set of monitored objects, filter the data, and provide some sort of alerts and reports. Every monitoring tool out there can do these things. Some, however, require a lot more work to set up because they are essentially toolkits and whoever uses them have to spend a lot of time integrating these toolkits with the technologies they are supposed to monitor. In contrast, a monitoring tool that is designed for managing a particular piece of technology would work much better out of the box.

#2 - It is comprehensive and integrated
There are many different types of management problems, and it takes different tools to solve them. However, having multiple tools can be rather problematic. For example, the overhead is higher as all these tools need to interact with the underlying technologies being managed. Data is presented in silos and people often end up wasting a lot of time trying to get the tools work together. Tools that provide broader sets of integrated capabilities are better.

#3 - It is easy to integrate
The first two attributes may conflict with each other. The truth is each of the management vendors has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are better at managing mainframes, others are more equipped with managing networks, and some excel with handling databases and applications. Finding a single vendor that offers comprehensive and integrated products that are designed specifically for managing everything is just impossible. You probably want to standardize on a couple core vendors that serve your needs, and make sure that their products can talk to each other.

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