Having a crack at the ‘ERP for IT’ challenge

Published on the 06/10/2016 | Written by Donovan Jackson

ERP for IT
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Have a look at the picture accompanying this story – there is no mention of IT in the ERP world. Why is that?

Getting together for an informal coffee with ServiceNow ANZ principal solutions consultant Peter Doherty gave rise to an interesting situation. One of his clients stumbled into the coffee shop, purely by chance, looking for the time-honoured cure for a big night out: a strong cup of Joe and something greasy to quell the grumblings of a recently-abused stomach.

While the wits of this nameless individual may have been dulled, his appreciation for ServiceNow was not. Doherty had just told me that the software his company provides is viewed by some of his customers as ‘ERP for IT’.

And that’s what our unsteady visitor went on to confirm, raving about how useful the service management vendor is in his organisation, and voicing his desire to extend its use far further (a desire dampened, it seems, by purse strings in entirely the wrong hands, which is to say, not his own).

In an interview to explore the concept of ‘ERP for IT’ a few weeks after this serendipitous (certainly for ServiceNow) encounter, Doherty explained why such a thing is desirable. “Organisations tend to have a lot of toolsets for the different things that they need to do, from business as usual stuff, to project management stuff, across the IT infrastructure and so on. But all the tools are different.”

Coming as we do from the ERP side of the fence, that immediately raises the spectre of integration. It also raises a few more ghouls, including the possibility of shelfware, as a tool favoured by one person might fall into disuse on their departure from the company. And duplication of tools that do the same sort of thing. Not to mention duplication of effort to use the things in the first place.

Just how real a problem that is, was made clear by ANZ earlier this year, when the COO Alistair Currie laid bare what he described as ‘dirty secrets.

A platform approach
A better way of going about it, said Doherty, is a platform approach, on which should rest all the tools, from stock standard ITSM, through project, development, testing, security, operations, risk and governance (and plenty more – the list of tools is lengthy and roughly equivalent to the number of vendors out there). “That means when managing aspects of the enterprise, you don’t have to keep going into different tools with different looks and feels and skillsets required. You just keep going in a familiar environment.”

The concept of ERP for IT, as fresh as it sounds, has been around for a good long time. Back in 2003, when we were all considerably fresher-faced, an Information week story pondered just the thing. Of all the major resource areas in business, IT is very late to the party in enjoying an integrated system of record for its management, measurement and control.

Very late, but not entirely ignored; as it turns out that there is a small (ish) Finnish company called Efecte Corp which provides – you guessed it – ERP for IT; in Europe, it owns the snappy vanity-plate trademark ‘ERP4IT’. Add the name of this tools vendor to the long list of ones you’ve probably never heard of.

But back to Doherty. He agreed that the market for software tools is, despite a wave of consolidation which broke over it in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, with the vendor then known as Computer Associates leading the charge (and which gained some notoriety as the place where good products went to die), still an exceedingly busy place. “What we are seeing is a [nother?] collapsing of a lot of the smaller players as organisations don’t want to spend time integrating these things and putting them together. Integration is a productivity drain and it also isn’t something that happens once, it has to be maintained,” he said.

Going into more detail on what he means by ‘platform’, Doherty said this is an oft-misused term which some use to refer to a number of products with some level of integration. “We feel our approach is somewhat unique as it is built as a platform first, then with interrelated applications on top of that. We never talk of ‘integration’ because that means you need something else to make it work [middleware], but rather an inbuilt relationship.”

The advantages, he said, extend to those issues already discussed: it is possible to access the required tools with a familiar look and feel, there are fewer vendors to deal with, rationalisation of software inventory and improved reporting which is also achieved without requiring employees to fill in forms.

Customers are biting, too, as ServiceNow saw its revenue grow to over a billion dollars in 2015; a year before that the firm, founded in 2003, grew revenues by 61 percent.

But is ERP for IT even a good idea?
While ERP as a concept to this day makes a good deal of sense for many large, complex companies (though it has just as many detractors), its utility for managing and automating the IT department and its many disciplines, is not universally embraced. Few things, of course, are.

Scratching around on some of the darker corners of the internet revealed the IT Skeptic’s views on ERP for IT. The word ‘fallacy’ in the headline probably sums it up.

The good sceptic wrote: “Recently the idea of ERP for IT has had some attention again. We need to stamp it out. These massive federated ERP systems built on common data are only suited to huge organisations, and we all know the many instances where implementing them has all but brought down the company. They only pay off when the processes are well defined and understood, and the procedures are performed very often, and are repeatable and stable.”

Not a man to mince his words, the sceptic adds: “Automation only pays off…if the system being automated is large scale, has a high frequency of repeated simple transactions, and is stable enough to keep the cost of modifications down. That’s not IT.”

That was, of course, in 2012 and the world changes rapidly. Could the time be ripe for a more consolidated view of IT management?

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