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Observation, Monitoring and Metrics May 10, 2012

Posted by daleklein in Service Administration.
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In the study of system administration we are concerned with observing, monitoring and quantifying metrics in order to keep the ship on course.  Here we are going to discuss the Balanced Scorecard, COBIT, ITIL and service administration and how they all tie together.

In the immortal words of Jack Palance …….. Believe it … or Not!

Goals and metrics of the IT processes are used to define and measure their outcome and performance based on the principles of Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s balanced business scorecard.  The balanced scorecard is a management system that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. “It provides feedback around both the internal business processes and external outcomes in order to continuously improve strategic performance and results. When fully deployed, the balanced scorecard transforms strategic planning from an academic exercise into the nerve center of an enterprise.” [1]

The balanced scorecard suggests that we view the organization from four perspectives, and to develop metrics, collect data and analyze it relative to each of these perspectives. You have a business process perspective which covers internal processes.  Their metrics give managers a pulse on the health of the business and whether or not their products and services are meeting the customer’s requirements.  Another perspective is the customer perspective which puts an emphasis on customer satisfaction.  Here the metrics are focused on the processes that provide products or services.  Another arm is the financial perspective which is looking for accurate and timely funding data.  Here we can look at cost-benefit analysis, size and scope of a project, budgeting forecasting and risk assessment.  The last piece of our puzzle is the strategy maps which are tools that communicate the value of the big picture to the rest of an organization.  It is a logic map laying out the connections between your strategic objectives. [1]

Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT) provides an organization with an internal control system or framework that presents activities in a manageable and logical structure. They are a collection of good practices to help monitor and improve critical IT activities build value, reduce risk and provide a cost effective environment by utilizing standardized processes whenever possible.

Similar to the Balanced Scoreboard, in COBIT, “these practices will help optimize IT-enabled investments, ensure service delivery and provide a measure against which to judge when things do go wrong.” [2] In the Balanced Scoreboard they divide the System into four perspectives and in COBIT they divide the process model into four domains. These domains are responsible for planning, building and monitoring and provide an end-to-end view similar to the logic map.  The COBIT framework was created with the main characteristics of being business-focused, process-oriented, controls-based and measurement-driven. “Effective IT performance management requires a monitoring process. This process includes defining relevant performance indicators, systematic and timely reporting of performance, and prompt acting upon deviations. Monitoring is needed to make sure that the right things are done and are in line with the set directions and policies.” [2] This is also where you ensure regulatory compliances have been satisfied.  The questions you need to ask yourself are: is the performance metrics designed to detect issues before they create real problems? Are the internal controls effective and efficient? Is the performance satisfying the business requirements?  Are adequate controls in place to ensure information security?

One of the most widely accepted approaches to IT Service Management in the world is the use of the IT Infrastructure Library or ITIL.  ITIL provides a framework of best practices to act as guidelines for consistent Service Management.  “The primary objective of Service Management is to ensure that the IT services are aligned to the business needs and actively support them. It is imperative that the IT services underpin the business processes, but it is also increasingly important that IT acts as an agent for change to facilitate business transformation.” [3]

The service lifecycle in ITIL is based around five primary stages rather than four as found in the Balanced Scoreboard and COBIT.  It starts with an initial analysis of business requirements in the Service Strategy which is then translated into a Service Design.  You migrate on through into a live environment known as the Service Transition.  Live operations are covered by the Service Operations and is all wrapped up by the Continual Service Improvement.  One of the areas in the service operation is the event management process.  An event is best described as a change in state that has significance for the management of a configuration item or service. [3] Monitoring is actually the process of checking the status of components and there may not be any events going on.  In contrast, event management depends on the functions of monitoring but it’s responsible for generating and detecting notifications.  Bear in mind that an event can mean something is not functioning but it can also mean it’s time for a routine function such as replacing a backup drive.  Another aspect of ITIL is an Incident management process.  Event management detects incidents and they get logged so that they can be analyzed for any potential trends.

The reason we conduct observing, monitoring and quantifying metrics is to use the information to help out the Continual Service Improvement process. Continual Service Improvement “provides a way for an organization to identify and manage appropriate improvements by contrasting their current position and the value they are providing to the business, with their long-term goals and objectives, and identifying any gaps that exist. This is done on a continual basis to address changes in business requirements, technology, and to ensure high quality is maintained.”

When we talk about observation, especially when we are dealing with technology, we need to bear in mind that it has two objective goals.  One is to gather information about a problem in order to design and construct a solution to solve it. [4] These are also found as part of COBIT, ITIL and service management which extend to the services and processes used by them. The second goal is to determine if the resulted solution is meeting the requirements. As Burgess points out in his book, system administration is a mixture of technology and sociology.  By its nature, users are constantly changing the conditions for observation.  Without constant conditions you lose the meaning of the data which is why you need processes that seek to continuously improve services and the metrics that measure and monitor those services. [4]

In the end it means that your customers, whether internally or externally, are fairly satisfied with the processes and services that help them make their contribution to the organization.  When it comes to monitoring and metrics a framework provides the structure to plan, implement, observe and monitor; but it is most successful when you apply experience, logic and intuition to the problems and solutions on top of that framework.

[1] http://www.balancedscorecard.org/BSCResources/AbouttheBalancedScorecard/tabid/55/Default.aspx

[2] COBIT 4.1, IT Governance Institute, www.itgi.org

[3] An Introductory Overview of ITIL® V3, Version 1.0, © Copyright itSMF Ltd, 2007

[4] Principles of Network and System Management, copyright 2000, M. Burgess, Oslo University College – Norway

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