The problem with APM

Further Faster

Figure 1 – Technical products only go so far, while ambitious ITIL projects usually end in sweat, blood and tears. Business Service Management (BSM) can take you much further than APM tools, business-value wise.

A few months ago, the site BSM Digest was renamed APM Digest because, in the words of its editor, APM has become a “much more popular term, at least here in the USA”. Which, in my opinion, is a real shame.

Considering that, until recently, monitoring was focused mainly on the network and servers, why would turning the application into the focal point be a missed opportunity? After all, it clearly represents an evolution towards real, in-the-flesh customers from the deep oceans of pure infrastructure.

The problem is multiple. There is a rooted (and incorrect) conception in the IT environment that involves taking the application as a faithful representation (technically, as a proxy) of the service that is being given to the customer. From that perspective, the service is the application, and if the application works, we must rejoice.

But the application is not the service. In fact, agreeing upon what a business service is would lead us to a lovely debate, aggravated by the latest revision of ITIL, which basically calls anything a service.

A business service is an activity that is undertaken with the sole purpose of obtaining a benefit—tangible or intangible. The service consists of processes— steps that must be met in order to successfully carry out certain procedural activities thereof. For example, my business service of selling life insurance products encompasses insurance quotation processes, customer data maintenance, policy creation and archiving, etc.

It is highly likely that in order to carry out my insurance sales activities I must rely on more than one application, and that several digital flows are generated between these different applications and their modules. To properly represent these flows I will need to understand them, and, in order to evaluate the activity levels, data quality and integrity, and to analyze the overall performance with the proper indicators using the right granularity and proactivity, I will need to comprehend the objectives of the business service in certain detail.

In turn, if I am able to represent this information in real time in a suitable manner for a non-technical user, I will have immediately increased the audience for my dashboards and their usefulness. In one or more orders of magnitude.

But APM does not require us to focus on any of these issues. In fact, to my horror, an analyst of a very well reputed IT research firm told me that the advantage he saw in APM tools was that, unlike BSM, IT people did not need to sit down and converse with business people. They could monitor “the application” from the void.

The rise, in my opinion, of APM over BSM stems from ITIL’s bad practices and its cruel insistence on stumbling again and again over the stone called CMDB. Following the British bible to the letter turns IT pros into blind Sisyphuses with a stubborn inclination to succeed where no one has ever succeeded.

Typical APM implementations succeed by bypassing the CMDB, sometimes replacing it with Real Time Service Models (RTSM). And this is awesome, but their short-term success jeopardizes their scope and diminishes their potential.

A well-understood Business Service Management (BSM) project, in contrast, requires a firm understanding of the business context and evolves from an Outside-In approach, as fervently—and heroically—recommended by Service Management expert Ian Clayton on every forum on which he is allowed to speak.

After this Copernican change to the idea of center (it is no longer Earth, but the Sun instead: the Sun being the business services, not the application) one is able to really align IT efforts, to understand and be understood, to produce much clearer and more useful visibility, so precious to IT and Business, and to create much more value for the company.

Don’t get me wrong: basic APM technologies are necessary and beneficial. But taking the application as the center simply leaves too many blind spots.

Creating visibility through a holistic approach that goes far beyond the application has never been more necessary than in this time of intense competition, where competition is cruel, expectations are high and mistakes are not forgiven.

The good thing is that there has never been a better time to implement Outside-In BSM in all its glory. Which means, yes, sitting down to converse with Business, learning, growing, and being more helpful. And way more successful.

What do you think?

This blog post is adapted from a very, very similar one, also written by me, that appeared in APMdigest.

2 thoughts on “The problem with APM

  1. Pingback: CMDB is dead | The Visibility Blog by Raul Cristian Aguirre

  2. Pingback: You won the war on CMDBs | The Visibility Blog by Raul Cristian Aguirre

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