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Tool talk: Choosing the best IT governance practices

Alan Joch

Formal IT governance practices, once seen primarily at large enterprises, are finding a comfortable home in midsize and smaller organizations, according

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to industry consultants. The reason: Easily available techniques and tools that provide electronic dashboards and custom reports to guide cost-conscious organizations when allocating resources for new or existing IT projects, as well as tracking investment performance over time.

On the surface, IT governance and project portfolio management (PPM) are simple concepts. “At the end of the day, it’s about aggregating information and then building reports,” said J. Schwan, president of Chicago-based Solstice Consulting. But to do that successfully, organizations need the right tools in place to organize and analyze asset information and make the resulting reports as accurate and insightful as possible. Here’s what to consider.

PPM criteria

PPM applications help IT managers audit their current reserves of hardware, software and IT services to give them a consolidated view of what’s available to business users. These audits often yield two important findings. One is the gaps in resources that make new investments necessary to meet the needs of business operations. The other is a kind of evil twin -- redundant or otherwise unnecessary assets that drain resources without offering anything of value to the organization. An accurate and regularly updated PPM inventory will help clarify future spending priorities, consultants say.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. has just released MarketScope for Project and Portfolio Management Applications, an updated analysis of top PPM applications. In it, Gartner outlines a number of key criteria to consider when evaluating PPM programs. They include the following:

  • Rapid implementation. Look for applications that take less than three weeks to launch, Gartner said. Related factors to consider include whether a vendor offers PPM process consulting at little or no extra cost, responsive technical support staffs and customer support programs.
  • Short time to value. In addition to fast deployments, Gartner considers how easy an application is to use and adopt, whether it offers a cost-competitive pricing model and how many features are standard versus those that require third-party products.
  • Scalability. Look for programs that can address needs ranging from small user groups of fewer than 30 members to facilities spanning thousands of users, Gartner said.
  • Vendor market savvy. The best products come from developers that are attuned to their customers. Vendors with the highest degree of vision listen to and understand buyers' wants and needs and can shape or enhance them with their added vision, according to the report.
  • Opportunism. Gartner sees a related competitive differentiator in the ability of PPM vendors to quickly revise development roadmaps based on new trends in the marketplace.

Optimize resources

Governance-minded organizations will also want to consider solutions for IT asset management. Part of the job of asset management programs is to set standards for deciding which technologies will be officially sanctioned by the organization, a first step in reducing redundancy.

For example, over time, the IT department may have implemented numerous variations of Unix/Linux operating systems. This means staff training and multiple licenses and service contracts are necessary to stay current with each variation. With an accurate audit in place, chief information officers can say, “I’m just going to have one or two and get rid of the rest,” said Charlie Betz, research director for IT portfolio management at Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc.

The inventories also inform future decisions. “A good IT portfolio asset management strategy prevents IT bloat,” Schwan said. “When a new requirement comes in from the business, you can look at the menu of what you already have in place to see what may be relevant, instead of going out to buy yet another technology to add to the menu.”

Asset management tools can also help manufacturers manage software contracts more closely to reduce the risk of having too few licenses to cover all active users. They can also help cut down on the unnecessary expense of having too many licenses, Schwan said. “Additional cost-saving opportunities, especially for larger organizations, include the ability to leverage volume discounts through enterprisewide contracts,” he added.

When shopping for asset management solutions, manufacturers should avoid point products that just focus on hardware or software. Instead, look for packages that span those categories, as well as IT services. Comprehensiveness gives IT managers a more accurate, big-picture view of assets, Schwan said. It also enables clients to classify assets across three major dimensions:  growth, containment and retirement. The first category includes valuable assets the organization should continue to invest in and perhaps expand. The second identifies assets that offer value at current deployment levels but don’t warrant further investments. Last are resources ready to be phased out in favor of newer, more productive technologies.

Categorizing assets in these broad groups will offer long-term benefits for IT governance. “Those classifications drive much of your decisions as you work to modernize operations and cut costs,” Schwan said.


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