At this point you might be wondering why OpenSLIM and why NMTools provided that there is plenty of software out there that seems to do the same or, at least, a similar work. And, yes, it's certainly a good question. Today, you can easily find IT Management Software to deal with Inventory, CMDB, Network Discovery, Distributed Configuration in many of the available software delivery flavors: Commercial, Open Source, ASP, etc… So, why?
The quick answer is that every solution has strengths, weaknesses and particular approaches that make them different even when they share the same market segment. And, there, is where I felt there was a space that cried to be filled: something small, simple, easy to extend, easy to delegate, and pragmatic: Task and Data oriented.
We, as IT staff, are also Information Workers that sooner or later end up having to deal with information inside Microsoft Office. Usual tasks are, documentation, communication, work flow management, analysis, reporting, feeding another Information System, etc. Then, the first question araises: why don't be close to Office? Why don't be part of it? Wouldn't it make things easier? Wouldn't it open unexpected connection/value opportunities with other Products on the Office System stack?
IT related staff are also the main Consumers of IT Management Software: Technical Teams and IT Managers.
- Technical Teams should know about scripting and also be smart as Office users.
- IT Managers may not know about scripting, but usually are power Office users.
- Both of them should have something in common: they know what they want (if they don't the problem is completely different: a really tough one, I'd say).
This raises some interesting questions:
- Wouldn't it be great if we were able to capitalize the knowledge an IT organization already has “out-of-the-box”?
- Wouldn't it be nice if we need less “specialists” (at the price of an specialist) on Tools and Infrastructure we need to have a ROI for?
- What if we can cover the needs with “current” or “by default” skill sets?
- Provided this class of solutions always require Tweaking and Personalization, don't you think it would be a difference to do it at the price of commodity skill sets?
- Does anybody knows the difference on the cost structure between an “Office+Scripting Solution” and the “Suite Solution” approach?
Unfortunately, the IT context is way more complex and this complexity leads me to think on the need to make things more simple (by the way, just to simplify the exposition I will refer to OpenSLIM + NMTools as the “Office+Scripting Solution” and I will tag together the other approaches as “Suite Solutions”.):
Organizational Maturity Level
Many IT organizations still manage their processes with e-mail and plenty of semi-structured Excel spreadsheets. In such a situation, the problem is not the technology but the people. You can't jump to a “Suite Solution” to “buy” the Maturity Level you don't have. You have to “win” a Maturity Level because the Culture and the People pushes the whole Organization there.
In my opinion, the “Office+Scripting Solution” represents an potential transition solution to a “Suite Solution” if you come from a semi-structured Excel scenario. It is said that everything has a place and a moment. Nothing lasts forever, and this is true for the “Office+Scripting Solution” too. Of course, it can play a secondary role along with a “Suite Solution”, … or not. You as a user, will tell.
Pace of Change, Life Cycles and Risks
“Suite Solutions” often require careful Planning, Deployment, Maintenance, Operation and so forth. These are all complex and formal processes that care about something that have nothing to do with the Business, but themselves. This is true even when we consider IT as a Business enabler. IT serves businesses, and IT Management Software serves IT to manage their own burden. In the end, it does helps the business. But, let's admit it, an important piece of IT complexity has to do with our failure to deliver a Service efficiently:
- We, as humans, tend to do it complex. We have many examples of this, but one particularly interesting is the Information Detail chosen for a CMDB. Someone may think that “everything” is important and that “everything” has a cost that may have to play someone different to the one that took the original decission over the Information Detail. This cost may mean: are we able to have this information updated? will we trust the information stored? given the life cycle of the information required, have we considered federation? what is the real value of each piece of information?
- Some scenarios exist because of IT needs. Businesses focus on Tasks, Operations and Data, not in IT/Software Artifacts: they don't care about WorkFlows, Decoupling, Interface Binding, Adapters, Formats, etc… We do.
- Some scenarios exist because of particular “Suite Solutions” needs: complex settings/architectures, high-skilled/expensive people, heavy adaptation layers and expensive projects required to support more expensive Modules, etc… They tell us it is “good for us”. It may, but, of course, it is “also” good for them.
- Let's face it: are we really ready to manage “The Unplanned”?
This complexity comes with the price of long Life Cycles that may not match the Business needs for speed and agility to keep up with the Peace of Change. Failing to do it may raise risks of very different natures. The impact may be different when compared with competitors, the opportunities created for new players and, of course, the state and the trend of the market/s.
Organizations are living entities: they have complex structures, they outsource projects and services, they have contractors and consultants, they get merged and sold, etc. To make things easier, this business complexity gets melted with the one from IT, and both, Business and IT, go through a continuous learning process where they observe, try and fail. In the end it is simple: learn or die.
Again, the “Office+Scripting Solution” represents an potential transition solution while we learn which is the right positioning, the appropriate Technology Mix we need to apply to a given Business in the context of an long term IT Strategy for it.
Vendor lock in vs Employee lock in
A few lines above I suggested that Tweaking and Personalization of IT Management Software could be performed by IT staff at regular costs taking advantage of “current” or “by default” skill sets. This triggers an old debate over “Vendor Lock in vs Employee lock in”; similar to “COTS software vs Internal Development”.
Clearly there is no single/easy answer to this dilemma. It may be different for different markets, businesses, regulations, etc. By the way, if one does not start from scratch, letting your IT staff take ownership on a project like this could be a powerful engagement tool. It has a creative component that shouldn't be ignored and could benefit the whole organization to win the pursued Maturity Level.
Again, the “Office+Scripting Solution” represents a nice proposition where you don't start from scratch, where you have the ability to contribute to a community; the opportunity to benefit from it while having your roots on solid Microsoft technology that guarantees that you are always in control and in a reasonable position to go through the next step, whenever it comes.
These may be good questions. One of them is to know the difference on the cost structures between an “Office+Scripting Solution” and the “Suite Solution” approach. But, to be able to achieve it, we need to be able compare with something. I hope we can start doing it from today…
As I said before, everything has a place and a moment. Nothing lasts forever, and this also holds true for OpenSLIM + NMTools. It doesn't pretend to be the best or the final solution for IT Management. It is just different: based on commodity & solid Microsoft Technology; small, simple, easy to extend, easy to delegate, and pragmatic: Task and Data oriented.
You as a user, will tell.