Changing perceptions

Changing perceptions

Jason Peach
Jason Peach, head of professional services at Networks First

Jason Peach, head of professional services at Networks First looks at how network management means different things to different organisations and how, if done properly, it can be a positive business asset

The term Network Management has many definitions and is often misunderstood; perhaps even simply used to describe in reality a PC that sits in a corner somewhere collecting dust.

However, Network Management should be considered as a broad functional area of IT incorporating many disciplines to ensure the investment in an IT network is aligned to the business or organisation it aims to support.

Network Management does involve device monitoring and troubleshooting, but as a function, performed properly, it should maximise the business benefit of IT by sustaining and optimising IT services. However, for many organisations the Network Management function is not well defined. As an operational IT discipline, it is often neglected in favour of more pressing ‘customer facing’ IT priorities. An operational culture may have evolved in some organisations where reactive or project based activity takes precedence in favour of the day to day focus necessary to monitor and perform preventative maintenance activities on the network infrastructure. This passive approach is highly unlikely to maximise the utility of a network.

For example, Forrester Research Inc. found that 67% of respondents reported that they were unaware of problems until end-users called the helpdesk, and 41% categorised their approach to Network Management problems as reactive rather than proactive. This ‘firefighting’ approach can harm businesses: an IDC study found that one group of SMEs made losses of £45,000 per hour of downtime. A more proactive Network Management strategy allows potential problems to be identified before they occur, saving time and resources.

 

In establishing the business need for an effective Network Management function, it is useful to understand what Network Management is, and the benefits it will provide. In short, to ensure maximum return on investment (ROI) of a Network Management tool, it should be operated by skilled professionals. A good Network Management function requires a combination of people, process, and tools (systems) to ensure the delivery of an effective IT solution.

In return, an effective Network Management function should provide the organisation with a measured delivery, and governance, to ensure the ongoing success of the communications infrastructure in support of, and aligned to, organisational goals.

In order to do this businesses must ensure that they have the right skills on board, either in house or through outsourcing to a specialist IT service provider. Keeping pace with the business demand and technology innovation is a tall order for many IT professionals; and therefore many organisations inevitably have skill gaps. This perhaps explains the resulting statistic that 40-45% of network downtime is caused by configuration error (human error); evidence that appears to suggest that skills aren’t keeping pace with IT innovation or business demands.

The question organisations should seriously consider is ‘have we got the resource to sustain and manage change within the context of our network infrastructure, one which is increasingly complex to manage, but is ever more business critical’?

The Network Management function requires performance measures and statistical metrics (KPIs) to benchmark normal operational specifications of the network before abnormal events can be observed and acted upon. The goal of a proactive Network Management function is to plot metrics for optimum and standard performance through benchmarking, and isolate working and failing states so they can be restored or re-configured to an optimised operational state.

The Gartner Networking Maturity Model is designed to allow network teams to identify shortcomings, to establish priorities, and to set goals for improvement (Pultz, 2005). The model describes network maturity in terms of five phases: Chaotic, Reactive, Proactive, Managed, and Optimal (Chen, 2009). Only in the Managed and Optimal phases of the Networking Maturity Model can the Network Management function be a positive business asset; contributing to financial planning and success of the organisation; providing visibility and availability of its mission and associated critical IT applications, which in turn allows the possibility to optimise employee and business productivity.

Due to the increasing need for change and improvement in business process; perhaps using lean disciplines to ensure economic security and success; organisations are often turning to IT to drive productivity and change working practices. Now as never before, an effective Network Management function, whether completely in house or with elements outtasked, has to be essential to supporting change and to enhance operational success.

References:
Pultz, J. (2005), The Gartner Networking Maturity Model.
Chen, C. (2009), Computer Network Management: Best Practices, Gartner