The Cobbler's Kid: Why Isn't There ERP To Run IT?

The business-technology execs at General Motors Corp. try to think of IT as a business of its own, not just a business function. They chart a long-term strategy, with a business model and a life cycle for delivering IT services. And they monitor operations, including the progress of new projects and the performance of existing systems and applications.

What they don't have is a suite of tools to run their business--call it enterprise resource planning software for IT. And they wish they did. "Otherwise, we're like a business running islands of automation," says Maryann Goebel, GM's chief strategy officer for information systems and services.

GM is ahead of most companies when it comes to running IT operations with the kind of business discipline and accountability that most departments strive for today. But it relies mostly on custom-built software to collect and analyze the data needed to monitor how well IT projects and operations are functioning. A year ago, managers scanned the market for off-the-shelf tools to help GM do that better. Their conclusion: Very good point solutions exist for tasks such as portfolio management, project management, and performance monitoring, but nothing connects them all.

One reason might be that most businesses aren't ready to tie all those ideas together. Most IT departments want to focus on operational quality and efficiency in small steps, not in one big-bang initiative. And the term "ERP" comes with a lot of baggage. "The problem with ERP is it connotates 'long' and 'big,' and that won't work," says Ken Klein, chief operating officer of Mercury Interactive Corp. Business-technology optimization "is all about incremental steps."

Software vendors aren't completely to blame, says Yogesh Gupta, chief technology officer for Computer Associates. "Traditionally, IT executives haven't asked for an ERP for IT, they've asked for a piece here or a piece there," he says. CA offers Unicenter, BrightStor, and eTrust for managing data centers, storage, and security. Mercury Interactive calls its suite of software-testing, application-performance management, and reporting tools a business-technology optimization suite.

Huge companies like GM have been known to use their buying power to nudge IT vendors into new businesses. So far, GM execs have been content to simply lay out ideas for the kind of integrated operating and decision-support system they'd like for IT. No vendors have rushed to fill the void. But, says GM's director of CIO planning Dianne Smock, "interest is growing."

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