Enterprise Release Management Tools: Plutora

Introduction

image3Enterprise Release Management is an increasingly prominent discipline, occupying the intersection of technical release management, project delivery and change management. Its focus is on understanding and governing the full portfolio of multi-stream changes, be they quarterly ERP releases, one-off project deliveries or monthly patching.

The demands on enterprise level release managers are many: governing and managing individual releases, maintaining the forward schedule as far as 12 months ahead, making sure non-production environments are efficiently used and more. Most release managers will have built and refined an array of spreadsheets and calendars to manage everything from release scope, defect lists, release gateway checklists, cutover plans and forward schedules.

Spreadsheets and calendars can work perfectly well when there are only half a dozen releases to track across 2-3 test environments, but once this starts scaling up – especially with multiple release managers – keeping these spreadsheets up to date becomes an administrative challenge and resource drain, letting inevitable errors creep into manual processes.

This is the tipping point where dedicated Enterprise Release Management tools make their case. The initial benefits are obvious: moving spreadsheets online to offer a single version of the truth slashes administrative waste and allows for pivoted views of the same data. Common tasks or release governance structures can be defined and re-used.

Clever reporting can replace hours of spread sheet and Powerpoint wrangling with the click of a button, and this is only scraping the surface. In this review, we’ll see what else leading vendor, Plutora, has built into their tool to add some real intelligence into the process far beyond simply lifting and shifting a spreadsheet online.

Quick facts & review highlights

Version Reviewed

Plutora V 3.5
October 2014

Market focus & customer counts

Large/very large IT organisations with a strong or dedicated project delivery arm who are presently struggling with visibility of their forward release schedule, environment utilisation or quality of repeatable release activity.

Customers:

  • USA: 18
  • EUROPE: 8
  • ASIA PAC: 15

License Options

SaaS licenses available in packs of 25 or unlimited enterprise option.

Competitive Differentiators

  1. Purpose-Built and Comprehensive: Plutora Enterprise Release Manager enables all of your end-to-end release management processes out of the box. Plutora is differentiated with its capability to combine release management, test environment management, deployment management and self-service reporting in a single comprehensive tool.
  2. Enterprise SaaS: Plutora is 100% SaaS to ensure rapid implementation and adoption of the solution within your organization. Plutora scales in the cloud to meet the growing complexity of your organization as teams become increasingly distributed.
  3. Vendor-neutral integrations: To provide a unified view across all your releases, Plutora integrates seamlessly into your landscape with an open API and adapters to your existing Project Portfolio Management, Application Lifecycle, Quality Management and IT Service Management tools.

Products

  • Plutora Enterprise Release Manager
  • Plutora Test Environment Manager
  • Plutora Deployment Manager

We think Plutora is stronger in…

Conversion of simple, powerful & common tools frequently used (and easily recognised) by release managers into a web application and expanded to make the most of pivotable underpinning data.

Strong & flexible presentation of critical information, both from pre-configured views & reports, and user-built reporting.

Powerful deployment management command & control function.

Clever system impact matrix with regression-test flagging.

We think Plutora is weaker in…

As a release-focused tool, less emphasis on non- transition related IT Service Management information may mean release decisions are taken in isolation and solved problems are not learned. Plutora offers the ability to add customized data fields and comments for non-transition related information.

Not aggregating change/feature resource cost into release-level capacity monitoring (and instead doing this manually) feels like a missed opportunity.

Some medium-sized IT organisations do not have 25 users, Plutora’s minimum license. Less focus on technical release aspects such as build/integration tooling, though this is on the feature roadmap.

In their own words…

Plutora’s purpose-built SaaS solution for Enterprise Release Management, Test Environment Management and Deployment Management enable you to manage complex application releases with transparency and control. Using Plutora, organizations can deliver higher quality software more frequently to meet customer demand with no impact on downtime.

Plutora ensures high-quality, on-schedule releases by driving enhanced enterprise collaboration and coordination for all key elements of a successful release: timing, composition, status, and stakeholders across their lifecycle – with ease. Real-time dashboards show release schedules and how they are tracking according to governance gates within the release framework.

Plutora provides a unified repository for all release information where users can source data, including project dependencies, without needing to piece together the shape of a release from multiple sources. Plutora integrates with your existing IT management tools to ensure that no data needs to be manually re-entered by users.

Customers

Over 30 enterprises across the globe as of March 2015, including Telstra, ING Direct, Boots UK, News Corporation, and GSK, manage $5 billion of releases using Plutora.

About this review

This was an unusual review, since Enterprise Release Management is an emergent discipline, combining both technical release management and project-delivery capabilities, but with an operational focus.

As an emergent discipline, there are no standard ways of dealing with the inherent challenges in this field, so the assessment of quality comes both from a mixture of judgements made during the review, in-depth use* and trusted industry awards. In this last category, Plutora has pedigree: named by Gartner as ‘Cool Vendor of the Year’ in 2014.

This review was written on the basis of a maximum 2 hour demonstration of the 5 key capabilities by each of the vendors. It is not exhaustive, and some capabilities which you especially require may be present in the tools but not covered in this review. As such, if you believe that Enterprise Release Management tooling is appropriate for your organisation, it is worth speaking to Plutora to ascertain best fit for your specific objectives.

*and thus not part of this review

Assessment Criteria

  • Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & templated processes
  • Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders
  • Managing resource and environment usage
  • Using data inside or connected to the tool and built-in intelligence to help inform release activities.
  • A single tool to remove reliance on spread sheets, calendars or manual processes.

Functional Review

Plutora is purpose built to enable end-to-end release tracking in a single solution. It comprises 3 modules: Enterprise Release Manager, Test Environment Manager and Deployment Manager.

A release in Plutora comprises a number of customer-specified phases that focus on their respective exit gates, and each has a checklist of activities or exit criteria a release manager would need to have completed before moving to the next. For example, a ‘QA’ phase exit gate would be reliant on, say, Completion of Functional Testing, Completion of Performance Testing and Signed Off Test Completion Report as activities required to move to the next phase.

Once a release ‘model’ has been built using these phases and checklists, it is then very easy to clone this to a new release. According to Plutora, many of its customers prefer using this cloning approach to template their releases rather than building dedicated theoretical templates which may themselves require overhead to manage and keep up to date. The cloning approach allows a maturing release management organisation to learn and adapt quickly to changing situations – taking only the elements they know work and evolving them organically.

Additionally, some customers of Plutora also use this cloning feature and general checklist features to build operational maintenance checklists – so, although the tool is heavily targeted at the change delivery side of the organisation, it can also be of significant benefit to operational and technical maintenance functions.

The templating and checklist functionality doesn’t stop there. Implementing a release is another area often devolved to shared spreadsheets, but Plutora delivers not just a single-source-of-truth replacement for these spreadsheets, but in Deployment Manager a clever, real-time command and control capability to let a single release manager monitor, trigger and track deployment steps in multiple releases simultaneously with internal or external delivery teams.

Once the work has been put into ensuring that the individual releases are accurate, the aggregate view starts to take shape and provide value. The Plutora Enterprise Release Schedule provides a tailored view of all releases. The schedule can be detailed, showing all phases, gateways and environments, or quickly summarised into a powerful senior stakeholder view. The schedule also supports diverse delivery approaches, whether agile, continuous delivery or more traditional waterfall as well as the simple operational checklists mentioned earlier.

However release management tooling is not just about visibility of the release schedule or implementing releases effectively. Plutora has two additional features, the release capacity planner and the systems impact matrix which add data-driven intelligence to release management.

The systems impact matrix is a simple-seeming view of dependencies between systems and releases. This on its own is a useful tool, giving a summary of which releases touch which applications. But the really clever bit is how Plutora not only identifies which systems are being touched by the release, but which linked systems are also impacted thus needing a regression test. This feature alone could make the business case to purchase Plutora.

The release capacity planner is also a useful feature. It allows release resource ‘containers’ (eg. number of test cases) to be specified and tracked in an accessible and easily summarised view, letting release managers clearly articulate release capacity. However my only major criticism of Plutora is that this capacity specification is manual and performed by the release manager. Since many ALM tools with which Plutora can share data (eg. Jira) can contain the development & test effort within their own records, it would seem logical for Plutora to take in this change-level data and aggregate it into a total release effort measure (adding extra overhead as necessary for release-level activities). The overall size of the release container can still be defined by the release manager, but the usage of each container could, and in fact should come from the individual change/feature records, and Plutora doesn’t do this. Despite this, the capacity tool is still incredibly useful for discussions with the business about setting realistic delivery expectations and customized fields can be added to incorporate additional information relevant to the release management process.

The last core area of functionality is test environment management. Test Environment Management in Plutora is fairly tightly coupled with the rest of the release functionality in planning and executing releases, but there are a couple of additional features worth noting.

Plutora contains an environment request and approval tracking system to allow projects or releases to book time in specific environments. Combined with the system impact matrix described above, Plutora’s ability to ingest data from external configuration/discovery tools and the ability to define complex environment groups of related systems makes for a powerful management suite to make better use of non-production environments.

The Test Environment Manager also has its own version of the release schedule (but from an environment-centric view) and likewise can be used to easily identify & articulate over or under utilisation at a glance. In addition, by specifying those stakeholders within the tool and enabling message broadcasts, clashing stakeholders can be made aware of contentions and work to resolve the issue.

This feature actually extends throughout all of Plutora. Stakeholders, systems, organisations and more are specified when initially configuring the tool and message broadcasting can be selectively activated at release or environment level.

Finally, reporting. Plutora has obviously invested considerable time and effort in getting reporting right, with pre-configured single-page overview reports providing real value to release managers as well as keeping senior stakeholders happy. The reporting dashboard is also configurable, allowing release managers to build graphs and displays from data within the system and then combining these into a personalised dashboard. This isn’t revolutionary functionality, but it is solid and well executed in Plutora.

Verdict

Enterprise Release Management tooling is ostensibly about removing the array of spreadsheets that proliferate to manage scope, timelines, environment usage and cutover plans. Plutora not only does this exceedingly well, its also used the opportunity to add some intelligence and polish to the tool to make people’s lives easier and improve the quality of the release passing through it.

Plutora is the tool one release manager would build for another. Plutora has taken existing practices, made them collaborative, structured and business-ready, then extended them to both pre-empt and answer the most common questions asked of release managers or that release managers ask of themselves.

Feature by Feature Summary Scoring

Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & template processes ★★★★
Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders

★★★★★

Managing resource and environment usage ★★★★★
Using data inside or connected to the tool and built in intelligence to help inform release activities.

★★★★

A single tool to remove reliance on spreadsheets, calendars or manual processes.

★★★★

Scoring Key

★★★★★ – Advanced features well developed

★★★★ – Advanced features present

★★★ – Solid coverage of basic requirements with some additional/advanced features

★★ – Basic requirements covered, some less thoroughly than expected or with minor gaps

★ – Not all basic requirements, significant gaps

Last words

Plutora is the tool which, in the reviewer’s opinion, embodies the term ‘Enterprise Release Management’.

It will work well in busy, large IT organisations and whilst it has a place in supporting operations, it feels targeted firmly at the development/delivery side of the IT organisation where teams of project managers, release & environment managers and more can collaborate with tooling they already instinctively know how to use.

Appendix – Screenshots

DISCLAIMER, SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created. Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed. Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline and not as the ultimate source of truth. Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study. This is a paid review. That is, suppliers included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge. The ITSM Review © 2015.

Podcast Episode 11 – Structured Problem Analysis

2808468566_dc22dede4b_zIn Episode 11 of The ITSM Review podcast Rebecca Beach discusses structured problem analysis and problem solving methodologies with guests Simon Morris and Tobias Nyberg.

Topics include:

  • Strategic activity
  • Kepner Tregoe
  • Slack time and overload
  • Bias/challenging assumptions
  • Maturity barriers
  • Playing the blame game
  • Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll

Books mentioned and further reading/information:

Image Credit

ITAM Review and ITSM Review Feeds

Video Review: Cherwell EMEA Customer Conference 2015

Cherwell EMEA Customer Conference 2015
Cherwell EMEA Customer Conference 2015

The ITSM Review was invited to Cherwell Software’s EMEA Region Customer Conference on February 11th 2015, in Windsor, Berkshire, UK hosting in the region of 130 customers and partners.

The 2 day conference consisted of 25 educational sessions, covering ITSM & ITAM best practices from a mixture of Cherwell staff from the US and UK, industry experts and Cherwell customers.

We were keen to attend as customer conferences are always a good way to get a good understanding of what challenges ITSM professional face in their everyday work and how they use technology to find solutions to address these challenges in an informal and relaxed environment.

ITSM as Organisational Focal Point

There was a friendly and upbeat atmosphere at the event led by European MD Tony Probert and his team.

The Cherwell motto is ‘Innovative technology built on timeless values’ which seemed to fit the ethos of the event as the focus and structure of the first day was on simple and old fashioned customer engagement; listening to their customer’s feedback and requirements of the software and as importantly, how it is used to drive innovation of the tool in the future. The feedback loop from their customers accounted for 31% of version 5.0 enhancements came directly from customer requests.

Cherwell President Craig Harper opened the day with explaining that Cherwell were growing rapidly ( 1172% growth last year- Same as Linkedin) but were maintaining the right balance between customers, investors and employees. A refreshing approach in a world of software companies driven by the motivations of venture capitalists.

Engagement and Agility over Firefighting Efficiency

There was a very refreshing and thought provoking presentation from new VP of Product Marketing Jarod Greene, who stated that currently ITSM is reactive ( firefighting) and now needs to move towards a strategic response that is both innovating and engaging. Greene stated that there were the 4 Ps:

  • People: It’s all about the People
  • Place : Be where the business is
  • Platform : Appeal to the business user
  • Performance : Measure success in business outcomes

Thanks to the Cherwell team for inviting us!

ITSM Review Reader Analytics

This article provides a summary of the visitor analytics for the ITSM Review over the last twelve months (See also ITAM Review reader analytics)

First of all, a sincere thank you to our readers, contributors and followers for your continued support. Our humble little blog served up ITSM content to a mind-boggling 312,963 readers in the last twelve months from just about every country on the planet. This articles provides a high level summary of the hot topics and reviews that are proving popular on the ITSM Review.

264,023 unique visitors from 203 countries.
312,963 visitors from 203 countries.

ITSM Review Reader Analytics: Where do visitors come from?

Top 10 visitors by country:

  1. USA 31.35%
  2. UK 15.25%
  3. India 10.98%
  4. Canada 4.69%
  5. Australia 4.54%
  6. Germany 2.78%
  7. Netherlands 2.19%
  8. France 1.81%
  9. Switzerland 1.21%
  10. Sweden 1.19%
  11. Long tail of 195 other countries 23.09%

New visitors to The ITSM Review arrive via search engine, word of mouth or social networks. Our top 10 external sources of visitors are as follows:

  1. Google
  2. Direct (e.g. bookmark)
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  4. Bing
  5. The ITAM Review
  6. LinkedIn
  7. Buffer
  8. The ITSM Review Newsletter
  9. Yahoo
  10. Facebook

Other ITSM sites also send us visitors, here are the ten largest contributors by volume:

  1. itskeptic.org
  2. realitsm.ru
  3. servicenow.com
  4. aits.org
  5. pinkelephant.com
  6. Forrester.com
  7. itsmf.co.uk
  8. smartsourcing.ru
  9. serena.com
  10. itsmnapratica.com.br

Social sharing is important for spreading our content, here are the top 10 social sources with approximate % of volume:

  1. Twitter 56.1%
  2. LinkedIn 25.6%
  3. Facebook 8.4%
  4. Google+ 2.2%
  5. reddit 2.1%
  6. DZone 1.8%
  7. Disqus 1.3%
  8. Pocket 1.1%
  9. paper.li 0.4%
  10. tinyURL 0.2%

What are visitors looking for?

Top 10 ITSM practice and process related searches (Top 10 of 100,000 search terms)

  1. KEDB
  2. Proactive Problem Management
  3. Knowledge Management
  4. Process Owner
  5. Obashi
  6. Structured Problem Solving
  7. Agile Service Management
  8. ITIL Process Owner
  9. ITSM certfication path
  10. Kanban vs Scrum

Top 10 vendor or tool related search terms:

  1. ITSM Tools
  2. Knowledge Management Tools
  3. Assyst Pricing
  4. ITSM Software Vendors
  5. Axios Assyst
  6. BMC Footprints
  7. EasyVista Reviews
  8. BMC Footprints Pricing
  9. ServiceNow pricing
  10. Cherwell Review

Most Popular Reads

Top 20 most popular articles by volume of impressions in the last twelve months:

  1. 7 benefits of using a known error database [Simon Morris]
  2. Back to basics: why do the ITIL foundation certification? [Ros Satar]
  3. Process Owner, Process Manager or Process Engineer [Stephen Alexander]
  4. Axelos: Capita and ITIL joint venture lift lid on new brand [Martin Thompson]
  5. ITSM Universe Preview [Martin Thompson]
  6. A structured approach to problem solving [Simon Morris]
  7. Twelve IT helpdesks for under $1,000 [Martin Thompson]
  8. Quick guide to Knowledge Management tool selection [Barclay Rae]
  9. Planning for major incidents [Simon Morris]
  10. Proactive Problem Management [Rob England]
  11. Free ITIL training [Ros Satar]
  12. IT Knowledge Management – spreading the word [Liam McGlynn]
  13. Trust me: The DevOps movement fits perfectly with ITSM [Gene Kim]
  14. Four problem management SLAs you really can’t live without [Simon Higginson]
  15. ITSM career paths [Kirstie Magowan]
  16. Applying Agile principles to Service Management [Simon Morris]
  17. How to conduct an ITSM assessment that actually means something [Liam McGlynn]
  18. How to segment and prioritise vendors and suppliers [Martin Chalkley]
  19. What is a technical service catalogue? [Rob England]
  20. Problem Management challenges and critical success factors [Tõnu Vahtra]

Many of the articles above were not published in the last twelve months. The most popular articles are the perennial, always useful guides based on real life experience.

Many expect that blog posts disappear after the initial bubble of social media, but for many ITSM Review articles the opposite is true. See the monthly views for Simon’s KEDB article below, note that visitors increase after six months then continue to attract readers for over 18 months:

KEDB

Product reviews also stick around receiving readers several years after publication. See the visitors to this review of ServiceNow’s Service Catalogue capabilities by Barclay Rae:

ServiceNow-Service-Catalogue

Most Popular Product Reviews

Top 20 most popular product reviews by volume of impressions in the last 12 months:

  1. ServiceNow: Service Catalogue [Barclay Rae]
  2. Service Catalogue Review: Summary [Barclay Rae]
  3. Incident and Problem Management Review: Summary [Ros Satar]
  4. BMC: Incident and Problem Management [Ros Satar]
  5. Axios: Incident and Problem Management [Ros Satar]
  6. ServiceNow: Request fulfilment [Ros Satar]
  7. TOPdesk: Incident and Problem Management [Ros Satar]
  8. Integrations Review: Summary [Ros Satar]
  9. Cherwell: Incident and Problem Management [Ros Satar]
  10. Knowledge Management Review: Summary [Barclay Rae]
  11. Cherwell: Integrations [Ros Satar]
  12. ManageEngine: Integrations [Ros Satar]
  13. Solarwinds Technology Review [Rebecca Beach]
  14. Request Fulfilment Review: Summary [Ros Satar]
  15. BDNA: Integrations [Ros Satar]
  16. Change, Config and Release: Summary [Rebecca Beach]
  17. Axios: Service Catalogue [Barclay Rae]
  18. Easyvista: Integrations [Ros Satar]
  19. LANDESK: Integrations [Ros Satar]
  20. Matrix42: Service Catalogue [Barclay Rae]

If you have any questions or would like to see any topics covered on the ITSM Review please contact us.

Are you passionate about ITSM?

Serving worldwide ITSM professionals since 2011
Serving worldwide ITSM professionals since 2011

ITSM Review is a well-respected and independent voice in the ITSM market. As a high growth business we are now on the hunt for a talented and passionate individual to join our growing team.

Who are Enterprise Opinions? 

Enterprise Opinions owns and operates two niche IT communities: The ITAM Review and The ITSM Review.

Our mission is to provide independent industry news, reviews, resources and networking opportunities to worldwide vendors, partners, consultants and end users working in ITAM or ITSM.

  • The ITAM Review was founded in 2008, sister site The ITSM Review followed in 2011
  • 100% organic growth through social media and word of mouth
  • 7,000+ opt-in verified newsletter subscribers, 70K+ impressions a month worldwide (Typically 35% USA, 15% UK, other large audiences in Germany, Australia, Canada, France and India)
  • We are privately owned and proud to be vendor and service provider independent and impartial.

ITSM Analyst 

We’re looking for an ITSM Analyst who can act as a spokesperson and representative for the ITSM Review – online, in person and at worldwide events. The role involves creating high value ITSM analyst content and conducting reviews of products and services.

Our goal is to help ITSM Review readers navigate and understand the market – in terms of explaining or curating the latest news, explaining key concepts and navigating new technology and innovation.

Content published on the ITSM Review is driven by engaging and supporting our readers – so a key part of the role is to engage and assist with our readers and identify opportunities to help them via high value media in various formats.

Role Details

  • Employment Type: Full-time
  • Location: Remote and flexible working
  • Working style: Being a self-starter is essential. The role is based on delivering against objectives not hours on the clock
  • Travel: Maybe 10-15% of the role requires international travel to conferences or consulting engagements. You own your diary.
  • Salary: Dependent on experience

Ideal Qualities

  • A curious technologist
  • An ITSM Industry enthusiast
  • Knows how the IT industry works
  • Can write clearly and concisely
  • Can explain things, help readers join the dots, build frameworks and generally educate our audience
  • Good public speaker
  • Is willing to take a stand
  • Can take and leverage criticism
  • Likes to roll up sleeves, play with technology and trying to break things

How to Apply

  1. Provide a one-minute video review of a product, service, event or ITSM concept
  2. Provide a 500-800 word written piece of work to accompany the video
  3. Send both via social media (publicly or discreetly)

Any questions, please shout.

Martin (Twitter, LinkedIn)

Enterprise Release Management Tools Group Test

The ITSM Review will be performing a deep dive review of Enterprise Release Management tools.

This article provides an introduction to Enterprise Release Management (ERM) and a high level summary of typical functionality.

Notes

  • This group test will be conducted by Rebecca Beach, our ITSM Analyst, and Rob Spencer, Change and Release specialist and vice-chair of the UK itSMF Transition SIG.
  • We’ve also included a few examples of providers who offer ERM capabilities – please let me know of any other suggestions.
  • If any suppliers wish to participate in our Group Test please contact us before 30th September 2014.
  • Learn more about our Group Tests.
  • Read our back catalogue of completed Group Tests.

Thanks, Martin


Introduction to Enterprise Release Management

By Rob Spencer

How do organisations plan tens or hundreds of releases a year across project delivery, vendor patching, infrastructure changes and more? How do they manage competition for access to test environments, ensure they spot colliding production releases in good time and avoid overbooking their test teams?

How do they articulate this enterprise-wide release roadmap to senior stakeholders, customers and IT staff?

Traditional answers to these questions usually take the form of project plans and spreadsheets. They rely on regular meetings between project office, operations & technical staff to keep them in sync, and are rarely, if ever, accurate in real time.

Today, a new breed of release management planning tools is emerging. Enterprise Release Management tools are agnostic of functional requirements or constituent change requests, and they don’t manage the actual deployment of code. They simply allow the entire IT organisation to track and manage the entire portfolio of releases across all environments. They have the scope breadth of a Change Schedule, but go into more detail.

At their simplest, they are a single source of the truth for the multitude of spreadsheets they replace, but most can pivot this data to provide people with the information they care about in customised and intuitive views – from CIO roadmaps to a test manager’s forward work plan.

Ultimately, they give Service Operations a reliable, realtime view of all upcoming releases with at-a-glance assurance that the right governance has been completed for each. And since they span both development and operations, many are starting to be called DevOps Release tools.

ERM

What does an Enterprise Release Management tool do?

  • Plans (and scopes) a release – Allows the construction of an end to end release plan following a user-customisable structure which could map to eg. an organisations’ project governance gateways. Should be able to record both governance activities/milestones as well as physical activities in multiple environments (deployments, test runs etc). Ideally should be templatable and re-usable.
  • Plans ALL releases – Takes the individual releases and plots them against a common timeline to spot resource over/under utilisation, go-live collisions and tells operations when to brace for action.
  • Manages environment & resource usage – Pivots the data from all releases and show an environment – or resource -centric view of the same data. Helps answer questions such as “what’s happening in our Pre-Prod environment next week?” or “can I deliver everything I promised?”
  • Presents data in various views depending on audience – The steering committee has different needs to those of a test manager, and the project needs to be able to see anything relevant with a few clicks. Does the tool allow varying levels of detail to be presented over user-defined timescales in a clean and coherent way no matter the format?
  • And not forgetting… – Role based access to stop people from seeing the wrong things (or changing them), the ability to dynamically import and update change requests from other tools (data exchange mechanisms such as XML and RESTful APIs are becoming the norm in service tools).

Methodology

To test these, we’re constructing an entire fictitious company with a busy year of releases including new system deliveries, infrastructure refreshes, monthly & quarterly patching to cloud and on-premise services. We’re covering both agile and waterfall development & delivery methodologies, and even introducing some DevOps practice. We’re sharing this case study with the participating vendors, and we’re also going to make our own spreadsheet versions of the plans (which we won’t share with the vendors in advance). Our case study also includes some fairly thorny problems which a typical organisation could encounter eg. scheduling conflicts, people not following process and people whose idea of planning is far removed from the reality of their customers’ needs.


Here are some tools we are aware of in this area.

If anyone knows of any others please leave a comment below or drop us a line. I will update the list as we find new suggestions. Thanks, Martin

Outside IT Group Test – The Results

Cherwell, Samanage, ServiceNow and TOPdesk reviewed for their capabilities and approach to delivering services outside the IT department
Cherwell, Samanage, ServiceNow and TOPdesk reviewed for their capabilities and approach to delivering services outside the IT department

I am pleased to share my latest analysis for The ITSM Review: Outside IT.

This is a review of how IT service management (ITSM) tools might be used beyond the IT department.

It explores how traditional ITSM tools, typically used for IT service and support, can be used for broader operation throughout the business such as underpinning internal business processes and handling non-IT business requests.

Technology vendors participating in this analysis include:

  • Cherwell
  • Samanage
  • ServiceNow
  • TOPdesk

There has been a move in recent times to develop more applications and tools that can cross the boundaries of internal service departments. The ITSM toolsets available have helped to drive practice in this area, in particular service catalogues, service portals, automated fulfilment processing, approvals etc. and for many organisations this is a huge opportunity for IT to be the department of solutions and success rather than simply the folks who say ‘no’ all the time.

Which vendor is ‘Best in Class’?

What are the differences between the vendors in this report? How can we distinguish and identify differentiators, pros and cons between them? If all products can be used to develop work automation, logging and escalation/ownership and tracking of tasks etc., does this mean that the differences between vendors go beyond simple software functionality? This review looks at how to differentiate the vendors’ approach for beyond IT across the ITSM market.

Download a copy of my report here (registration required):

http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

Podcast Episode 5: SDI Winners "Less about IT and more about Service"

Thanks to our friends at SysAid for sponsoring this podcast.
Thanks to our friends at SysAid for sponsoring this podcast.

Episode 5 of the ITSM Review podcast hosted by Barclay Rae and Rebecca Beach.

Guests:

Agenda

This podcast was recorded live at the SDI Annual Conference. See more details and all the winners here

The three winners discuss the SDI awards and SDI certification process, the business benefits of exceptional service, Forrest Gump (see video below) and the evolution of Service Management careers.

“It is less about IT and more about the service” Kirsty Watson, O2

“There is no operations and the business – you ARE the business” Sarah Lahav, SysAid

“High Five! You Rock!” Rebecca Beach

Thanks to our friends at SysAid for sponsoring this podcast.

ITAM Review and ITSM Review Feeds

Podcast Episode 5

CoSocius Winning Video

Image Credit

 

Integrations 2013 Group Test – The Results

integrationsThis is a competitive review of software products and vendors who offer integrations to other technologies and data sources.

Products reviewed:


Download Review

(Free PDF, No Registration Required – 605kb, 12 Pages)


Integrations 2013 Best in Class

Integrations 2013 Group Test Best in Class: BDNA
Integrations 2013 Group Test Best in Class: BDNA

BDNA. It is a concept so simple but offers so much value, especially in an IT Service Management environment.

Of the other products reviewed, these areas were of particular note:

  • Specialized Service Management Suites – Best in Class for Integrations: ServiceNow As well as offering a range of connectors and detailed integration guidance, they provide workbooks to help focus pre-deployment across the board, so not just physical users but categories and the additional functions that go to build up a service management platform. Other tools assessed: – Cherwell, Easy Vista and ManageEngine
  • Systems Management Toolsets – Best in Class for Integrations – Absolute Software Their comprehensive approach to a full range of endpoint management with a subtle interface makes it a powerful suite in its market area. Other tools assessed: LANDesk and Matrix42
  • ITSM Value Added Tools – Best in Class for Integrations – BDNA It is a concept so simple but offers so much value, especially in an IT Service Management environment. Other tools assessed: Bomgar, Nexthink

IntegrationsIntroduction

It is all too easy, when looking at ITSM tools, to focus on perhaps the bread and butter functionality that we have all come to know, love and sometimes stumble over in implementation.

Sometimes it seems a secondary concern as to how the information gets there in the first place. As easy as it sounds, and to be honest as easy as it is for the more straightforward commercial engagement, my experiences with some managed service implementations were a different story.

Rigid, unyielding client security policies matched with equally rigid developed methods to load the data, it made the whole affair at times uncomfortable for all. There had to be easier ways.

Of course there are, and not only that but as products sets integrate with more and more third parties, as well as looking for ways themselves to innovate and manoeuvre in the market place, so we find ourselves looking across the wide base of integrations into and out of ITSM tools.

Where once it seemed to be the playground of development teams to come up with imaginative ways to squirt records from one system to another, again especially in large and complex projects, the use of real-time web services makes it easy for tools be less the “king of the castle” and more the glue that holds everything together.

What is perhaps more liberating, for want of a better word, is the range of products that presented themselves for this review.

From niche products that offer very succinct areas of integration to complement the service management function to the more established tool bases that recognise that increasingly they are becoming but one cog in an IT service chain – we take a look at an extensive range of tools and their integration points within IT Service Management.

Market Positioning

For the purposes of this review, vendors were classified based on their primary market focus, and product capabilities.

Target-Market-Size


Vendor

Specialist ITSM Functions

Discovery
Own Tool/Third Party Integration

Event Management & Monitoring
Own Tool/Third Party Integration

Web Services

Niche

Absolute Software

Y

Own/Integration

Own

Y

N

BDNA

N

Integration

N

N

Data as a Service

Bomgar

N

N

N

N

Secure remote support

Cherwell

Y

Own/Integration

Integration

Y

N

EasyVista

Y

Own/Integration

None demonstrated/Listed

Y

N

LANDesk

Y

Own/Integration

Own/Integration

y

N

Manage Engine

Y

Own/Limited Integration

Own

Y

N

Matrix42

Y

Own/Integration

Own

Y

N

Nexthink

N

Integration

Integration

N

Real-time End-user Analytics

ServiceNow

Y

Own/Integration

Integration

Y

N

Competitive Overview

The table below shows a high level overview of the competitive differences between the tools

  • Elevator Pitch – An independent assessment of what this module has to offer
  • Strengths – key positive points, highlighted during the review
  • Weaknesses – challenges or areas perceived to be lacking, during the review
Vendor Elevator Pitch Strengths Weaknesses
Absolute Software A restful and subtle  interface with an inclusive service management solution that wraps around a comprehensive endpoint management solution.
  • They offer a comprehensive set of connectors out of the box to a number of sources
  • An element of true CMDB federation exists by way of their mapping in real time with wizard driven interfaces
  • While they offer a range of innovative integrations for additional support – the current take-up tends to be slow for their market
BDNA If anyone has ever tried to cleanse raw inventory data to build a picture of what is actually installed out there for a managed estate, this product solves all that. Data is brought in whatever format and normalised to identify a standard naming convention, but that is not all. That data then has market intelligence appended to provide the most comprehensive definition for hardware and software
  • BDNA has tapped into Data-as-a-Service and the concept is fiendishly simple – take in data, clean it, classify it to a sensible taxonomy hierarchy and pump it back into ITSM
  • They have extended their reach to Purchase Orders to begin to integrate procurement into a single record of consistently referenced data
  • Their catalogue is free to browse online at www.technopedia.com
  • It sounds too good to be true and that is their biggest challenge – this is something that really works for the medium to large organisations who have the insight to make the investment but may be out of reach of small organisations
Bomgar A niche product that complements ITSM tools with a completely self-contained remote support offering that negates a lot of the issues around security and access
  • Specialises in remote support
  • Completely self-contained within their own supplied orange box
  • A wide range of integrations to some of the biggest ITSM vendors to complement service management end to end
  • It can be difficult to change the mentality of organisations as to why they would need/benefit from an additionally integrated remote support tool, rather than looking for other alternatives.
Cherwell A key understanding of what is required and the ability to provide innovation across the whole organisation – Cherwell show they understand what organisations need and are ready to supply connectors to a wide variety of additional sources of information. A comprehensive solution throughout.
  • Based on their experience – Cherwell cover pretty much everything required in typical deployments – the 80/20 rule – which gets clients running very rapidly but also ticks all the boxes in terms of what is offered versus what is generally required,
  • Recognise areas to offer clients in terms of integration points using elements such as Twitter and RSS.
  • Provide web services inbound bound and a very comprehensive range of connectors to external sources
  • Perhaps missing a trick now in terms of integrating with task management and resource management tools (such as linking with Outlook calendars and tasks for technicians).
Easy Vista A concise interface where simplicity is in the detail. A good application of best practice based on their commercial experience to take a lot of the pain away from pre-deployment set-up and a recognition that brokering service to and from other third parties needs to also be simplified.
  • Purpose built interfaces to import data and interact with third party integrations
  • Use of standard protocols to take away the need for programming capabilities for integration
  • Can integrate to third party search engines including those of third party vendors within the product
  • Their constraints are really tempered by the maturity levels of their customers – but they get around this by offering email integration where perhaps inbound and outbound web service based integration is more advanced. This is maybe indicative of the upper-mid-market segment that they are comfortable in currently.
LANDesk A solid product from a vendor whose roots start in system management and it adds a dimension to what they can offer.
  • Strong event management background
  • Understand that the deployment phase needs structure and the range of materials and consultancy they offer is comprehensive
  • Encompass BYOD with integration and include some neat new innovations
  • LANDesk have put some much needed focus into their service management, and it is at least on a par with almost all the main players but is not as innovative as some of the other approaches they take.
ManageEngine An entry-level ITSM solution with additional features such as Project Management and web services and a range of supporting tools available from the same stable of products.
  • Offers a range of products within their suite to manage across an organisation
  • Nice touch in providing project capability within the ServiceDesk Plus Change function
  • Misses automation in some key areas (CMDB) and not able to view a graphical representation of the process workflow
  • Some integrations rely on purchasing the other proprietary products as opposed to integrating with products organisations may have already.
Matrix42 Extensively focussed on Workplace management with Service Management wrapped around that capability.
  • Focus rooted in workplace management, and have invested heavily in their linkage with Airwatch Mobile Device Management  and then have built their Service Management around that
  • When added to their capabilities to integrate with other ITSM and Asset tools – can position themselves well as an IT services broker – an area that seems to lend itself to smaller operators in the market.
  • A strong European presence but maybe as a European Technology vendor, they lack that presence to make them more global business partners with some of the larger ITSM vendors that they could partner with to leverage their MDM capabilities.
Nexthink A niche product that takes a very different view of management and, when integrated into ITSM, can provide a real-time analytical interface into process for proactive, rather than reactive resolution.
  • Offers a completely different view of information within an enterprise
  • Everything is displayed in real-time and with the integration options to key ITSM tools, the combination really lends itself to large organisations or to those running complex transition projects
  • It takes a huge leap of faith to make a financial commitment to cover this level of end-to-end management and analytical capability – Probably not for the very small organisations.
ServiceNow With a solid base of ITSM processes and an extensive range of partnerships – ServiceNow covers all the bases as to drive organisations towards a single source of truth
  • They recognise that pre-deployment can almost be a project and provide a comprehensive workbook to focus on the data to bring across
  • Very extensive range of integration points through an ever growing partner base
  • A reliance on information imparted through their admittedly extensive wiki – although it has been tidied up and the Books function is a lot more comprehensive, it does create a “hands-off” impression when it comes to actually helping people find out more information.

Customers

Integrations-Number-of-Customers

Analysis

Vendor Functionality Competitive Differentiators Analysis
Absolute Software A subtle interface for a service management solution which has been wrapped around a comprehensive endpoint management system
  • They offer a number of integrated functions within the tool including Remote Control and Chat functions
  • They have focussed a lot of attention on a comprehensive Mobile Device Management strategy across Android and iOS
  • They recognise that everyone has tools and to avoid “swivel-chair management” – they provide connectors to any third party data source.
Absolute brought themselves into the Service Management market to complement their already established endpoint management toolset – to give themselves the complete package.They are in a great position to give some of the more established names in this market segment a real run for their money.
BDNA Data normalisation wrapped up as a service
  • BDNA normalizes data across multiple vendors and feel very confident to be able to offer SLAs on the level of data accuracy and completeness
  • BDNA employ a team to curate and add Market Intelligence to that normalized data
  • They have now applied those same algorithms to Purchase Orders in either structured or unstructured fields – so now information can be tracked from acquisition to retirement.
BDNA have tapped into a way to collect, clean, normalize and propagate data in a quick and seamless way that adds immediate value to any kind of service management environment where accurate data is vital.
Bomgar A secure appliance-based solution for remote access which integrates to key ITSM solutions
  • Bomgar offer arguably the most uniquely secured remote support solution with their Bomgar box– a centralised, security hardened server that never passes data or system access through a third party. It handles standard authentication (e.g. Active Directory), and they offer a number of access controls out of the box, plus extensive audit trails and video recordings of sessions.
  • Their remote support capability extends to almost any device imaginable – desktops, laptops, servers, smartphones and tablets.  They work across Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Blackberry systems and devices.
  • They are scalable and typically supply their solutions from small to large environments, enabling collaboration within teams and across external partnerships as offer the ability to remotely support a device from initiated chat support.
Another niche product with a great concept behind it – when large organisations have complex supplier relationships, Bomgar supply a security hardened orange box and integrate with some of the key players in the ITSM industry to provide solidly auditable remote support capability.
Cherwell Comprehensive and established service management tool which provides flexibility to bring together IT and business processes
  • Service automation and innovation through actionable features – a nice touch in particular is being able to create a new incident from an incoming Twitter feed, and exploring using RSS feeds for travelling technicians.
  • Mobile applications (iPad/iPhone) for IT users utilising location services but also recognise that this has a business use as well – allowing service business managers to visit locations making the integration more of a proactive tool
  • Continued ease of use, through effective development of wizards to handle all the integrations.
Cherwell continues to impress with their pragmatic view of IT Service Management, but could be letting easy integration wins pass them by where other competitors are providing value.
Easy Vista Integrated service management and some good areas of value add integration
  • EasyVista encompass their best practices in with their NEOTM platform which removes the need for delving into databases – everything is via easy to navigate interfaces
  • They have a comprehensive list of both inbound and outbound web services to allow them to be the “glue” in the middle of maybe larger, more complex support environments, resulting in real-time data exchanges between systems.
  • They do understand where their market pitch is, and allow for the fact that less mature environments may require more “traditional” email-style integrations for customers with perhaps older systems to integrate with
Ticks the boxes in terms of providing clean interfaces to integrate data and understand that the value they can add as an intermediary in complex support environments
LANDesk A good understanding of what the market needs and a good sense of position
  • LANDesk’s core expertise is rooted in systems management and as such they can provide Total User Management – covering systems management, security management, asset and service management, seamlessly integrated together through a process driven workflow platform.
  • They provide self-service capability accessible to users via desktops and mobile devices
  • They provide a two-way integration between Microsoft Outlook and the service desk to track task assignments
Another vendor coming from a different management background with service management wrapped around it, means they have a solid platform for integration
ManageEngine A basic service management solution with some reasonable integration capability
  • Provide a reasonable level of additional integration (for example web services)
  • Have developed a suite of products to complement the ServiceDesk Plus product set
  • Have added Project Management tracking capability
A good entry level service management solution, and while many other vendors include asset management tooling, their integration in this area perhaps lags behind other vendors
Matrix42 Builds on an established workplace management platform with service management, and throwing a lot of focus on mobile device management built in to that function
  • Matrix 42 offer integration around the management of physical, virtual and mobile devices
  • Matrix 42 offer their Service Catalogue and Service Desk free with their management product set
  • They offer integration out-of-the-box with products that are recognised as commonly in place on customers (e.g. SCCM, Active Directory etc.) and also integrate with a number of integrated Service Management suits (ServiceNow, Remedy, Axios among others)
They take the interesting route of offering their service management free with their workplace management product set – which focuses on putting the power in the hands of the end-user.
Nexthink A real-time view of end-user topology allowing for more proactive problem determination
  • Nexthink provide End-User IT Analytics – the tool analyses data from all the endpoints and extrapolates information from that perspective to identify trouble spots
  • The analysis is in real-time – patterns and any anomalies detected are constantly being evaluated.
  • They turn the end-user and endpoint data into a level of intelligence and insight to sit alongside IT Service Management and offer a level of integration with known vendors to complement them in a number of areas
This power in this tool is the real-time correlation and analysis purely built up from an end-point perspective – and their continuing partnership with some of the biggest names in the ITSM industry should ensure that proactive assessment becomes a norm, but might put it out of reach of the smaller organisations.
ServiceNow Comprehensive Service Management tool with extensive integration capabilities
  • ServiceNow offers not just an extensive range of ITSM capabilities but some non-ITSM but complementary areas (Project & Program Management, Governance Risk Compliance).
  • They are able to call upon a wide range of customers as reference customers, an they have a wide partner base for implementations and integrations
  • They have scored highly in the Gartner ITSSM MQ (20th August 2013) for the Berlin Release.
As well as offering a full range of integration functions as well as their own tooling for asset management, ServiceNow had project management within their tool and partner with companies like Bomgar for remote support. They can resort to pointing at their wiki which feels at times like a slightly “hands-off” approach – even if it has been curated recently.

Deep Dive

Further details for each vendor can be found by using the links below:

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created.  Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed.  Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline, and not as the ultimate source of truth.

Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study.  The ITSM Review recommends that readers complete a thorough live evaluation before investing in technology.

This is a paid review, that is, the vendors included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge, without registration.

For further information, please read the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.

2nd Birthday

2nd Birthday
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