Business service management, ITIL improve IT performance at Carfax

When Carfax automated data flows from 23,000 data sources, it needed better systems management. See how it used business service management and ITIL to meet that need.

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Back around 2001, Carfax Inc., the provider of vehicle history reports on used cars and trucks, was growing rapidly. It needed a more efficient way to handle the changes and additions to its nearly 7 billion vehicle history records, gathered from more than 23,000 data sources. To keep up with that volume and evolve from a manual data entry process, Carfax implemented workflow automation software -- and ended up bringing in ITIL and...

business service management (BSM) as well.

As the 500-employee company, founded in 1984, started to grow, it needed IT to keep up, supporting the business with effective and efficient databases and customer experience.

"We had a lot of data pouring in through every imaginable crevice," said Robert Stinnett, senior analyst at Centreville, Va.-based Carfax. "A lot of this data coming in was through email, postal deliveries, FTP, tapes, CDs -- and one data provider faxed it over."

Carfax runs more than 10,500 batch jobs per day. Nearly 60% are tied to service-level agreements (SLAs) with customers like eBay, Ford Motor Co., CarMax Business Services LLC and hundreds of dealerships across the country. To meet these SLAs, Carfax needed a solution that would address its growing volume and all its complexities.

At the time, the company received and processed all data manually. As a first step at automation, Carfax introduced Web farms to handle the abundance of data coming in from every angle -- including HTTP connections and FTP scripts. Although the servers cut costs, "they introduced a new stress," said Jerry Gregg, operations coordinator at Carfax. "We now had all these [servers] that had to be up all the time."

Thus, every problem became an all-hands-on-deck situation for the IT department of 45 employees, which used monitoring systems to alert IT to slowdowns, outages and other delays that would have an impact on customers.

"We had to get everyone in to detect the problem, day or night," Gregg said. "Network people, database people -- there were a lot of people that had to be on call because we had no formal process for troubleshooting problems and dealing with changes."

Thus, IT needed processes and technology to monitor the disparate systems throughout the organization -- including OpenVMS, Linux and Microsoft Windows platforms on 300-plus servers. It found its answer in business service management.

Using BSM and ITIL together

BSM solutions help bring clarity to the business-IT link, said Glenn O'Donnell, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. The ability to map out events, incidents, service requests and many other functions provides transparency to the relationships.

"Without these mappings, the linkage between these levels is mere guesswork -- and nearly always wrong," O'Donnell said. "As infrastructure becomes more complex, this linkage becomes more critical and more difficult to complete without automated means to form the linkages."

Business service management is a combination of process and software. For the software component, Carfax chose products from BMC Software Inc. around 2006. Stinnett said Carfax selected Control-M workload automation software because it was scalable and integrated with BMC's Atrium Configuration Management Database, which aids in identifying the relationships between batch processes and other IT and business components.

The tool also offered the potential to introduce processes from the IT Infrastructure Library via service integrations at a time when ITIL usage was rare in the midmarket.

With more business focus being placed on operations and services, the IT is morphing to 'B' for business, becoming BSM. I view this broader definition as a more highly evolved vision of ITSM.

Glenn O'Donnell
senior analystForrester Research Inc.

"The whole idea of ITIL was something that BMC had over other competitors," Stinnett said. "There was more vision there, and it provided us with something to work towards."

Using BSM as a steppingstone for ITIL isn't completely uncommon. According to O'Donnell, BSM solutions typically monitor and report on activities, like incident management, to provide meaningful information to the business.

"Such monitoring is common in efforts to streamline incident management, one of the first ITIL processes typically tackled," O'Donnell said.

A company doesn't necessarily need to be sophisticated in ITIL to realize these BSM benefits, but ITIL does bring the means to measure improvement, he said.

BSM as a concept has close ties to ITIL, according to O'Donnell. "A broader definition of BSM is closer to ITIL itself, and more specifically ITIL V3. ITIL is nearly synonymous with IT Service Management," he said.

"With more business focus being placed on operations and services, the IT is morphing to 'B' for business, becoming BSM. I view this broader definition as a more highly evolved vision of ITSM."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor


This was first published in May 2009

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