Q&A: Robin Webster, Centiq

Centiq designs, implements and supports smarter IT infrastructures built on leading technology from IBM and HP. The company gives businesses access to industry-leading consultants, enterprise-class products and a wealth of support services including monitiQ, its unique system monitoring service. When an organisation needs to reduce risk, drive down operational costs, simplify business processes or accelerate innovation, Centiq can help to realise defined business objectives. We spoke to Robin Webster, business development consultant at Centiq, to learn more.

What is monitiQ?

monitiQ is an IT monitoring tool that provides near real-time alerts of warnings before they become critical. It provides a business high-level overview of a company’s IT system without the need for specialist knowledge of the underlying operating system. It has been designed for easy reporting whilst still collecting such depth of data, that the user can spot trends and plan for them.

The system is an ever-evolving cloud-based service which can be upgraded as new enhancements are built for it, providing the flexibility to evolve with the demands of a business. It is the case that a business needs now will be very different from its requirements in a few years’ time. monitiQ has an easy-to-use alerting system which allows users to set levels for out-of-hours alerts so you are not woken during the night unless it really matters.

Why did an IT consultancy decide to develop a new product?

We had been contracted by a large manufacturer in the UK to provide on-going support for its SAP business warehouse accelerator. It was important that this mission-critical system was working at its optimal level and subsequently looked for a monitoring tool on the market that could help us with the job. We were surprised to find that there was nothing that really fitted the bill, so we recognised a gap in the market. monitiQ was designed by our experts to deliver an ever-evolving monitoring solution that helps businesses through trend spotting and capacity planning.

Why monitor IT systems?

We often find that CIOs are being forced to assume considerable risk to keep their operations competitive. Many IT directors that build bespoke IT platforms will no doubt negotiate or carve out system testing and support from vendors beyond the immediate demands of the implementation. But what happens afterwards?

IT departments lack the hard evidence to show how their technology systems are performing or the health of their investments going forward. It is a bit like the stressed executive that never went for a health check with their GP before their heart murmur, the CIO has no early warning of capacity or provisioning issues or system outages as components fail. The question is how can CIOs and IT managers check that their technology systems are in a healthy state and see the warning signs without impeding their daily operations?

This core requirement is being lost between different demands including 24/7 service expectations, cost constraints, resource-heavy best practice models and the burden of industry regulation. Ultimately, monitoring keeps systems running in an optimal state. Many businesses rely on their users notifying them of a problem, but monitoring allows the resolution of issues before business services are affected.

Why is it so often ignored?

Many firms struggle to gain an effective snapshot of their technology and then make sense of it. Most CIOs’ priority is to bring new investments into daily operations. However, many don’t really go far beyond vendors’ assessments at installation, or even less, relate them to company business targets.

Board-level executives may compare outdated applications with Cloud services or ‘consumerised’ IT of smart phones. Yet many IT senior professionals never fully get to grips with assessing their ever-expanding business applications and then identify the ones they can outsource or retire altogether.

Because of these different operational and commercial realities, most companies’ IT departments lack the ability to look forward strategically and don’t repeat or embed monitoring tools within their operations to identify potential problems or future capacity issues.

Beyond the usual service level agreements (SLAs) and maintenance, annual or other long term system health checks are often not even considered. In a project-oriented world you only get project-driven budgets, whereas monitoring runs across different systems. All too often, organisations are failing to build early warning systems that could protect them against system outages or unforeseen events.

What are the risks in not assessing system workloads?

Company boards have little idea of how their IT assets contribute to the organisation’s bottom line. However, by deploying ever more complex computing environments, CIOs are actually increasing the overall risk to their business by failing to look ahead to potential system issues.

Repeated server crashes, creaking databases and slow network performance could be the first signs of serious infrastructure stress and poorly managed resources and not simply one-off incidents to be quickly patched up and forgotten about. But, it is also unlikely that a business can accurately specify its requirements for any new hardware without accurate data on historical usage trends. Ultimately, this will effect the bottom-line and translate into excessive infrastructure costs and poor performance.

What assumptions do many senior executives wrongly make?

Senior executives often make the assumption that the risk they assume can be broadly measured in terms of critical outcomes such as sales growth, cheaper transactions or improved productivity. However, despite the scale or cost of their technology investments, many CIOs—consumed by workloads or overly trusting of technology vendors’ promises—seem reluctant (or even unaware) of the need to provide effective and regular insight into their IT’s performance. They also seem unwilling to relate this expenditure back to the business’ overall performance and plan for changing customer or system needs over the hardware or software life cycle.

What are the business benefits to monitoring?

On a performance level, monitoring ensures that IT systems are in good working order and helps to identify states that could affect any service to the end user. But, the ability to analyse historical trends and enhance the understanding of how the system is growing over time will give businesses the invaluable tool to base forward-planning on data and avoid the ‘finger in the air’ guesswork for new IT investments or wasting of valuable resources.

We constantly find there is an innate fear of under-provisioning at every layer of IT management—a sort of ‘no-one got fired for over-specifying the IT system’. However, this leads to massive under-utilisations of expensive equipment and increasing pressure on over-extended IT staff down the line to manage them all.

What kind of organisations are using monitiQ?

We have had interest from organisations in many different sectors, as monitiQ isn’t sector specific. Early adopters include a pub chain, major retailer, large UK manufacturing company and NHS Health Trust. What key questions do businesses need to ask themselves to minimise risk from ongoing technology investments? If C-level executives are to contain risk from ongoing technology investments, they need to be able to ask the following questions of their CIO:

Does your business have documented customer service expectations and minimum service levels that support them? Does your CIO and other C-level executives have regular meetings to review customer satisfaction levels, processes and technology assets? Does your IT organisation have a robust and repeatable framework for monitoring and assessment of technology systems’ performance in support of commercial targets?

Can your outsourced IT provider or other solution provider deliver performance metrics that show the contribution of their systems to your business? Does your IT department have cross-platform monitoring tools in place that can provide externally-oriented, business-focused multiple-level metrics that help the board assess the health of technology assets and provide early warning of potential issues associated with them?

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.