Systems management software keeps power flowing to Philips Lighting ERP users

When Philips Lighting Electronics North America decided it needed an enterprise software suite to run its business, it also made another big decision: It would deploy IT systems management software to ensure the ERP suite was nearly always up and running. Today the Rosemont, Ill.-based manufacturer of the Advance brand of lighting controls counts on systems management software from Hewlett-Pac...

By Roberto Michel, Senior Contributing Editor August 1, 2007

When Philips Lighting Electronics North America decided it needed an enterprise software suite to run its business, it also made another big decision: It would deploy IT systems management software to ensure the ERP suite was nearly always up and running.

Today the Rosemont, Ill.-based manufacturer of the Advance brand of lighting controls counts on systems management software from Hewlett-Packard (HP) to deliver what’s known as “five-9” uptime for its SAP ERP suite.

Philips Lighting’s Windischman, Tomei, and Palacios (pictured left to right) say systems management software delivers plenty of availability and service to users of Philips’ business systems.

The five-9 designation, says Luis Palacios, a systems administrator with Philips Lighting, means that its systems are free from unscheduled downtime 99.999 percent of the time. “The only way you’re going to achieve that level of uptime is with a monitoring system in place, as well as reporting,” he says.

While many companies are reaping the benefits of systems management software, proper evaluation and deployment carry some challenges. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for systems management applications is the resources it takes to deploy them properly. IT administrators may need new skills to use the tools; and to gain maximum benefits, the applications need to be populated with alert thresholds and data on how a company configures its IT systems.

“I see this hurdle every day with systems management applications,” says Andi Mann, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a Boulder, Colo.-based organization that studies the market. “Many of the systems analysts and IT administrators I talk to say they haven’t got the time to implement the software to do the work for them because they are simply too busy doing their regular work. It’s a regular catch-22.”

Another challenge is sorting through a changing vendor landscape. The big vendors in the management software market include HP, which has grown its offerings through the acquisition of Mercury, Peregrine, and SPI Dynamics; and most recently announced its intent to acquire Opsware, a market leader in data center automation.

Other large vendors in this space include BMC , Computer Associates , and IBM , which also has made a series of acquisitions in the space. The market also includes smaller niche vendors, and big ERP suite vendors such as SAP and Oracle also offer systems management tools.

When reacting to IT incidents, most companies still rely on manual processes that require significant human intervention. Systems management software moves companies toward a more automated means of resolution.

Until recently, systems management wasn’t considered a technology space likely to attract merger & acquisition activity, but experts say it has renewed relevance in light of the sheer scale of today’s technology deployments, including for large, global ERP systems deployments.

“As [ERP] databases grow with these global deployments, you get more users, and ensuring reliability becomes more mission-critical,” says Derek Prior, a director with Boston-based AMR Research .

Why automate?

Philips Lighting’s SAP deployment for its Advance business went live in 2000, and concurrent with it, the company rolled out systems management software from HP. The company uses the HP Software portfolio, including HP Operations Manager for UNIX, which monitors systems in real time; and HP Service Desk, which handles help desk processes and holds configuration and change history data.

The company credits SAP with allowing greater supply chain agility and supporting just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. The HP Software portfolio plays a crucial role by ensuring the reliability of the ERP suite, as well as other systems.

“We have manufacturing sites in the border zone that run three shifts,” says Palacios. “If they don’t know what to manufacture because the SAP system is down, then our lines are down.”

Systems management software spans multiple software categories listed here, as well as others such as provisioning and patch management.

Philips Lighting uses HP Operations Center for centralized monitoring, alerting, and performance management for all if its software, hardware, and networking infrastructure. The software detects when conditions approach user-defined thresholds, such as when a server is reaching storage capacity. “Well before a server gets to 100-percent full and locks up so that our users would have been affected, we’ll know,” says Palacios. “The software allows us to proactively avoid any loss in service.”

What’s more, HP Operation Center’s alerting and workflow are integrated with ticketing functions in HP Service Desk so that an alert can trigger the IT fix handled by Service Desk. The HP solution also integrates with an IT job scheduling package Philips uses from HP partner ORSYP Software .

“The products aren’t in silos; they are all talking to each other,” says Palacios. “With the automation that’s involved by linking monitoring to ticketing, you’re freeing up your help desk staff to do real work.”

Though IT service management software can bring automated efficiencies to IT tasks, the ultimate goal is to provide better service to end users, says Julius Tomei, global head of IT engineering and architecture for Philips Lighting.

“With HP’s software we have one window to the world to manage our environment, but the key is everyone has all the information they need to deliver a high level of service to our users,” Tomei says. “In short, IT service management allows us to deliver highly reliable systems for our business consistently, while moving quickly and keeping costs down.”

HP Service Desk also functions as a configuration management database (CMDB) that tracks how systems have been changed over time. The company’s change management advisory group uses reports from this repository at its weekly meetings to guide decisions and spot potential conflicts.

The CMDB also supports the company’s adoption of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a framework for IT operations best practices, says Erik Windischman, a senior systems administrator for Philips Lighting. Windischman says ITIL processes are similar to the way that ISO 9000 standards are used to ensure quality in manufacturing. “By following those ITIL standards, what we are doing is reducing the chance for human error,” he says.

Success with IT systems management isn’t just about software, in other words. Every IT staffer at Philips Lighting takes a one-week ITIL foundation course. And from senior management on down, the perspective is user-focused. “Our whole corporate mentality is that IT is a service to be delivered to customers—it’s just that the customers are our end users,” says Windischman.

“HP Software is committed to helping customers bring IT into full alignment with the business and ensure IT investments deliver maximum value,” says Matthew Schvimmer, director, ITSM Products, HP Software. “Our solutions help customers enforce, manage, and continuously improve their IT environments in accordance with ITIL best practices.”

Vendor landscape

AMR’s Prior, who is researching global ERP instances, says that for these large installations, the factors that cause the most pressure for IT staff are managing downtime windows, change control, and overall system performance.

Prior says all three areas are addressed by different classes of systems management software.

For users of SAP ERP software, one basic systems management software decision is whether to stick with SAP’s own tools, or bring in software from a best-of-breed vendor. Prior says many companies successfully use SAP’s tools, but that best-of-breed vendors may offer more automation of IT tasks with their tools, can cover multiple types of systems and hardware, or already are ingrained in IT departments.

“If a company already uses a standard systems management framework from the likes of BMC, HP, or IBM, it might extend these systems management techniques to include its ERP applications,” says Prior.

These biggest systems management vendors have linked their various applications into modular suites similar to how ERP vendors united disparate business applications in the 1990s. “What we are driving the market to is like an ERP for IT operations,” says Scott Sloan, solutions marketing manager for infrastructure and application management with BMC.

In recent years, systems management vendors have set out to show how their solutions can drive business benefits via faster changes or less downtime. BMC, for example, points to its business service management (BSM) strategy.

“BSM, simply stated, is about aligning IT with the business,” says Sloan. “So instead of focusing just on server and operating system technicalities, the focus is on service levels that are meaningful to business users.”

Keeping business returns in mind as part of long-term strategies such as ITIL is the best way to justify systems management software, say analysts, even though it’s not uncommon for user companies to have decisions driven by shorter-term needs such as ERP upgrade projects. “End-user companies should not take a short-term project view; they should take a life-cycle view of the needs for these tools,” says Prior. “If you take that life-cycle view, then you can plan for all the needs that are bound to happen, like upgrades.”

But it’s up to CIOs and other higher-level managers to do the cost-benefit analyses that can break the conundrum of not having enough IT resources to properly deploy the tools.

As Mann concludes, “It’s up to senior management to lead a serious cost analysis of what it’s costing them not to have systems management tools in place.”

Author Information

Roberto Michel can be reached at