If you ask the experts, they will tell you that companies have too many IT tools for monitoring their environments. Monitoring tools for network, infrastructure, application, wireless, endpoint, cloud, etc. proliferate all organizations. According to research by Gartner, more than a third of organizations surveyed have more than 30 monitoring tools. More than half of organizations surveyed have at least 11 tools. Sounds like a good argument for IT tool rationalization.
But is this really the case? Do organizations really have too many tools and would they actually benefit from reducing the number of tools? It really depends on who you ask.
Tools, Tools, Who Needs Tools?
If you ask the sales team from a vendor selling a suite of products (i.e. tools from multiple verticals such as NPM, ITIM, APM, etc.), they will tell you most assuredly that your life will be better if you just reduced the number of tools to one – theirs.
If you ask the IT department, they will tell you that they actually don’t have enough tools. You’re likely to also hear how much better things would be if they had just one more tool. My father was a manufacturer’s representative for a wire manufacturer for 40 years. He swore every plant manager he ever met was sure everything would be fine with just one more building. Similar thing, different era.
If you ask the finance department, they will tell you that clearly all these tools are unnecessary. Followed by, why don’t you go find some open source (i.e. “free”) software that works the same anyway.
Separating Fiction from Reality
So what is the reality? As with most things, it is way more complicated than anyone would like it to be. Tools proliferate for a number of reasons:
- People don’t know there is an existing tool that could be used. Tools are often brought in for narrow reasons (as a friend likes to say, “I need this tool to demagnetize the rain gutters”), even though the tool can provide a wider range of functionalities that aren’t being used
- Some tools are vendor specific. To extend my previous example, “I need this tool to demagnetize the unique requirements of rain gutters from Acme Rain”
- Some tool users simply like the tool they like, and are not interested in switching
- Sometimes internal politics makes it difficult or impossible to get rid of an existing tool
- Lots and lots and lots of other reasons are certainly out there
Some IT Tools are Stickier Than Others
Unfortunately, all of the above reasons are pretty legitimate. Some may sound more legitimate than others (and probably are), but reasons are never as simple as “there is overlap between these two tools, so choose one and get rid of the other!” For example:
- It is possible (and even likely) that subtle differences between tools means you cannot simply swap one toolset for another
- The amount of time to train existing employees, who are highly productive and efficient on one toolset, to use a different toolset may negate the benefits from consolidating the tools
- Vendor-specific tools are a reality. Having a totally generic tool that could handle any scenario, any vendor, etc. would be great, but that isn’t reality. Sometimes you do need a specific tool to accomplish a specific job. I’m sure many of you recalling your father like I’m hearing my father: “Use the right tool for the job!”
- Tool suites (i.e. tools from a single vendor) tend to check lots of boxes in many categories. But rarely do these suites check every box in every category
- Multi-year contracts may make getting rid of some existing tools pointless, since you have to pay for them anyway
Focus on a Practical Approach
Does that mean trying to rationalize your IT toolsets is pointless and you should just give up? Of course not! It just means that you need to take a practical and focused approach to dealing with your tools. Let’s take a look at some things to consider when looking at your tooling environment.
Setup a schedule to evaluate all the IT tools you are using on a regular basis. This means any tool being used by IT, even tools used for narrow or specific functions or only one vendor. There are a few reasons to do this:
- Because tools change over time, it is possible (though not guaranteed) that the functionality that was only available from a single vendor-specific tool last year may be available from a different vendor’s tool this year
- You may discover tools that are no longer in use. Perhaps you used to use WiFi from vendor X, but recently switched to vendor Y (or went all remote). If you look at all your tooling on a regular basis, you can see which tools are no longer in use. If you switched away from vendor X, do you still need their tool to manage something you don’t have?
- Employee’s needs change, and ensuring the tools you have are actually being used is critical. It is very easy for a tool that an organization has had for a decade to just keep chugging along, because it has always been there even if it is no longer in use.
Identify all the stakeholders for each tool:
- Who is actually using the tool? What are they using the tool for? Why are they using that specific tool? What benefit is this particular tool delivering?
- What group or department does the tool belong to, and who is actually responsible for the tool?
- Which end users does the tool impact? While it may be unfortunate, not all end users are created equally. It is possible, and even likely that one specific group of users has a higher priority. Specific tools for this group are needed to monitor their high-priority area
Look at where the tooling markets are going on a regular basis. This has nothing to do with replacing existing tools. By reviewing the market regularly, you know what features and functions are available and being added. Equally important is understanding where your existing tools are headed. You want to ensure you are making the most of what you already own. If you own an ITIM tool and are planning a move to the cloud, does your existing ITIM vendor support your cloud choices?
So what’s the TL;DR on this? Don’t rush to consolidate your tooling because a vendor (or the CFO) tells you how much money you can save. Look at the bigger picture. Understand what your existing tools are doing and who is using them, and ensure you are getting what you need. Consolidating tools often looks very appealing, but in reality is more likely to result in months or years of pain, poor performance, lack of functionality, and a whole host of other challenges.