Tools to Ease IT's Pain

Four startups offer fresh ideas for reducing enterprise IT headaches.

If you want to know what IT tools and technologies you'll be using in a few years, it pays to keep an eye on startups that are focused on enterprise technologies.

Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs agree that the IT startups that get funding these days are those whose offerings cut costs, relieve headaches and generally make CIOs' lives easier -- without capital investments in software and supporting infrastructure. Investors are backing startups that aim to do just that with systems that handle tasks like IT resource tracking, cloud storage, virtualization and mobile device management.

Here are snapshots of four startups that are bringing hassle-saving IT products and services to the enterprise. Even if you don't end up using these specific products, chances are you'll check out something similar within the next year or so

1. Cloud-Based IT Resource Tracking: Apptio

For the past few years, IT has been under pressure to evolve and become a service provider for the enterprise instead of being a cost center. This means tracking business units' usage of IT resources, including labor, hardware, software, power and cooling.

CIOs and other IT managers often develop bills of services using a combination of spreadsheets, business intelligence software, asset management systems and, in some cases, blind estimates, according to Sunny Gupta, Apptio's president, CEO and co-founder.

"IT executives are trying to manage IT without any real way to measure costs, quality of service and the actual value of IT products. They have management tools to measure individual aspects of IT -- such as the network, bandwidth and mobile devices -- but not as a holistic view," he says.

Apptio's Technology Business Management (TBM) software-as-a-service suite promises to give IT teams and corporate executives a consolidated look at all IT investments and their associated costs, showing the financial impact of client, infrastructure and application services, says Gupta. Authorized users can input data, run reports, view data via customized dashboards, or dispatch alerts based on predefined thresholds, such as a business unit's storage usage level.

IT also can create a "bill of IT" for each business unit to show its exact service consumption. Gupta says this is critical for forecasting, aligning budgets and developing an accurate chargeback program.

For instance, using TBM, a company might realize that employees are using 10 applications that perform similar functions. By standardizing on one, it could gain significant cost efficiencies in the form of volume pricing and streamlined support. Also, TBM offers what-if scenarios so organizations can weigh the pros and cons of granular business decisions, such as moving storage from the data center to the cloud or increasing the use of telepresence systems.

Gupta says that the Starbucks coffee chain started using TBM and discovered that the laptops it had deployed to cut desktop expenses were actually costing it more because of battery replacements and support issues. Armed with this information, the company was able to change its warranties and help-desk strategies to extract the savings it had initially anticipated.

Mark Gibbs, CEO of Gibbs Universal Industries (GUI), a consultancy in Ventura, Calif., says that as data centers become more complex, "IT resource tracking is as important as ever." And SaaS-based tools offer added benefits, such as easily deployed add-ons and instant feature updates based on requests and what-ifs that other companies use, he says.

However, he warns that IT teams must test how data gets into and out of these hosted systems to ensure that they interoperate smoothly with the tools that will feed them data, and to verify that accurate, real time information is used.

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