Change Management and Data Integration at Southern Company

Aug. 17, 2010
To drive efficiency and innovation in IT, Atlanta-based Southern Company’s IT group has embarked on an enterprise change management initiative

To drive efficiency and innovation in IT, Atlanta-based Southern Company’s IT group has embarked on an enterprise change management initiative. The purpose is to improve the market competitiveness of IT service offerings, reduce the risk of outages due to failed changes, and improve customer satisfaction. The change management initiative involves refining IT processes, implementing a configuration management database (CMDB), and deploying automated tools for change, asset, and configuration management.

Southern Company’s foray into configuration management started in 2005 with the decision to implement BMC Software's Atrium CMDB. The IT organization had numerous data sources containing infrastructure data, including spreadsheets and databases stored on personal laptop and desktop computers.

Getting Started with CMDB

“People had access to their own information but it wasn’t readily accessible outside of the individual workgroup,” Traynor said. “We needed to bring the information together in a central place so that we could make it more readily available across the company and make decisions based on a comprehensive view.”

As the project evolved, it became clear that the number of configuration items in the CMDB would be huge. Moreover, the CMDB was customized heavily to meet data owner requests to mimic the screens and operations they were accustomed to using.

Southern Company had also used BMC Remedy Change Management and BMC Remedy Asset Management to bring more efficiency to these two IT service management disciplines. As deployment of these two solutions progressed, the staff realized that consolidating them with the CMDB project would allow for a more holistic IT service management approach that would better meet the needs of the business. To this end, IT folded the CMDB, change management, and asset management to create the more comprehensive Enterprise Change Management (ECM) initiative.

Broadening the Scope

“By combining our efforts in this way, we broadened our focus to satisfy the data requirements not only of our infrastructure services department but also of all the consumers of infrastructure information,” Traynor said. “We also positioned ourselves to better address the touch points between the CMDB and our change, asset, and confi guration management processes. Moving forward, we will be able to bring incident and problem management into the picture as well as other IT service management disciplines. And ultimately we’ll have visibility into the relationships among assets and understand how changes to one asset will affect other assets as well as business services overall.”

Instead of forcing departments to maintain and manage their data in the CMDB, the staff changed its approach to allow departments continue to using their familiar tools. The staff integrated those tools with the CMDB, putting in place interfaces that keep the CMDB updated so that it provides a consolidated view of infrastructure data. This approach minimizes the need to customize the CMDB, which will make upgrades faster and easier.

Before the ECM initiative, there were 10 different change management processes across the IT group. Some were widely used; others were used by only a small number of people. A primary goal of ECM was to adopt a standard process across all departments and implement a risk-based approach to change.

Risk-Based Approach to Change

“In the past, every change was treated in the same way regardless of the impact on the business,” Traynor said. “We have between 500 and 600 changes a month, and we were spending a lot of time reviewing each one. With the BMC solutions, we’ve been able to implement a risk-based approach that lets us focus our time and attention on the changes that mean the most to the business.”

For example, changes related to the company’s enterprise resource planning system can affect thousands of people and are high risk, high impact. In contrast, routine changes, such as modifications to device monitoring parameters or alarm settings represent minimal impact and minimal risk. Changes to the financial systems are carefully scrutinized by the change advisory board, while routine changes are typically pre-approved and implemented without change advisory board review. All changes, whether reviewed by the or not, are fully documented for audit and compliance purposes.

According to Traynor, this risk-based approach has slashed meeting time. Previously, two dozen or more people participated in change advisory board meetings three times a week to discuss the impact of changes under consideration. Now change advisory board meetings are held on an as-needed basis and most of the time no more than eight or nine people must attend.

Southern Company is just beginning to use BMC Analytics for BSM to perform point-andclick analysis and advanced reporting across the BMC Remedy applications. BMC Analytics for BSM includes out-of-the-box, best-practice reports and ad-hoc analysis capabilities for BMC Remedy Asset Management and the BMC Atrium CMDB as well as for BMC Remedy Service Desk, which the staff plans to install within the next 12 months. The initial step has been to create management reports around the key financial applications. Next steps will include operational dashboards that will provide insight into the efficiency of the change process.

Key metrics will include:

  • the number of changes in the pipeline
  • number of changes implemented
  • failed changes
  • emergency versus planned changes
  • average process time per change.

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