IT standards matter, says Bechtel exec

Von Patrick Thibodeau

IT vendors that don"t meet technology standards have little chance of getting Bechtel Corp."s business.

"We"re looking for plug and play within our organization," Fred Wettling, technology strategy manager at San Francisco-based Bechtel, said at the Enterprise Management World conference in Bethesda, Maryland. And one that the company is particularly interested in is the Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware (SMASH) standard.

SMASH was created by Distributed Management Task Force Inc. (DMTF), an industry organization that develops technology management standards, and is intended to simplify server management by setting common terms used to describe server functions and interfaces. Wettling was among those speaking Monday at the conference, which is sponsored by Computerworld and the DMTF.

SMASH represents a suite of standards that are gradually being released over the next year. The DMTF Monday released its second SMASH component, the Server Management Managed Element Addressing Specification, which is intended to provide a user-friendly way to utilize DMTF"s Common Information Model (CIM) standard, the group said. CIM describes management data for applications, devices and services and the relationships among them.

Wettling said he believes SMASH can simplify server management, especially for remote servers. In recent years, Bechtel has reduced the number of data centers from 30 to eight, which is increasing the need for remote management capabilities. But he also sees SMASH as a good first step. Among the standards he would like to see developed are those that lead to Web services-based interfaces for server management.

It"s not just SMASH that"s important to Wettling, but IT standards that generally cover a range of technologies. "We have disqualified vendors that don"t meet certain standards," he said.

Management also means ensuring that a business is aligned with IT. That"s been a key issue for Greg Johnson, vice president for IT application development and support at Chesterfield, Mo.-based RGA Reinsurance Co.

"In most places, IT is simply viewed as a cost," said Johnson, whose company has reshaped its IT to help the business understand "exactly what they are getting for their dollars."

This has meant putting in service-level agreements (SLA), methods for measuring return on investment and bringing business executives into the IT decision-making process, said Johnson. "We"ve gotten more efficient," he said.

In the case of SLAs, Johnson said there has be risk as well as reward -- and the company has tied compensation to those agreements.

John Bryer, vice president of IT at Newtown Square, Pa.-based GMH Communities Trust, warned attendees not to become too reliant on measurements in assessing ROI. "The overreliance on numbers can blind decision-makers," he said, adding that ROI tools aren"t a substitute for strong leadership.