The arts-loving Italian who translates from the geek

Siki Giunta's software firm brings understanding between boards and IT guys
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The market for business services management software will be worth $1.1bn (£630m) by next year, according to Forrester Research. If that prediction comes true, sales will have more than doubled in just four years.

Such growth would be good in any area of technology at a time when, for most large businesses, spending on IT is either flat or growing only in the low single digits. It is all the more remarkable because business services management (BSM) is largely concerned with persuading IT departments to spend more on running costs. BSM is designed to make IT more efficient, by managing departments as a set of services rather than a collection of hardware, software and people. BSM, in its own jargon, is "about aligning IT with the business".

Organisations that have invested in BSM have seen quite dramatic results. In the US, the government Defense Information Systems Agency (Disa) runs 1,400 applications serving two million users. With BSM, the agency was able to go from 18 IT management centres to four, and save $140m a year in the process.

At the fund management house Fidelity, the IT department uses BSM to keep the trading systems running. With the software, it takes around five seconds to divert traffic around a trouble spot in the network, a process that used to take an hour.

But despite these impressive statistics, selling BSM is not for the faint-hearted. It means persuading boards to invest not just in IT but in managing IT, based on the hope that the investment will bring savings later. And it means persuading IT departments to admit that they are often not as efficient or responsive as they should be.

Siki Giunta, chief executive of Managed Objects, might not seem the obvious choice to bring such a message to the basements, back offices and data centres that are the IT director's domain. She is female, Italian and has a degree in art history and French literature from the Sorbonne.

But Giunta's non-techie background may well have been a help, rather than a hindrance, when it comes to winning over sceptical IT departments. And she has an impeccable 15-year industry pedigree, including running a unit at Computer Associates, where she had a workforce of 500.

Since taking over at Managed Objects in 1999, Giunta has helped the privately owned company to record phenomenal sales growth. Turnover was up last year by more than 50 per cent on the previous year.

Success, Giunta says, is in part down to focus. BSM is important in particular to large IT users such as banks and government departments. And it is all that Managed Objects does. This, she believes, gives the company the edge over rivals that might design anything from operating systems to payroll applications, or those that are really in the business of selling hardware. If an IT director is going to take the unpleasant medicine that is BSM, they might as well take a dose they know will work.

"What we do is help companies' IT departments - the technology and the people - understand the services that they provide to the business," she says. "If you take financial services, without computers we would have to go back to carrying out transactions with coins. Computers are the business for financial companies.

"But how do you understand how the technology supports the company? If you have a trading environment, it's not just people clicking on the website but how they access the databases, how the network is performing."

Often, her job involves acting as a translator between IT and business people. This is a role that Giunta, who speaks four languages, fits into with ease. A business person will talk in terms of services, whether it is email or online access for customers or a way of keeping sales records. An IT department needs to build such services out of the right software and hardware, on time and to budget. Just as vitally, it needs to keep them running and report on their status to the business "customer".

Managed Objects' software provides this translation service. It also makes it easier for large IT departments to monitor how their systems are working, and to improve them. But BSM has other useful attributes.

One that is of interest to more and more companies is the way it allows IT departments to calculate the true cost of providing a service to a business unit. Often, business managers ask for a new service or an upgrade, with little knowledge of how that affects the cost structure of IT, and especially, ongoing costs.

Adding storage hardware to give staff larger email inboxes, say, might look relatively cheap. But analysts say that for every pound or dollar spent on IT, 20 per cent goes on hardware and software. The rest is labour. Using BSM helps IT departments identify those costs, and explain them to the business.

With Managed Objects' software, IT departments can create a service catalogue for the business, with costings and performance targets. But that's not all. BSM is able to help companies decide whether to continue to run an IT service in-house, or whether to outsource it. Ultimately, it could help IT departments move to utility computing, or charging for resources as they are used.

"We build a service catalogue - a true catalogue of all the services the IT department delivers," explains Giunta. "I can see exactly what I run, at what speed, and how much it costs me."

Doing so not only helps IT understand the business, and business appreciate the true cost of IT. Ultimately, it could help the chief information officer (CIO) justify the role of the IT department, especially where there is pressure to outsource.

An outsourced IT provider, Giunta points out, has no incentive to pass on any efficiency savings that are not written into its contract. "But CIOs are going to be more efficient in deploying any extra money they have on IT, if they look at IT from a services perspective," she says.

And if all that fails, she can always quote Proust to them.