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Any good consultant will tell you that the basics for all IT planning exercises are the same: figure out where you are, define where you want to go, and then finally define how you are going to get there. A strategy for IT Automation or Evergreen IT is no different, although the steps will be unique to each organization. While most companies have an idea of where they are and where they want to be, the devil is in the details.
Often, the most surprising part of this exercise is finding out where you really are. Done correctly, any well-orchestrated planning exercise will produce valuable deliverables that can help in efforts beyond the plan itself. Deliverables such as a current inventory and a general “hygiene” report on the current state of your desktop apps are incredibly valuable.
An IT Automation strategy should be focused on automating repetitive and labor-intensive processes that are key to keeping the business running smoothly. Tools and best practices from Access IT USA focus on improving quality and reducing cost in two distinct areas:
- App testing and deployment and
- Service support and end-user self-service.
Let’s have a look at what it takes to get there.
1) Discovery – Where Are We Today?
Even in defining current state business processes, companies are often surprised to find redundant processes — processes that add no value or produce reports/deliverables that no one uses. IT is no different. If anything, this is even more difficult for IT as technology constantly changes and therefore its iterative, agile processes make defining your current business process state more difficult, even on a good day.
We often have clients who find that 50% of desktop apps can be eliminated due to a lack of application lifecycle management. Technologies come and go, everything is on a different upgrade schedule, and more and more technology is purchased and implemented outside of IT.
Fortunately, our application suitability testing tool, Access AppScan, automates this process to a large degree. Access AppScan will analyze all your Microsoft MSI installer files by scanning the source media from Configuration Manager and provide a complete inventory of modern application suitability.
So, depending on your situation and objectives, some high-level steps in the discovery phase might include:
- Run AppScan to produce a full inventory of all desktop apps. Find the applications that are redundant, out of date, or not being used, and some should not be used at all.
- Segregate apps into several categories such as current on their license agreement, version compliance, current number of active users, candidate for automation, or apps that need additional work for an upgrade.
- Evaluate the cost-effectiveness, quality, and timeliness of app testing.
- Evaluate service desk performance and cost. This would include evaluation of formal or informal service level agreements with the business.
- App inventory
- App rationalization
- License compliance risk profile report
- Potential security risk points
- Service desk performance report
- App testing effectiveness report
2) Define The Future State – Where Do We Want To Be?
This phase is based on answering some key questions for the IT organization and some key questions about business operations. Our experience at Access IT USA shows that different companies approach IT automation for different reasons and with unique benefits.
Some companies want to automate as much as possible to reduce ongoing IT operating costs and free up key resources to work on initiatives to “improve the business” instead of keeping those key resources focused on “running the business”.
Other companies want to focus automation on the most widely used apps and those apps that change or upgrade most frequently. And still, others look at the apps from a risk perspective and prioritize automating testing and deployment of business-critical apps. All these approaches come with different costs and benefits.
Some of the key questions may include:
- What is the main goal? Is it cost reduction? Improving the stability of critical apps? End-user self-service? Reducing service desk calls? Improving license and upgrade compliance?
- What is the quality of service IT is providing to the business?
- What are the sources of outages to business-critical apps?
- What are the causes of delays in getting technology to the end user?
- In general terms, what level of resources and funding is available for the automation effort?
- What is the appetite for change within the organization?
Again, this phase like others, will be tailored to the unique situation of each client. Our consultants have the experience and a methodology to help guide clients through the process of defining the end state by asking the right questions. The other key issues in defining the future state include understanding the capabilities of automation tools.
- Inventory of apps to be automated, new processes and controls for managing a modern app management environment
- Inventory of service desk tickets that can be automated
- New key performance indicators for each service area
- New roles and responsibilities for key IT professionals
3) The Roadmap To Get There – How Do We Get There Successfully?
Having defined where you are and where you want to end up, you can now define the plan for getting there and the cost, duration, and risk involved. Our most successful clients have used a phased approach, starting with a proof of concept, to gain confidence and buy-in from within IT and the business.
This is usually followed by automating a few initial apps and service areas that are low risk. Doing this gives the team a “beta” effort during which they can refine the roll out plan and hone their skills in automating manual processes in your unique environment.
Specifically, here are some of the key steps in the process from some of our most successful clients:
- Schedule the apps to be migrated to a modern app management environment.
- Schedule training for key IT professionals.
- Define key milestones and time frames.
- Specify new processes for each area to be automated.
- Create a new schedule for scanning, testing, and deploying apps on an ongoing basis.
- Train end users for business self-help.
- Complete beta test/rollouts in key areas.
- Determine the new “production” operating environment.
- Detailed work plan
- Budget and timeline
- Change management plan
- Key risk factors
- Training plan for IT and the business
- Plan for decommissioning certain apps
These are examples of what the activities and deliverables of an IT automation plan might be. Again, every enterprise will be quite different, so defining the future state is critical and must include intangible or “soft” issues such as the impact on the organization, setting expectations, communication, and new management focus based on a new way of doing things.
Based on our experience, large enterprises will have between one thousand and six thousand unique applications. Depending on the volume of apps, these planning efforts will usually take from two to six weeks.
Our consultants can scope the planning effort after a few conversations with IT leaders and with some basic information such as the number of unique apps, service desk tickets, or testing metrics. Also, based on actual experiences, we can provide samples of best practices and results achieved from our existing clients. This will help frame the conversation for a planning effort.