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Introduction

The Fast & Bold Will Reap The Biggest Rewards

According to a new study called "The Automation Advantage" by Capgemini, there is a wide gap between organizations that have invested in IT automation to improve their application packaging, testing, and release as well as IT configuration and infrastructure provisioning as early adopters (“Fast Movers”) and those who have trailed behind (“Followers”).

CapGeminiAutomationStudy

These early adopters have been using IT automation for about 3.5 years (compared to the followers that only started implementing it 1.9 years ago).

They also have, on average, 73% of their application testing automated and are able to accomplish 3.8 times the number of application testing processes!

While some Fast Movers adopted IT automation to reduce their IT spending and improve compliance, the vast majority was bold enough to demand more:

  • more time to dedicate to higher-value tasks,
  • more business agility and flexibility, and
  • more business transformation!

As a result of that, 75% of the Fast Movers saw a boost in overall revenue, 76% reported an increase in profitability, and 86% feel that their customer experience has benefited.

(Image Credit: CapGemini 2018)

 

Digital Business Transformation & Innovation Require A New IT Management Approach: Evergreen IT

Microsoft reported in May 2018 that 200 million enterprise devices are now on Windows 10 — which means that all of these will need to be upgraded every six months to the latest feature upgrade.

However, IT departments are already chronically understaffed and overworked. How will they cope with a seemingly increased workload while chipping away at the ever-growing, compounding IT debt?

The answer is this: It is completely impossible to manage a mainly cloud-based, continuously updating world of infrastructure and apps using an IT management approach that was created decades ago to manually manage massive big-bang migration projects! Trying to manage an environment using this approach will lead to business disruption and productivity loss caused by IT failures or by exposing their end users to security vulnerabilities because they can’t keep Windows-as-a-Service and Office 365 updated fast enough.

Instead, organizations (not just IT) need to embrace a continuous, iterative approach to IT management, the so-called Evergreen IT, which Juriba defines as

“the perpetual migration of end-user software, hardware, and associated services such as mailboxes, telephony, file storage, and the infrastructure supporting the technology.”

A well-managed Evergreen IT estate will provide a multitude of benefits to the organization: increased IT agility and flexibility, improved security, reduced maintenance and license spending, as well as a faster adoption of new features and higher productivity.

IT Automation As An Enabler For Evergreen IT

An integral part of achieving Evergreen IT is IT automation as it automates tedious, labor-intensive, low-value jobs to free up employees and spending for higher-value tasks that contribute to the bottom line.

This can happen in a variety of ways. For example, IT automation can reduce the number of tickets created by offering a fix to the user before he or she can contact support, or use cognitive learning and chatbots to improve user experiences. But where do you start?

Below, we have laid out 12 strategies that enable you to get started with IT automation within a relatively short period of time (some suggestions take only a few days to implement) and have a high return on investment. They mainly focus on two areas:

  • Application packaging & testing and
  • End-user and system automation.

Application Packaging & Testing Automation

Why does Evergreen IT start with automating your application packaging and testing process wherever possible? Because application compatibility is one of the largest roadblocks that organizations encounter on their path to Evergreen IT.

According to 1E, the average enterprise IT Transformation, like a Windows 10 migration or bi-annual Servicing rollouts, touches more than 1,500 applications. Imagine having to manually package and test all those apps every six months as you roll out a new feature update!

AccessCAPTUREWorkflowDiagram

Thankfully, smart workflow-driven IT automation can eliminate almost all the tedious and labor-intensive tasks and streamline your entire application management process from the discovery and documentation creation phase to the public release of the app into your end-user base.

On average, the application management of 50-65% of all relevant enterprise apps (much more if you count all apps) can be fully automated, while the rest can be significantly streamlined and accelerated!

End User & Systems Automation

Another area for high automation potential is end user and systems automation — a broad subject ranging from preventing support tickets from ever being created by deploying an automated wizard that can help users find the appropriate fix and deploy it themselves without the involvement of IT to self-healing IT systems.

Below, we will explore various easy-to-implement, yet high return-on-investment strategies in each of those domains. So, let's dig in!

#1: Define Your Scope

Run all your in-scope applications through a quick certification process to weed out what is compatible, what can be immediately remediated, and what needs further attention — eliminating up to 70% of the to-be-tested and repackaged apps!

Product Required: Access CAPTURE (Certification Module)

Impact: Very High

The first thing you need to do is to understand the scope of your “project”. Even though Evergreen IT is a continuous and iterative process, you will need to know exactly which applications, for example, are compatible with the latest version of Windows 10, or which macros, add-ons, and plugins could conflict with the next upgrade of Office 365.

By running them through a quick automated certification process, you can eliminate, on average, about 70% of the applications from your packaging scope and determine the required effort involved for the remainder.

  1. Gather resources. Connect CAPTURE to your SCCM or other desktop management tool a) to gather all relevant data on your in-scope applications (e.g., product names, install command), b) to determine the file type (e.g., MSI, EXE or App-V 4.x file) and if a silent switch has been applied, and c) to identify the correct product owner.
  2. Non-functional testing. Once completed, CAPTURE will automatically fire up a virtual machine mirroring the to-be-tested environment, install the application, and notify the product owner of the suitability test resulting in a fail or pass result.
  3. Eliminate 70% of the packaging efforts. On average, about 40% of applications will pass and will be routed further with minimal user interaction within seconds while an additional 30% can be passed by applying a simple wrapper.
  4. Check for VDI suitability. As a by-product of this certification process, you can determine which of your applications are suitable to be virtualized. If desired, CAPTURE can automatically create App-Vs and submit them to the product owners for re-testing (see below).
  5. Repackage the remaining 30%. The remaining 30% are routed to your manual packaging team for further examination and possible remediation. One-third of those apps will have an upgrade path, but the rest (e.g., internally developed software) might need to be compiled against the new version of the .NET Framework, have a new Java version injected, or have code recompiled.

To learn more about this subject, read our article on how to automate your application certification process.

#2: Identify Redundancies

The fewer applications you have, the less you have to package, test, and maintain. By normalizing your application portfolio as part of your Evergreen IT efforts, you can reduce redundancies and get a clearer picture of what you have vs. need.

Product Required: Access CAPTURE (Certification Module)

Impact: High

To be able to stay afloat, you will need to ensure you carry as little excess baggage as possible. Therefore, it is advisable to cut down the number of applications you have to manage to an absolute minimum.

The first step in this process is to get an accurate picture of the number of applications you currently have in-house. For example, you need to be aware of how many different Office or Adobe versions you have (and which) to be able to decide what can be consolidated.

The easiest and fastest way to normalize your application estate is to load them into an IT Transformation management tool, like Dashworks, and run them against a software catalog, like BDNA’s Technopedia, that holds millions of data records about third-party applications to get a clean list of what is what.

Since this process is mostly automated, you will have a master application list within a matter of days, rather than sifting for weeks through millions of rows in a spreadsheet. Be sure to make this a habit rather than a one-time occurrence.

#3: App Rationalization & VDI Suitability Testing

The next step after normalization is rationalization, which eliminates all unused, duplicate, and retired applications — cutting down the packaging and testing efforts significantly. In addition, you can run a quick, inexpensive, and automated VDI suitability test to determine which of your apps are ready now.

Product Required: Access AppScan, IT Management Tool, Self-Service

Impact: Very High

Once your application inventory is normalized,  you are almost ready to rationalize your apps. For a very good reason: 48% of CIOs believe that their business has more business applications than they need — with 20% of their portfolio either never having been installed, needing retirement, and/or having overlapping functionality.

But before you blindly cut apps that you think should be eliminated, we recommend adding valuable context, such as the total costs to deliver and support each one and the application usage data (via tools like SCCM Metering, SysTrack or similar). It is also advisable to collect end-user validation on how critical each app is to their work. For example, you wouldn’t want to retire a business-critical financial reporting tool simply because it is being used only quarterly.

Armed with this information, you are now ready to have fact-based conversations with your applications’ responsible business owners in a language they’ll understand: within the context of business value. Speaking in the same language includes identifying cost drivers, business impact, and potential savings.

Remember: the goal is to reduce the number of applications to minimize maintenance, packaging, testing, and licensing costs. On average, an organization can eliminate 30% of their applications in the first go-around, but we have seen up to 72%!

An additional way to lower your application-related maintenance costs is application virtualization. Some enterprises, especially large financial institutions, have a higher-than-average percentage of applications that would have to be repackaged from scratch, e.g., because of the large number of custom add-ins and plugins. In an Evergreen IT setting, like rolling out Windows 10 Servicing updates every 6 months, this would mean they would never be able to meet their tight upgrade deadlines. They have three choices: virtualize every desktop and centrally maintain them, virtualize the majority of the applications, or risk running late.

Obviously, the risk of winging it is too great for enterprise-size organizations, and oftentimes, desktop virtualization is too cost-prohibitive and requires too much bandwidth. That's where Application Virtualization comes in. Essentially, by visualizing, you abstract the app's executables, configuration files, and dependencies from the OS and run it in its own virtualized environment — making it independent from outside resources. Therefore, it is possible to run the same app in a newer OS than it was designed for, as well as run multiple versions of the same app.

But not every application is suitable to be virtualized, and full-blown compatibility testing can be lengthy, costly, and labor-intensive. Thankfully, with VDI suitability tools like Access AppScan, you can quickly discover the intricacies of a specific app which provides you with valuable insight into whether or not a particular app is suitable for AppV or AppVolumes based on simple criteria. Furthermore, you can compare which are using the same, similar or overlapping components, and you can discover mismatches of versions that could clash and potentially cause application compatibility problems.

Try Access AppScan Today

#4: Automated Discovery & Documentation Creation

By automating your application discovery phase, you can reduce the time required for the discovery process, from uploading the source media to completing the application packaging, including documentation creation, from days to just a few minutes.

Product Required: Access CAPTURE

Impact: Medium

The first step in any application packaging and testing process is the discovery phase — a lengthy (read: costly) and tedious (read: frustrating) process if done manually. You have to collect all of the source media, install instructions, configuration settings, and other required technical details (e.g., Windows 10 compatibility) for each application.

During an average IT Transformation project, thousands of apps might need to be tested and possibly re-packaged, making this step a huge bottleneck. Thankfully, with automated application packaging software such as Access Capture, you can not only automate the application discovery process but also the documentation creation process along the way.

It helps bridge the gap between the discovery team and the application owners. For example, it allows the application owner to self-service the MSI document creation using smart workflows. They simply generate a request and upload the source media which is immediately checked. The output generated per application request is a fully documented installation guide on how to install/setup and configure the product.

#5: App Packaging Automation

Manually packaging hundreds of applications every six months is physically impossible. You will need to implement an application packaging tool that enables you to route each app through an end-to-end process — eliminating up to 80% of your workload compared to manual packaging.

Product Required: Access CAPTURE

Impact: Very High

For continuous testing and application management to work in an Evergreen IT environment, you will have to create a robust, repeatable, and largely automated application packaging processNow that you know what is in scope, you can move into re-packaging of your applications into new versions of MSI /MST where needed or you can create virtual packages of your already signed off applications.

Since most enterprises have to funnel dozens, if not hundreds of packages through this process, you should ensure that you are using automation to streamline your discovery and documentation creation as well as smart workflows to speed up the process.

For example, even if you are able to eliminate 30% of your applications through normalization and rationalization, and 60% through certification, you are still looking at more than 420 applications (if you assume the average 1,500 apps). While the vast majority of apps passed the certification round, you will probably look at 20-40 hours of manual packaging labor per application, depending on the complexity. That's 12,600 hours worth of work!

By implementing an application packaging tool, like Access CAPTURE, you can completely automate 60-65% of those left-over apps (in this case 273!) and streamline the rest — leaving you with a fraction of the workload.

#6: Non-Functional Testing

Non-Functional testing is the first step in a series of tests to ensure the applications meet predefined corporate standards regarding performance, scalability, security, and reliability.

Product Required: Access CAPTURE

Impact: High

Now that the applications are packaged, they need to be tested first from a non-functional perspective to ensure that they are robust enough to be released into mainstream deployment — e.g., they are reliable when being installed, starting up and shutting down, they are secure and stable, can be scaled to thousands or even hundreds of thousands of users, and perform according to predefined standards.

Automation can streamline and accelerate this process significantly by routing each application through the process using smart workflows that trigger actions along the way. This step answers questions like: Does the application start and shut down without any issues? Does this app consume too much CPU or memory capacity?

Having all resources at their fingertips, application owners are much more likely to perform the testing to the required standards rather than skip through them as fast as possible, resulting in inaccurate, inconsistent, or inconclusive results.

Once the discovery phase is completed (and the tool holds all the files, packages, and meta data required), the automation tool can send invitations to on-record application owners in an email asking them to test a specific app using a just spun-up virtual machine. In addition, with CAPTURE’s evidence-based testing, users can leverage the interactive wizard to easily record and annotate screenshots — making the process not only more effective, but also much more enjoyable for the tester.

With Windows 10 comes a lot of changes — changes that could significantly slow down your application packaging and testing progress. We compiled a list of the ten most common gotchas, so you know what's coming!

#7: User Acceptance Testing

Manual User Acceptance Testing can be a tedious, lengthy and labor-intensive process. By automating it, you can enable your application owners to complete testing within minutes — including automatically created evidence. 

Product Required: Access CAPTURE

Impact: High

After confirming that the application works from a non-functional aspect, you now have to ascertain that it performs its functionality as expected and works alongside other LoB and third-party software. This step is called User Acceptance Testing which can be very resource and time intensive as it requires a real-world working environment. That means, every time a new app gets tested, someone needs to set it up and break it back down again manually.

By using a packaging and testing automation tool, like Access CAPTURE, you can perform all the advanced testing in a safe and low-footprint environment. The tool will automatically spin up a Virtual Machine (VM) that mimics the production environment. It will also create the relevant AppV object, Active Directory (AD) security group and the UAT test account associated with the AD group so you are up and running within minutes. Alternatively, you could install Access IT Automation’s UAT client onto a physical desktop. CAPTURE will kick off the UAT workflow by sending the tester an email notification containing all required information. 

In addition, you can save significant time and resources with CAPTURE’s pool-based user testing. Virtual pools of resources with various builds and operating systems are immediately ready and once their UAT is complete, the machine can be wiped or killed off instantly. This way you can hold parallel UAT sessions and go through the process much faster, but you are also not constantly running out of machines or spending extra time preparing them for the next person.

Once the session is completed, the application owner or developer decides if the app has failed or passed, which triggers the workflow to route the app to deployment or back to packaging.

UAT

#8: Self-Service App Packaging Requests

In addition to automating the UAT process itself, you can empower your application owners to kick off their user acceptance testing themselves through self-service. 

Product Required: Access CAPTURE

Impact: High

Historically, application packaging was a huge headache for both application owners and the IT department. Since application owners didn’t know if their app would require packaging or pass testing quickly, they needed to send it to IT. These app requests would be put into a queue, which would be a long and drawn out process.

By offering application owners self-service, a majority of apps, up to 80%, don’t even need to be sent to IT. By utilizing Access CAPTURE during the discovery phase, every relevant step of the installation process is recorded. Apps that pass certification testing are ready to go. Only the ones that don’t pass need to be sent over to IT.

Self-service offers tremendous benefits to an organization. One huge benefit is eliminating a huge workload from the IT team by eliminating 80% of the apps that need to be tested. This results in needing less manpower and saving on labor costs.

Another benefit is having more accurate results faster than through manual testing. Documentation is automatically created with all relevant screenshots and every necessary click recorded.

A third benefit from self-service is more engagement with business users. Having business users become part of the process earlier, they take more responsibility for their apps.

In a business as usual environment, where a large organization has hundreds of apps, waiting for packaging before you can upgrade puts you at risk — risk from security vulnerabilities to not staying competitive by having the latest features the OS has to offer.

#9: Facilitate Self-Service IT

Getting end users to raise their hand while encountering slowdowns or other IT-related issues that cause productivity loss is incredibly difficult. By offering self-service IT, end users can look and deploy solutions and fixes themselves for the most common problems, eliminating up to 80% of support help desk tickets!

Product Required: Access AGENT

Impact: Very High

For a large organization to run effectively, their end users need to be as efficient as possible and not be bogged down with admin or IT related problems. Every year, IT issues are causing days worth of productivity loss per user, but employees are hesitant to contact IT support for help.

They would rather fix it themselves. In fact, according to a recent ZenDesk study, 91% of customers would prefer to use a knowledge base article instead of contacting IT support and 40% who did contact customer service already tried and failed to find the answer online!

But instead of fighting end users, smart IT organizations listen to their users and empower them to have a more active role by giving them a level of control over their office devices. This is a crucial factor in having a good working relationship between employees and IT.

End User Automation tools, such as Access AGENT, provides end users a self-guided pop-up wizard and soon a chatbot-driven interface to resolve any upcoming issue through a solution-based approach.

The wizard or chatbot will gather information about the issue and user-environment through questions answered by the end user and with 3rd-party integrations such as Dashworks or SCCM. If the issue cannot be resolved, a ticket will be created.

This same wizard or chatbot can also be used to indirectly train your users. For instance, when you migrate a device with a new OS or major software component, you can have the pop-up load when the user signs in for the first time post-migration. The wizard will guide the user through all the new features, and even have the user sign-off that everything is working properly. No more calling IT to figure out how to print after an update.

#10: Improve Device Health

As your IT environment is constantly changing, it is more important than ever to keep your devices in good health, always up-to-date, and secure. But to do so on an ongoing basis, you need to partner with your end users! 

Product Required: Access AGENT

Impact: High

Going for an annual physical and blood work is a no-brainer for most people — so why would we try to use regular checkups for our PCs and mobile devices to detect potential issues early on before they cause major disruption or, even worse, expose your corporation to a vulnerability?

Not monitoring or improving the health of a PC is waiting for an issue to happen. Considering that today’s modern worker doesn’t sit in front of a desktop all day, but rather utilizes at least two computing devices, which includes desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, there is a lot that could go wrong.

Having an IT automation tool, like Access AGENT, running in the background of all of these devices offers a tremendous opportunity for improvement: Access AGENT constantly scans the devices and environments, giving your employee's devices a personalized health score and detailed, yet easy to follow recommendations  to improve it over time.

As the user follows the recommendations, their score improves — leaving them feeling accomplished and in charge. As a result, there is less chance of a device-related work disruption. As simple as it sounds, giving your end users that level of control over their devices will empower them to have the “healthiest” PC they can.

Having the end users take the initiative to improve their devices reduces the burden of mundane tasks for IT. A high health score of a device can mitigate many time-consuming problems. And considering all the different scenarios that IT has to deal with, between devices and OS environments, having fewer low-level tickets removes a huge burden to Business-as-Usual.

#11: Execute Fixes Automatically

Prevent thousands of low-complexity support tickets from ever being created through automatic fixes and resolve those faster that cannot be fixed through automation. 

Product Required: Access AGENT

Impact: High

Another way to reduce Compounding IT Debt is to eliminate the ridiculous number of mundane fixes your help desk is buried under every day! IT automation solutions like Access Agent can be used to automate low-complexity fixes with little to no end-user involvement, saving countless "Level 1" help desk hours.

Access Agent can be set to automatically run a fix when specific trigger events occur. A trigger event could be something as simple as a laptop booting up, running low on power, or disconnecting from the network to resources (CPU usage/memory) exceeding a threshold or a change in a registry key or file on disk. Fixes can also be run remotely by an admin, or through end-user actions, like clicking on a link.

In addition to trigger-based fixes, automatic fixes can be created for known issues. For instance, Access Agent can detect multiple operating conditions that have caused problems in the past (e.g., known issues that could arise after a migration, or IE using too many system resources) and apply fixes against is automatically. If a conflict between programs is found, and then solved, that fix can be made part of the repository of automatic fixes, so that the help desk doesn't need to be bothered with it in the future.  

In the unlikely case that the issue cannot be resolved automatically. Agent creates a ticket automatically and more efficiently. Because these automated tickets have all the information attached that the user already had inputted into the wizard, including information that the user might have been less reluctant to give if creating a ticket directly as well as screenshots, the tickets are faster resolved than manually entered tickets.

#12: Automatic Sign-Off & Training

Finish off each IT Transformation by indirectly training your users and getting their buy-in as well as their sign-off by making it a requirement to run through a quick automated wizard- or chatbot-driven dialogue to ensure all is in working order.

Product Required: Access AGENT

Impact: Very High

AccessSignOffWelcomeScreenWith new technologies and products emerging all the time, there is always a way to save money by switching or upgrading — resulting in hybrid, constantly changing technology.

This means, users need to constantly be trained on new applications or versions and issues need to be recorded and fixed which could mean huge costs and resources (e.g., floor walkers, more help desk agents). This is not a feasible long-term strategy.

This is where Access Sign-Off can provide significant savings through automation. For instance, when a device is migrated to a new OS, the Access AGENT wizard can be configured to pop-up as the user starts the device. The wizard then guides the user through all the new features and settings, as well as makes sure that everything is working as expected, like the ability to print.

Going through that initial wizard preempts the need for either a call to IT or for the employee to search through a knowledge base article. This wizard also indirectly trains and puts responsibility on your employee. As the wizard takes the user through all the steps, the user gets “trained” on the new features. And since the user needs to sign off through the wizard that everything is working properly, there is also a level of responsibility, in case they later go to IT saying one of the signed-off items isn’t working.

Can IT Automation Pave Your Way To Evergreen IT?

 

Schedule a consultation with a member of our executive leadership team to learn how IT automation can help you lower IT maintenance costs — all while freeing up resources and increasing time-to-market and business agility. Simply fill out the form to the right.

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Evergreen IT is here to stay and the faster organizations adopt this new way of managing their IT environment, the bigger is their competitive advantage! By automating your application packaging and testing as much as possible, you are already half-way there!
David Butler-McAllister

David Butler-McAllister Chief Operating Officer

End user engagement and cooperation is absolutely critical when it comes to implementing successful Evergreen IT. Instead of seeing IT as dead weight that needs to be circumvented, end users need to be empowered through self-service to take ownership and be an active part of the shift of seas.
David Halfteck

David Halfteck Chief Technology Officer