Building Your Automation Journey with 90-Day Outcomes

10 Steps Towards Operational Efficiency, Sustainably and Resiliency

As the world begins the slow transition into the “new normal,” organizations are facing the monumental challenge of rapid transformation. With so much uncertainty, ITOPs no longer has the luxury of taking its time in planning and carrying out long-term projects, what used to take several months, now happens overnight. Today’s IT leaders must find a way to compress and accelerate their efforts in order to achieve ROI as quickly as possible – and all while navigating relatively uncharted waters in the process.

Thankfully, rolling out automation in the post-COVID world doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Here’s how your team can do so in 10 easy-to-implement, 90-day increments and be fully productive before you know it.

Step 1 – Identify Candidates

To begin, you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Likewise, automating the wrong processes can completely derail your project. Start by analyzing your data sources, namely your ITSM records. The goal is to identify where you are currently spending the most time and money.

This analysis of your current policies and procedures should help you pinpoint which tasks, workflows and processes would produce the quickest wins if automated. Good candidates for automation include, but are not limited to, tasks that:

  • Have a high volume of tickets
    • Are repetitive with little variance
    • Require little or no human intervention
    • Are time consuming

Step 2 – Select Quick Wins

The previous step should have resulted in a shortlist of various tasks and workflows that, if automated, are likely to generate the fastest ROI. You want to be able to demonstrate to stakeholders the value of automation and get them onboard with widespread rollout. Showing them quantitative value as quickly as possible is key. To achieve this, prioritize your candidates so that your desired outcomes align with the ability to produce fast and measurable results. 

Step 3 – Document

The next 90-day phase should involve developing detailed documentation and flow charts, beginning with existing processes. Specifically, you should focus on identifying any and all manual steps that can and should be transitioned to automation.

It’s critically important during this phase that you remain cognizant of the fact that some existing processes may need to be fundamentally changed in order to take advantage of automation. Take a step back and examine each process thoroughly to determine whether it could benefit from redesign, either in part or in its entirety. Then, set to work re-imagining and reworking it accordingly.

Step 4 – Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Once you’ve generated a few quick wins from some low-hanging fruit, it’s time to dig deeper and start defining your longer-term objectives. How will you ultimately measure success? Try to stick with the SMART acronym as you develop your KPIs and potential outcomes:

  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Based

Not sure where to begin? Here are a few common hard ROI examples to get you started:

  • Reduce total number of tickets
  • Reduce # of tickets that require human interventions
  • Reduce # of tickets that are escalated from L1/L2
  • Shorten MTTR

In addition, you may want to include a few “soft” metrics as well, such as improved user satisfaction.

Step 5 – Design Workflow

Moving into phase five, it’s time to begin designing your automated workflows. At this point in the process, it’s important to remember that it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Heavy lifting is also not required here. Instead, lean on established technology and pre-built templates. For example, Ayehu features a massive library of pre-designed, existing workflows based on best practices developed from over 250 successful deployments. It’s also entirely codeless. All you need to do is match these up with the “quick wins” you identified in steps two and three and you’ll be ready to begin implementation.

Step 6 – Implement and Test

It’s time to start putting all of your hard work and planning into action, albeit in a safe, lower-risk environment. Using the pre-built templates you’ve matched with your automation initiatives, modify them as needed to suit your organization’s specific needs and goals. (Note: Ayehu’s visual designer can dramatically shorten time-to-value in this phase.)

Once your templates are customized and ready to be run, begin launching test workflows in a staging environment. This will allow you to identify and address any issues prior to live rollout, enabling you to avoid potentially costly problems down the road and increasing your likelihood of success.

Step 7 – Start a Pilot

You want your final rollout to be as close to perfection as possible, so you’ll need to do a great deal of testing before you officially launch. Working with a live pilot program & initial users first will enable you to continue identifying areas of concern and correcting them before deployment to the masses.

Ayehu can help with this as well by enabling you to easily move workflows from staging to production using our workflow migration feature. Conduct a pilot in a small scale production environment, measure your results and then modify workflows as needed based on the real-world feedback received.

Step 8 – Move to Production

When you’ve worked out all (or most of) the kinks and you’re confident that your automation project is working as planned and producing the desired results, it’s time to put your proverbial money where your mouth is and expand your usage into full production. This phase is often challenging to move into because, let’s be honest: it’s scary to take that leap. As a result, many IT teams end up in ‘pilot purgatory.’

Know that if you’ve done all the previous steps correctly, you should be ready to confidently move forward. It can be helpful during this phase to use the “bottom-line-value backward” approach, rather than focusing on technology. Make sure quantifiable metrics are collected, stored and adequately tracked.

Step 9 – Measure Results

For an automation project to achieve sustainable success, results must be measured and iterations performed on an ongoing basis. Once you’re officially in full production, you’ll need to continuously verify that you’re on the right track. Evaluate your results and compare them against the KPIs you defined in step four. As you identify procedures that are no longer adding value, be swift and decisive about eliminating them. (Note: if you are using Ayehu, your management dashboard can serve as a reporting aid, making this process much more efficient and effective.)

Step 10 – Promote Outcome

The final phase in the process, and the key to sustaining continuous improvement, is to obtain executive buy-in. Utilize all of the quantifiable data you’ve gathered over the previous nine steps, compile it and report it to the “powers that be.” Remember to use established KPIs and each one’s subsequent ROI to provide compelling proof of success. This will enable you to gain the approval you’ll need to expand and broaden your automation reach, which will bring you full circle back to phase one again.

Automation doesn’t have to be some distant goal on the horizon. By breaking down a multi-year project into a series of smaller, more achievable steps, you’ll be at the finish line before you know it. More importantly, you’ll already have a number of victories and best practices under your belt by the time you arrive.

Start today by downloading your free 30-day trial of Ayehu NG.

Essential Use Cases to Jump Start Your IT Process Automation

At any given organization, there are always many, many manual IT processes that make great candidates for automation. From time to time though, we run across some process automation candidates that deliver noticeably higher ROI. As people started working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and more staff needed to start using ZOOM, we stumbled upon a manual process that really stood out as an excellent use case to help jump start automation at organizations.

Ayehu keeps track of the highest value automation use cases with the broadest applicability to our customers. We display those on our website where you can drill down and get more information on each one. That list is updated from time to time when we come across great new uses of Ayehu to automate toil out of a process. The use case we’ll be talking about today is one of those examples, and we think you’ll be intrigued by how it involves Ayehu NG tying together ServiceNow, ZOOM, Active Directory, and a chatbot in a very timely way.

We’re just about 6 months or so into the pandemic, so scenes like this ought to be pretty familiar to most everyone by now.

A lot of you, maybe even all of you, are working from home. Being remote and away from the office necessitated a big shift in how employees, contractors, and staff interacted with each other.

That left the door wide open for a company called ZOOM to step in and fill that interaction gap previously provided by the in-office experience. So suddenly, it seems the entire world is using ZOOM.

BTW – One way you can tell a product has really entrenched itself in the minds of consumers is when its name becomes a verb. Right?

You don’t just hail a ride-share to the coffee shop, you Uber to Starbucks.

You don’t just edit that image, you Photoshop it.

And now, we don’t just put together a web conference, we setup a Zoom call.

Now in case you’re unaware just how much Zoom usage has increased; I’d like to share a few metrics with you that might leave you stunned.

In the past, ZOOM was criticized for being a platform only small organizations used. In their financials, they report on how many customers with more than 10 employees are using their service.

A little over a year ago at the end of Q1 2019, they had 59,400 customers with more than 10 employees

One year later at the end of Q1 2020, they had 265,400. That’s a growth rate of 347%!

It’s not just smaller firms using ZOOM though. There’s a banking firm that deployed around 175,000 new ZOOM seats in Q1 and a global law firm called Baker McKenzie with over 6,000 attorneys worldwide adopted ZOOM as well.

Here’s another great visualization of ZOOM’s growth.

Back in 2013, ZOOM had just 3 million daily meeting participants.

That’s grown dramatically, and as of the end of March 2020, they now have 300 million daily meeting participants. I’m betting that number will go up when their Q2 financials are released.

Here’s the metric that made my jaw drop to the floor.

In January 2020, the number of meeting minutes ZOOM’s customers were consuming on an annualized basis was 100 Billion. That’s right 100 Billion meeting minutes.

Can you see the “bar” representing that number? No? Let’s zoom in, no pun intended.

100 Billion meeting minutes is that razor thin sliver of a yellowish vertical line that’s thinner than the grey border representing the y-axis of this bar graph. Why does 100 Billion meeting minutes look almost invisible on this bar graph?

Because just 3 months later in April 2020, ZOOM was on a run rate to consume 2 Trillion annualized meeting minutes (see previous graph). So while 100 Billion may sound like a lot, it’s a drop of water compared to the ocean that is 2 Trillion. This is a growth rate that must’ve left their DevOps team gasping for air the entire first quarter of 2020.

And what has all that growth in customers, meeting participants, and meeting minutes done? It’s led to a lot more of this.

It seems like ZOOM is everywhere and everyone is using it all the time.

That in turn has led to a problem for IT Operations in provisioning ZOOM accounts efficiently, while also documenting their distribution and assignment.

So I’d like to give you an overview of the workflow powering the use case we think is a great way to jump start your IT process automation efforts. It highlights Ayehu NG’s ability to be that single pane of glass tying together so many different pieces in your environment.

It’s going to start with an end user sending a request through Slack that they would like a ZOOM account.

The request goes directly to Ayehu, which looks up the manager that user directly reports to on Active Directory.

When the manager is identified, Ayehu passes along the user’s request to the manager, and awaits an approval or a denial.

In our use case, the manager approves the request, which BTW – is all done through email.

Ayehu then does three things:

  • It provisions an account on ZOOM
  • Sends the user an update via Slack that their request for a ZOOM account was approved
  • It also emails the user their new ZOOM credentials

Finally, Ayehu opens a ticket in ServiceNow, and documents every aspect of this request, automatically creating a complete record of everything that transpired.

That’s it. If you wanted the whole thing to run completely on auto-pilot, without requiring manager approval, you could easily configure it to do that too.

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG to easily provision ZOOM accounts for your end users, download your very own free 30-day trial version today by clicking here.

How Ayehu Can Help You Win the Automation Race

You’ve probably heard the term “Enterprise Platform.” In many situations, this is a fairly accurate statement. In some, however, such as the race to innovate, the idea that the bigger the vendor, the better the outcome is simply not always the case. In fact, to the contrary, we believe Ayehu is not only capable of competing with legacy automation vendors, but is actually in a much better position to help CIOs lead their organizations to victory. Here’s why.

Automation companies grow over time, but their DNA remains the same. It’s been present since their inception. Some of the most successful players in the automation space, like HP, BMC, IBM have been around for many years – far longer than Ayehu. But while their length of service may provide them some advantages, their legacy DNA, which is at the core of their existence, may actually present a hindrance.

This is particularly relevant in today’s uncertain climate, where IT leaders are seeking speed, nimbleness and agility. And the truth is, the larger a vendor becomes, the less it is able to offer these benefits. Sure, there may be lots of fancy bells and impressive whistles associated with their products. But in reality, very few organizations actually need all those frills. Even fewer need the added expense that comes along with them.

Today, CIO’s are no longer afraid of choosing innovative startup over well-known enterprise software companies because they recognize that the biggest the risk, the bigger the reward.

As a young, innovative startup, Ayehu is not encumbered by the legacy DNA or services-heavy business models of many of the dinosaurs that have long dominated the automation space. Being lighter and more agile enables us to make rapid progress, iterate quickly and pivot on a dime. We find – especially now – that this way of operating more effectively addresses the unique challenges and aligns much more closely with the goals and priorities of today’s CIOs.

Last, but certainly not least, our advanced product is not only powerful, but rooted in innovation and continuous improvement. New features, enhanced capabilities and an ever-growing list of seamless integrations make Ayehu one of the most efficient and effective intelligent process automation tools on the market. And with a codeless, drag-and-drop visual designer and over 200 pre-built, ready-to-use workflow templates, we are able to get organizations up and running with automation in less than an hour. (No, that is not an exaggeration.)

Thanks to all of these things, we are able to help our customers achieve the agility, performance optimization, cost savings and resilience they need to compete in the digital age. These customers vary by size, location and industry to include everything from global MSPs and international telecommunications organizations to multinational financial services firms, major school districts and more. We’ve also been named a Cool Vendor in IT Automation by Gartner, and recognized in several of their market guides over the years.

So, does bigger always mean better? Sometimes, yes. But not when it comes to winning the automation battle. The victory for that race goes to the swift, and Ayehu can help get you to the finish line faster.

Want to learn more about Ayehu’s products and services? Click here to schedule a live demo or get started right away with a free 30-day trial.

5 Things That will Derail an IT Automation Project

The process of implementing something new will almost always involve making a few mistakes, veering in the wrong direction and eventually figuring out a way to correct those missteps and prevent those risks in the future. Adopting IT automation is no exception. If you aren’t careful, the mistakes you make can become embedded into your business processes. As a result, these errors will occur at scale and ultimately become much more difficult to control and correct.

On the other hand, when you proactively detect errors and take the steps to address and correct them right away, you’ll have much more success with the technology. That said, here are five common pitfalls that can wreak havoc on your IT automation project so you’ll know what to watch for and avoid.

Lack of clear and accurate understanding.

Simply put, you cannot adequately solve a problem that you don’t fully understand. The same concept can be applied to IT automation initiatives. If you don’t completely understand what problem you are actually trying to solve, the risk of errors goes up exponentially.

To avoid this, begin with a hypothesis statement. Define the problem that you are trying to resolve and determine which models you plan on using to address that issue. This is critical, because if it’s not done correctly from the start, things can go wrong very quickly.

Poor data quality.

The old adage, “garbage in, garbage out” can easily be applied to IT automation projects, especially those that involve machine learning and AI. If the quality of the data you are supplying isn’t up to par, the outcome will inevitably suffer. In fact, poor data quality is one of the top concerns of data managers, as it can impact analytics and ultimately influence business decisions in the wrong direction.

The result of these poor decisions can negatively affect performance and make it difficult to garner support for future initiatives. Exploratory data analysis (EDA) can help you proactively identify data quality issues so you can prevent problems before they occur.

Absence of specific purpose.

Another common contributor to IT automation failure is implementation without a clear purpose. In order for automation to generate positive ROI, it must be applied properly – not simply because it’s the trendy thing to do. In fact, using AI and automation when it’s not the best solution to a problem can actually cause more harm than good.

In addition to addressing the wrong problem, doing so can involve wasted time and resources, both of which come at a cost. To avoid this, identify the precise problem and desired outcome to determine whether IT automation truly is the appropriate solution. 

Insufficient resources.

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of resources required to implement IT automation properly, in particular as it relates to infrastructure. Without adequate processing power, successfully implementing automated solutions in a timely manner can be difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, without the resources in place to allow for its deployment and use, what’s the point?

To address the expense and complexity of deploying a scalable infrastructure, leveraging a cloud service that can be provisioned on-demand may be the better option. Those wishing to keep things in-house should look for a lightweight, plug-and-play solution that doesn’t require coding and can be deployed across both on-premises as well as private cloud platforms.

Poor planning and lack of governance.

It’s not unusual for an IT automation project to start off with tremendous enthusiasm only to lose momentum and ultimately end up grinding to a halt. When this happens, poor planning and lack of governance is most often to blame. For those projects that don’t cease, a lack of guidelines and limits can result in an exorbitant expenditure of resources without the beneficial end results. 

To keep things moving in the right direction, IT automation initiatives must be continuously monitored. In the event that progress begins to wane, it can be wise to take a break and reevaluate the effort. Keeping people engaged in the process is the key.

IT automation can be a tremendous asset to an organization, but only if it’s planned, implemented and managed properly. By avoiding the five common pitfalls listed above, you can place your company in a much better position and improve your chances of long-term, sustainable success.

Free Ebook: 10 time-consuming IT tasks you should automate!

How to Securely Automate Privileged Credentials Usage

Malicious use of privileged credentials remains one of the biggest threats to enterprise security. That’s a real dilemma for IT operations who need access to privileged accounts on servers, routers, and other devices in order to carry out routine tasks like regularly-scheduled maintenance jobs.

The question then is how can privileged information be best protected without obstructing IT operations from performing its vital function to keep the information infrastructure running smoothly?

Every year, different organizations issue their annual list of Top 10 cybersecurity threats or security issues for the year ahead. Here’s Gartner’s Top 10 list from 2019.

Although the cybersecurity landscape is constantly changing, you’ll note that privileged access management always seems to feature prominently on most top 10 security lists, and this one’s no exception.

Securing privileged access is a bit of a specialty in the cybersecurity field, but it applies to every server, operating system, file system, application, database, and IoT device in your environment. Today’s threat landscape demands that not only do all these elements of your infrastructure need strong passwords, but they need to be changed frequently. In the case of highly sensitive infrastructure or data, the best practice is to change the password after every use!

Now if you have a smaller environment with just a few servers, applications, databases, etc., then perhaps you’re not too worried about dealing with privileged access management because it’s just another manual task you do that might be inconvenient, but doesn’t hold you up too much.

Then again, if you are in an enterprise environment, you’re probably dealing with hundreds if not thousands of servers, applications, databases, etc. Now you’ve got a very serious issue to contend with. How do you maintain proper security for every single component AND continue performing IT operations tasks as efficiently as possible?

Well, that really is the CIO’s dilemma in all of this. He or she must perform a precarious balancing act that maximizes security without compromising productivity.

On the one hand, the CIO must do everything necessary to comply with an alphabet soup of regulatory regimes and standards, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, CCPA, Sarbanes Oxley, and so many more that if they were all listed here, would require a lot more scrolling on this blog post.

On the other hand, the CIO can’t compromise on preserving uptime, and dealing with shifting infrastructure priorities such as the recent and sudden switchover to working from home. They’ve also got to continue advancing the enterprise’s digital transformation, all while dealing with reduced budget and/or headcount due to the economic conditions brought on by the pandemic. And of course, there’s the growing concern about the widening skills gap.

According to Gartner, there is a solution (and we endorse it wholeheartedly).

In a paper published June 18, 2020 (ID G00376315), Gartner recommended that organizations “Create and expand automation for privileged access activities and integration with other enterprise platforms, such as identity governance and administration and IT service management.” This recommendation actually constitutes one of the 4 pillars of Gartner’s Privileged Access Management strategy.

In the same publication, Gartner points out that “Automation includes increasing reliability and security by removing the ‘human’ element. This increases efficiency by enabling privileged tasks to be run by more junior administrators with less experience or by software agents”. In other words, by taking privileged access management out of people’s hands and letting it be automated, you’re actually making your infrastructure more secure.

And just for good measure, there was one more worthwhile tidbit from this same Gartner paper, which BTW is entitled “Best Practices for Privileged Access Management Through the Four Pillars of PAM”.

Gartner offers suggestions on what privileged access management tasks to consider automating. They write “Good targets for automation are predictable and repeatable tasks, such as simple configuration changes, software installations, service restarts, log management, startup and shutdown.”

To that, we would also add routine health checkups, which is a great use case Ayehu has available for demonstration with popular privileged access management solutions such as CyberArk’s.

In summary, there are 3 main value propositions derived from automating privileged access management.

First and foremost, it’s simply more secure using a vault. That’s a bit obvious, but we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Secondly, if you’re following best practices on frequency of password changes, then automating privileged access management means you never have to worry about password changes disrupting operations. In other words, if you’ve got a scheduled task to run on a server whose password just changed, it won’t be an issue, because both the changing of the password and its retrieval from the privileged access management solution are automated.

Finally, and this is the one every CIO loves, automating privileged access management lets you run a streamlined IT operation while simultaneously maintaining security, adherence to industry regulatory regimes, and your own enterprise best practices.

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG to securely automate your privileged credentials usage, click here to download your very own free 30-day trial version today.

3 Reasons AIOps is a Must for Your Network

As organizations’ reliance on enterprise networks continues to grow at a rapid pace, so do the pressures on network professionals. These individuals are expected to swiftly, accurately and effectively carry out essential tasks, such as determining a problem’s root cause and whether it’s related to a device, application, server, service or the network itself, as well as formulate a way to resolve the issue. Amidst increasingly complex networks, maintaining the visibility to accomplish this at a granular level is not only difficult, but oftentimes unachievable. This is where AIOps can be an absolute game-changer.

What AIOps Can Do For Your Network Team

AI for IT Operations – a.k.a. AIOps – refers to the various technologies that, when integrated together, enable IT to automatically monitor, collect and analyze device and network health information. More importantly, it provides much more in-depth visibility, facilitates intelligent problem identification and offers much more precise root-cause analysis of performance-related problems.

Let’s explore specifically how AIOps can empower network teams by addressing each of these three necessary tasks.

Pinpoint the Source – Anyone in IT knows you cannot adequately address a performance problem unless and until you identify precisely what the issue at hand is. Unfortunately, the more complex the network, the more challenging this becomes. An AIOps platform is capable of simultaneously monitoring data from all sources to quickly and accurately locate a problem’s source. This saves the network team a tremendous amount of time and eliminates the risk of false positives and potential misdirection.

Identify the Cause – AIOps platforms operate in the background, round-the-clock, using artificial intelligence to measure network activities from end-to-end. Whenever something veers outside of statistical norms, the AIOps platform will quickly identify it and take appropriate next steps to address the issue. In-depth analytics can sift through relevant data to determine the problem’s cause as well as which networks and devices have been impacted.

Develop a Resolution – Once the AIOps platform has pinpointed the problem and identified its cause, it is then capable of presenting information to the network administrator in a contextual manner, ultimately suggesting the best way to resolve the issue. In many instances, problems can be completely remediated via automation, negating the need for human intervention. Again, this saves the IT team time and allows human resources to be used more strategically.

Thinking of implementing AIOps in your organization? It starts with the right technology platform. Click here to try Ayehu NG free for 30 full days and experience the power of AIOps for yourself!

Free Must Have Resources for Every Automation Pro – GitHub

Free Must-Have Resources for Every Automation Pro – Ayehu Automation Academy
Author – Jacky Leybman, Product Manager @ Ayehu

Ayehu maintains its own repositories on GitHub, the world’s #1 open-source community for software development, source code management, and version control. This is a free resource for Ayehu community members interested in:

  • Shorter time to value through reuse of existing, pre-built workflows
  • Shorter time to value through customization of open source activities
  • Free access to peer-developed workflow templates and activities

Let’s breakdown everything this great resource has to offer.

What is GitHub?

At a high level, GitHub is a website and cloud-based service that helps developers store and manage their code, as well as track and control changes to their code.

Essentially, it allows individuals and teams to easily collaborate, leveraging already published code while constantly giving back to ensure the community is growing and everyone can benefit from each other.

Anyone can sign up and host a public code repository for free as well as view other available repositories – as you can see here on our Ayehu GitHub page.

The social networking aspect of GitHub (available here) is probably its most powerful feature, allowing projects to grow more than just about any of the other features offered. Each user on GitHub has their own profile that acts like a resume of sorts, showing past work and contributions to other projects via pull requests. Project revisions can be discussed publicly, so a community of experts can contribute knowledge and collaborate to advance a project forward.

In our case (as seen in the graphic above) we already have 6 public repositories that can be viewed by anyone, and 3 of them are for custom content, which can then be shared by anyone wishing to become a Collaborator.

What kind of content do each of these repositories have?

The ones on the lower row are activities/workflows/integrations that are already available in any installed instance of Ayehu NG. Now you may wonder then, why do we need those on GitHub?

The advantage of having this content shared on GitHub is to provide you with visibility into the code behind the activities, allowing you to easily leverage them for your organization’s specific needs. You can modify any of these activities or create a completely new activity using the existing code as your foundation.  The same applies to any of the workflow-templates and integrations.

Additionally, we have 3 public repositories for custom content. These are shared by the user community, and the only place you can find them is on GitHub, as they’re not part of the product itself.

The custom-scripts repository has different user-created scripts that can be shared among the community. For example, here you can find a utility that eliminates the need for writing a program from scratch, or a script to manually send HTTP POST and GET requests to an Ayehu NG server.

The custom-workflows repository has different workflows created by users using the Workflow Designer. Here you can find multiple workflows for different 3rd-party applications. For example, SolarWinds Remediation. Each workflow is basically an XML file, which is the format it’s exported in from NG when you use the built-in Export functionality.

Last but not least is the custom-activities repository, which in my opinion is the most compelling one because it’s constantly growing. As of this blog post’s publication, we already have more than 300 different activities published for about 30 different 3rd-party applications, such as Amazon S3, Azure AD, Beyond Trust, Google Cloud, PagerDuty, SharePoint, Zendesk, etc. representing a wide variety of platforms including ITSM, messaging, and cloud services. Usually each 3rd-party application’s folder has around 5-10 activities, as you can see below in the FreshDesk folder, for example.

How easily can you leverage this content in your NG environment?

In order to start using any of the activities available on Ayehu’s GitHub page, which as a reminder can be easily browsed by anyone, you must have Ayehu NG version 1.5 or higher running. This is the version that first introduced the Activity Designer feature, which is a necessary prerequisite for building and deploying customer activities.

To learn more about the Activity Designer, please visit Ayehu’s Automation Academy. This is another great free resource Ayehu provides to its community. There you’ll find a couple courses explaining how to use the Activity Designer to build custom activities suited to your company’s specific needs, and which don’t require the need for Ayehu’s involvement. We strongly recommend completing these courses to better understand how the Activity Designer works, and to learn about the two code components each activity has.

Let’s look at the example below where we can see the AYH file, which is an export of the activity created by the Activity Designer’s built-in Export functionality. The other two files are the JSON, which is the frond-end code for the activity that drives its look and feel in the UI, and the CS, which is the back-end code of the activity. This file can not only be CS but also VB and Python as all those are currently supported languages for the back-end code of any activity.

To use this specific activity, I can either use the AYH file or copy-paste the code files. Let me show you how it works by opening Ayehu NG and going to the Activity Designer tool.

First, I’ll choose to Import from the Activity Designer.

I’ll browse and select to import the AYH file we just looked at.

After importing the FreshDesk Create Ticket activity, I can view its code:

All that’s left to do is click the Enabled checkbox in the upper right and then save the activity:

Next, we’ll navigate to the Workflow Designer, start a new workflow, and bring in the FreshDesk Create Ticket as our first activity:

This activity can now be configured just like any of Ayehu’s other activities:

Alternatively, instead of importing we could have also just copied the FreshDesk Create Ticket activity code from GitHub, and pasted it directly into the Activity Designer.

The custom-workflows repository works in a similar fashion. Just select one of the workflows there, download it, then go back to NG and navigate to Workflow Designer -> Open Workflow -> Import From File, and select the workflow you just downloaded.

How simple it is to give back to the community

As previously mentioned, one of GitHub’s most valuable and important features is community collaboration. That’s a mechanism for enabling everyone to benefit from each other while contributing knowledge and cooperating to advance IT Automation forward.

Let’s say you worked on improving one of the existing activities on GitHub to allow additional inputs, or you created a completely new activity. You can easily share your accomplishment with others by clicking on Add File->Upload files.

First though, you must export your activity from the Activity Designer by clicking the export icon in the upper right. You should also copy code for both the JSON and the backend into appropriately-named files, then upload these 3 files along with a short README file explaining what the activity does so that anyone on GitHub can easily understand what it’s supposed to do.

An AYH file will be the easiest way for someone to import your activity. Uploading code files is also important though as it gives visibility into the code, as well as an option to track changes without importing each one of the activities into Ayehu NG.

Once all these files are in a folder, clicking Add File->Upload files on GitHub creates a Pull Request by creating a new branch. Each repository can have one or more branches, which is essentially a unique set of code changes with a unique name. These Pull Requests are then reviewed by our team. As long as everything meets a few basic requirements (further explained below), your work will be published and you will become a Collaborator. This basically means from that point on, you can push code freely to that specific repository.

As you might expect, workflows can also be shared in almost the exact same manner. Just go to the Workflow Designer, open up one of your workflows, then click on Export. This will generate an XML file which can be uploaded to GitHub by simply clicking Add File->Upload Files, and creating a new branch, exactly as we did with custom-activities.

What are the official requirements to create a Pull Request?

Each of the custom repositories has their own Contributing guidelines but are conceptually the same. The guidelines for custom-activities are shown below.

If you’re ready to join a growing community in a thriving field, and you don’t already have an account on GitHub, sign up today. It’s quick, usually taking no more than a few moments. You can also access Ayehu’s GitHub community by clicking here.

How to Run Automated Workflows While Protecting Privileged Accounts

In today’s highly complex security climate, organizations must protect and manage their applications’ privileged identities if they want to protect their assets. Successful Privileged Identity Management (PIM) implementation can be measured by specific factors, such as:

  • Controlling who has access to which credentials
  • Document credential requests for compliance
  • Eliminating hard-coded passwords in applications
  • Eliminating hard-coded passwords in 3rd party tools

Knowing this is critical and actually accomplishing it, however, are two entirely different things. There are many in-house applications and 3rd party tools such as Cyber Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) automation, IT process automation, and others that run and need access to many servers, PCs, and other devices. The ability of 3rd party tools to access the vault and retrieve the relevant credential information of the specific device is crucial to successful PIM implementation.

Why You Need a Secure Vault

Unmanaged privileged credentials, such as passwords, used by 3rd party tools like CSIRT, are typically stored locally in configuration files, or in a database with little to no control over encryption levels. These credentials can be easily captured and exploited by malicious users or external attackers.

Additionally, any manual changes made to these credentials generally require an update of credentials across all environments, which in turn requires downtime or a maintenance window.

Just one tiny oversight during a manual password change could lock a Windows account, causing all other applications and/or application instances to cease operating. Furthermore, as these credentials are not centrally managed, it is difficult to track who or what has access to them, which makes it nearly impossible to identify whether there may be a potential misuse of credentials by a malicious user or external attacker.

And if you think this type of scenario will never happen to you, think again. One need only peruse the headlines to see that even the most prominent enterprises are vulnerable to potential exploitation.

Take, for instance, web-hosting giant GoDaddy. In May of 2020, the largest domain registrar in the world with over 19 million customers, announced that it had experienced a security breach, which occurred after an employee had their account compromised which allowed hackers access. The number of customers impacted has still not be determined, but the reputational and financial damages to the company cannot be understated. For a smaller firm, such a breach could be irreparable.

Why a Secure Vault Is Not Enough

As GoDaddy and countless other organizations have learned the hard way over the years, cybercriminals are relentless. Their tactics are also becoming more sophisticated by the day. In order to shore up against would-be attacks, business leaders must find a way to fight fire with fire. That is, they must leverage all of the advanced technology available to them. And one of the most effective of these is automation.

Ayehu’s integration with CyberArk Privileged Account Security Solution enables organizations to automatically retrieve and rotate credentials securely stored in the CyberArk Secure Digital Vault. Passwords can be rotated based on the organization’s security policy for all privileged identities.

In addition, the integrated solution combines individual accountability with detailed tracking and reporting on all privileged identity activity, enabling organizations to meet diverse sets of compliance requirements.

Your Chance to See It In Action

In a world awash in cybersecurity threats, malicious use of privileged credentials stands out for its potential to inflict cataclysmic harm upon an enterprise.  Yet in order to carry out tasks such as regularly-scheduled maintenance jobs, IT operations must have access to the privileged accounts on servers, routers, and other devices that require these credentials. 

What’s the best way to protect privileged information without obstructing ITOps from performing the vital work that keeps the lights on, all while adhering to organizational and industry infosecurity compliance requirements?

Please join us on Wednesday July 15th as we demonstrate the integration of Ayehu NG and CyberArk Secure Digital Vault – the industry leading automation and privileged access management platforms.

Click the graphic below or follow this link to register and reserve your spot today:

Free Must-Have Resources for Every Automation Pro – Ayehu Automation Academy

Author: Guy Nadivi

The Ayehu Automation Academy is a free resource for Ayehu community members interested in upskilling their automation talent. Now is a great time to be in the field of automation, and for context, I’ll provide a little industry insight to frame the true value of being an automation professional.

In April 2020, Gartner published a paper titled “How to Start Executing a Successful Automation Strategy” (ID G00721030), which included an eye-opening quote:

“By 2025, more than 50% of the (global 2000) G2000 will have a dedicated automation group, up from less than 10% in 2020, which culminates in agility and cost efficiencies.”

If you do the math on that, then that means that less than 200 of the G2000 have dedicated automation groups today, but in 5 years, more than 1,000 of them will. That’s impressive growth, and it infers there will be important growth elsewhere too.

Another April 2020 paper from Gartner titled “Market Guide for Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms” (ID G00721991) actually gave a hint at how much growth. It included the results of Gartner’s survey of a number of IT leaders and asked “What are your organization’s investment plans for the following practice areas?” –

  • Technology Monitoring
  • IT Service Management
  • Cloud Management
  • SaaS Management
  • Configuration Management Database
  • IT Asset Discovery
  • I&O Automation

As you can see in the resulting graph, the #1 practice area where investments were expected to increase was I&O (Infrastructure and Operations) automation. 42% of organizations have plans to start investing there. That’s TWICE as much as the next closest practice area – cloud management. Kind of makes you wonder why the cloud is getting all the love these days when automation is clearly where organizations plan on spending the money.

One more thought to leave you with, again just for broader perspective. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digital transformation, and that means automation initiatives are ramping up, which in turn means more automation specialists are needed.

So ramping up your automation skills is not only a good investment in your career, but at a time of economic uncertainty, it’s the equivalent of creating a form of employment insurance for yourself. Not a bad idea, given the tens of millions of jobs already lost due to COVID-19.

So with that in mind, let’s dive in to the Ayehu Automation Academy.

You can easily navigate to the academy from the home page on our website. Just click on the “Customers” menu, then go to the link that says “Ayehu Automation Academy”.

After creating a user ID for yourself and logging in, you’ll have an opportunity to explore the Academy, where you’ll quickly find it’s very easy to navigate. BTW – the Academy is based upon an online learning system from a company called TalentLMS, which is used by over 70,000 organizations worldwide, and is highly regarded for its ease of use.

Eventually you’ll make your way to the course catalog, and there you’ll find dozens of courses to choose from on a variety of automation-related topics.

We’ve organized the courses in the catalog according to a logical categorization scheme that emphasizes 3 major learning areas:

  • Intelligence Driven Automation
  • Laying the Foundation For Enterprise Automation
  • Ayehu NG, which is further divided into 3 sub-categories:
    • Essentials
    • Dev
    • Advanced

You can see which courses fall under each category when you go and explore the Academy.

Next, let’s review the professional certifications available to you from the Academy.

To amplify what I wrote earlier, working towards these certifications is a great investment to make in yourself since automation is beginning to take center stage for so many organizations. Best of all, that investment won’t cost you anything but some of your time, since the Ayehu Automation Academy is free of charge.

There are currently 5 different certifications available:

  • Ayehu Certified IT Automation Analyst
  • Ayehu Certified IT Automation Developer
  • Ayehu Certified IT Automation Engineer
  • Ayehu Certified IT Automation Professional
  • Ayehu Certified Enterprise Automation Strategist

Ayehu Certified IT Automation Analyst

This certification is actually for anyone interested in the automation field, because no matter what area of automation you specialize in, you should have some good analytical skills.

IT Automation Analysts are often doing things like:

  • Collecting data from departments to identify opportunities for automation.
  • Collecting inputs from stakeholders who will be impacted by a switch to automation.
  • Documenting and defining or frequently redefining business processes to take advantage of automated capabilities.
  • Scoping out the automation process to be implemented.

Not surprisingly, the IT Automation Analyst is going to be someone who is very analytical, has strong modeling and documentation skills, and above all is an excellent listener.

The exam for this certification focuses on knowledge about Automation and AI in the IT field, and understating how an AI-driven automation solution like Ayehu NG can help your organization reach its objectives.

Ayehu Certified IT Automation Developer

As you might’ve guessed, this certification is for anyone interested in the more technical hands-on aspects of automation.

Although the Ayehu platform requires no coding to orchestrate high-value workflows, there are still those who want to get under the hood and do some programming.

With that kind of skillset, IT Automation Developers are usually the ones doing things like:

Building their own custom integrations, often to connect with applications/systems/platforms unique to their environment. They’re also building their own custom activities, with Ayehu’s new Workflow Activity Designer.

IT Automation Developers should have strong programming skills in Python, C#, and/or Microsoft .NET, as well as be detail-oriented and good at problem-solving.

The exam for this certification focuses on the ability to understand how custom activities and integrations work in Ayehu NG, as well as the ability to successfully develop any custom requirement for both activities and integrations.

Ayehu Certified IT Automation Engineer

This certification is also for the more technically-oriented, particularly those who will be working with the Ayehu NG platform day in and day out, and applying their in-depth knowledge of it to maximize its automation effectiveness.

IT Automation Engineers perform such critical tasks as:

  • Installing Single- and Multi-tenant instances of Ayehu NG.
  • Configuring and optimizing the platform’s different components and modules.
  • Building workflows with the Ayehu NG Workflow Designer.

The primary attributes an Automation Engineer should have is being a logical thinker who understands processes (both systems and business) and possessing strong communication skills.

The exam for this certification focuses on knowledge about the Ayehu NG Automation platform, its architecture, and different components. It will also test your ability to deploy a single-tenant installation, and design simple workflows within the Ayehu NG Workflow Designer.

Ayehu Certified IT Automation Professional

If you are already certified as an IT Automation Engineer, and want to take your certification to the next level, then you can pursue becoming an IT Automation Professional. Like the IT Automation Engineer, the IT Automation Professional is a hands-on, technically-oriented person working with Ayehu NG day in and day out, but doing more advanced things.

As a prerequisite this certification requires that you must first be certified as an IT Automation Engineer.

IT Automation Professionals do many of the same things as IT Automation Engineers, as well as:

  • Designing more advanced Ayehu NG deployments.
  • Building more advanced workflows.
  • Troubleshooting the NG platform.

The IT Automation Professional will often assume a project manager role with automation projects. So just like IT Automation Engineers, they need to be logical thinkers that understand processes, but they must also be good multi-taskers, and have excellent communications skills

Advanced design concepts and troubleshooting are the primary focus for this certification’s exam.

Ayehu Certified Enterprise Automation Strategist

This certification is for the person with the vision, leadership skills, and often executive sponsorship to lead an overall automation initiative for an organization.

Enterprise Automation Strategists will often be the ones:

  • Setting up a Center of Excellence to establish organization-wide standards on automation.
  • They’re usually also heavily involved in picking and prioritizing processes which make the best candidates to be automated.
  • By default, they typically become the face of automation within the enterprise, due to their high-profile role.

An Enterprise Automation Strategist, as you can imagine, must have stellar communications skills, be a take-charge manager who knows how to overcome internal resistance to change, and very, very importantly be an agent of change who can evangelize automation successes within the enterprise.

The exam for this certification focuses on identifying and evaluating process automation candidates, issues around having an automation CoE, and understating how an AI-driven automation solution can help advance organizational goals.

If you’re interested in turbo-charging your automation career, there’s never been a better time than now. Please visit the Ayehu Automation Academy to get started on your free courses and certifications today.

To watch the on-demand webinar recording, click below.

5 Tips for Maximizing Efficiency in ITOps

What started out as a promising year for CIOs has quickly and drastically gone off the rails. Today, most IT executives find themselves attempting to guide the train back toward the tracks as the focus has dramatically shifted from thriving to merely surviving.

With 61% of IT budgets being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the 2020’s highest priorities has become saving as much as money as possible. And while “doing more with less” is something most CIOs are adept at, finding ways to drive revenue and secure their organization’s position in the marketplace in the midst of a world health crisis is quite the unique challenge.

The key to overcoming this hurdle will ultimately lie in maximizing efficiency levels, and not just in terms of cutting costs, either. Today’s CIOs must focus strategically on changes and initiatives that will enable them to achieve the leanest operation possible while also adding value to the organization through improved services. 

That being said, here are five ways to improve ITOps efficiency without compromising on quality.

Audit existing operations.

When it comes to maximizing efficiency in IT operations, doing so will lie heavily in existing policies, practices and platforms. Now’s as good a time as any to conduct an audit to identify areas of waste to eliminate and other potential opportunities for improvement. The end-goal should be having an infrastructure in place that optimizes the use of seamless, cohesive technologies so that the IT team can focus their talents and efforts on revenue-generating activities and other ways to support the business.

Be willing to trim the fat.

After several years of enjoying annual budget increases and the freedom to explore and innovate freely, many CIOs now find themselves facing budgetary cuts and a bleak spending forecast. As such, it will almost certainly be necessary to trim back some of the spending and say goodbye to poor performers, both in terms of personnel as well as technology. Where before, experimenting with the unknown was feasible, in the current climate, IT leaders must focus on projects, platforms and people that they know will deliver value. Remember – occasional pruning is necessary for growth.

Establish a dedicated vendor-management team.

Keeping on top of vendor contracts is a full-time job in and of itself. For a busy CIO with dozens of tasks on their plate, this one often drops down the to-do list. But with so much opportunity for cost-cutting and service improvements, it should be a top priority. Rather than trying to juggle this on top of the multitude of other duties, it may make more sense to delegate this function to another individual or team, either in-house or third-party. The money that can be saved through continuous monitoring and negotiations should far outweigh the expense, and the potential for improved service will be well worth the investment.

Bring automation into the fold.

Most CIOs have already embraced automation to some degree, and for good reason. The technology is capable of speeding up operations, eliminating human error and freeing up staff from routine, repetitive and time-consuming tasks. It can also prevent outages, which helps to maximize profitability. All that aside, there have been many advances in automation technology of which many IT leaders are still not taking advantage. Intelligent chatbots and virtual support agents, for example, can help alleviate the burden on the IT team while providing faster end-user service. This creates a much more efficient, productive environment.

Incorporate efficiency into the long-term scope.

While maximizing efficiency becomes a natural reactionary goal during economic downturns, the most successful CIOs view lean operations as an ongoing objective. They consistently evaluate whether the people, processes, policies and technologies they currently have in place are serving their optimal purpose and they make proactive changes whenever and wherever necessary. Simply put, achieving operational efficiency isn’t just a one-and-done task. It’s something that should become an integral and permanent component of an organization’s very culture.

Like it or not, the world around us is evolving rapidly. Without the right attention, foresight and action, many CIOs risk being left behind. The five tips above should help IT leaders simultaneously streamline ITOps and minimize costs while still driving business growth.

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