IT Process Automation: Moving from Basics to more Advanced and Creative Processes

IT process automation studioWe’ve talked about the importance of starting small with IT process automation, tackling one or two basic repetitive tasks and then building from there. While many businesses are safe taking this route, for others, basic IT process automation is merely a tiny stepping stone that must give way to more complex IT automation strategies. This is especially critical given the increasing challenges IT personnel are facing with big data and mobility becoming more prominent. With that said, let’s take a look at the differences between basic automation, advanced techniques and the more creative, think-outside-the-box strategies.

Basic IT Process Automation Examples

Basic IT automation refers to out-of-the-box solutions that are easy to learn and seamless to implement. Some examples of basic IT automation include:

  • Routine maintenance tasks – Perhaps the easiest and most frequently automated tasks are those that need to be performed on a regular basis but do not require a great deal of input from live personnel. These routine tasks, such as disk cleanups, browser cleanups and even password resets, take up a tremendous amount of time when done manually, so they are ideal for beginner IT automation.
  • Third party application management – Keeping third party applications, such as Adobe or Firefox, up to date and running smoothly is a timely task for IT. With some basic configuration,IT automation can be used to deploy and update these apps as needed.
  • Patch management – IT Automation allows IT to “set and forget” patch approval and reboots for multiple workstations and servers.
  • System Auditing – Stay on top of important every-day alerts, such as low memory, without having to do so manually. Automation tracks and manages incoming alerts, setting into action the necessary workflows to correct problems before they occur.
Advanced IT Process Automation Examples

As IT becomes more comfortable with automation, and the need for more advanced strategies becomes more evident, a robust software product can facilitate any of the following complex workflows:

  • Service desk and incident management – Automated workflows can be developed and deployed to handle the entire alert management process, end to end. Additionally, critical diagnostic information can be gathered and reported so that if and when human intervention is required, the data needed to correct the issue quickly and effectively will be on hand.
  • Monitoring and reporting – Utilize policy-based automation to filter server type and location, and then develop a specific policy that involves continuous system monitoring and enhanced reporting.
  • Self-service for end-users – Empower the end user to manage basic issues that may arise using a self-service end-user portal. To make this process more efficient, creating “how-to” content and provide self-help procedures for users to follow.
  • Automatic application management – Establish a policy to detect any non-compliance for all applications that are on auto startup. Those applications which are flagged as non-compliant can then be automatically removed, if desired, to reduce future security issues and improve performance.
Getting Creative with IT Process Automation

Of course, all of the above scenarios are pretty common and are regularly automated by businesses across the globe. With the right tools and a think-outside-the-box attitude, however, there is almost no limit to what can be accomplished through automation. A few examples of creative automation include:

  • Mail server management – Proactively automate the monitoring of your exchange server and Quality of Service (QoS) by running routine tests to verify that the server is able to send and receive email.
  • Clean up and reduce help desk tickets – Excess “bloatware” bogging your IT group down? IT process automation can help by using an approved configuration to automatically detect deviations and clean up the excess on your behalf.
  • Recovery of stolen mobile devices – You may think it’s hopeless finding that stolen laptop, but maybe not – that is, if you have the right automation tools in place. Leveraging Google location APIs, you can pinpoint the geo location of your equipment. Automating screenshot captures can further bolster your evidence.

Regardless of how you choose to leverage IT Process Automation, there’s no question that with the boom of cloud, mobile and big data looming on the horizon, it’s something that will become a necessary component of business success. Feel free to start small, but don’t limit yourself. Expanding to advanced automation strategies and then dabbling with more creative uses will help you to steamroll head-on into the bright and promising future.

IT Process Automation Survival Guide

Incident Response: A Common Pitfall that Can be Avoided

Incident ResponseThese days, it seems we cannot turn on the news or go online without learning about another major security breach. The most recent and disastrous being those that occurred to a number of popular retailers, like Target and Home Depot. What is the common thread amongst those affected by cyber-attacks? According to investigators, the problem can be linked back to a lack of incident response in nearly every single case.

Yet despite the fact that countless news articles and reports have indicated this as the root problem, many organizations are still not taking proactive measures to protect themselves, their employees and their customers. There are plenty of reasons why, but the main ones seem to be:

They believe their current protection is adequate. Many IT professionals feel that the plan they already have in place is capable of thwarting any would-be attacks. The problem is, most of these existing plans only include preventative measures, such as malware. As the entire world learned from Target’s experience, this isn’t always enough to get the job done. Incident management that involves identifying, verifying, prioritizing and sending appropriate notification of incoming alerts is essential.

They don’t believe it can or will happen to them. Some companies feel that because they are smaller, they aren’t at risk. This is simply not true. Others – such as those in Europe – feel that they aren’t as targeted as businesses in other countries, like the US. The fact is, the only reason more breaches are reported in the US is because the government requires it. There are a similar or equal amount of incidents occurring in countries across the globe.

They don’t understand the real damage an attack can have. Some otherwise intelligent professionals put blinders on when it comes to the subject of cyber-attacks. Sure, retail giants felt a huge impact – as did their customer-base of millions. It’s important to note, however, that smaller organizations, even those who do not have to worry about sensitive client data, have valuable assets that could prove to be disastrous if they fall into the wrong hands. For instance, internal employee information and even trade secrets could be stolen if the company is not properly protected.

For these reasons (and countless others), many businesses fail to recognize the importance and overall value of a quality incident response plan. If you’re reading this and happen to fall into this category, let’s take a closer look at some of the many benefits of developing and implementing an incident response strategy for your business.

  • Reduce downtime. What impact would an entire system shut-down have on your business? One thing is for certain, the longer it takes to bring things back up and running, the worse the consequences will be. By managing incidents more effectively, issues can be responded to immediately, ultimately reducing the amount of downtime your organization will have to face.
  • Improve recovery time. Just as important as bringing systems back up and running is the task of rolling out a recovery plan. It only stands to reason that the more downtime, the more extensive the potential damage. Because quality incident response lets you address issues right away, the time and resources it takes to fully recover are limited.
  • Stay ahead of problems. With the right incident response plan (preferably one that involves IT process automation to field incoming alerts), you can take a more proactive approach to handling potential security breaches. This can mean avoiding any downtime altogether and protecting precious assets in the process.

The key to success, of course, goes well beyond knowing the benefits and even rolling out a plan. It takes ongoing testing to ensure that all pistons are firing on all cylinders at all times. This will further protect your firm from incoming risks and place you one step ahead of the problems that are befalling others all around the world.

With new, more sophisticated cyber-attacks being hatched almost daily, there’s never been a more important time to invest in a quality incident response strategy. It starts with the infrastructure of prevention and IT process automation to ensure a closed-loop process. This will vastly reduce the risks of anything slipping through the cracks (like what happened to Target) and keep your business protected over the long-term.

Don’t wait until your company has become a victim of an online security breach. 

eBook: 5 Reasons You Should Automate Cyber Security Incident Response

Why CIO’s See Automation as Essential for Improving IT Operations Efficiencies and You Should Too!

Why CIO’s See Automation as Essential for Improving IT Operations Efficiencies and You Should Too!More and more CIO’s are leveraging IT automation to improve operational efficiency and subsequently reduce company expenditure across the board.

In today’s still-unstable economic environment, it’s no surprise that businesses in every industry are focusing on cutting costs. Unfortunately, some view IT as a costly investment and an area in which the metaphorical belt can be tightened. What these people don’t realize, and what an increasing number of CIO’s are embracing, is that implementing automation of IT operations can actually result in reduced expenditure overall.

CIO’s that are concentrating on IT as a force of operational automation, integration and control are losing ground to executives who see technology as a business amplifier and a source of innovation. Ongoing advances in technology are now providing forward-thinking CIO’s a much broader spectrum with which to work in terms of cutting costs across the entire organizational platform.

It has nothing to do with cutting IT capability, but rather finding ways to make IT operations more efficient. This is primarily achieved through automation, which significantly reduces the time and resources needed to run routine, repetitive and time-consuming tasks. When these tasks and workflows are automated, IT personnel are freed up to focus on other, more critical matters, thereby improving the overall operations of the department and subsequently the company as a whole.

Another way that CIO’s are leveraging IT automation for the benefit of their entire operation is through improvement of incident management and mean time to resolution (MTTR). Critical system errors are costly and can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line. IT automation is allowing businesses to manage incidents and downtime scenarios more efficiently and in a much timelier manner, which means less risk of negative impact, both on the business and on the end user.

IT automation isn’t just becoming a tool for cutting costs. It’s also significantly improving business performance, which plays a key role in increasing revenue. According to a recent survey conducted by Gartner Executive Programs, the main focus of CIO’s in the current climate is growth. They want to attract new customers and effectively retain their current ones. IT automation helps to improve service levels, thereby improving the customer experience.

In a time when budgets are at the forefront of every manager’s mind, from the top down to those on the front line, finding areas to improve service and lower expenditure has become a necessity. IT automation has opened up a number of opportunities for streamlining operations and improving efficiency, which ultimately achieves the goal of reducing costs and boosting enterprise growth. By applying technology as an amplifier to business operations, rather than as simply an individual component, organizations that are embracing IT automation are already reaping the benefits and are poised for ongoing success as we move toward the future.

Are you leveraging technology to streamline your business operations? 

eBook: 10 time consuming tasks you should automate

When it Comes to IT Security, Incident Response is Key

Incident Response

When it Comes to IT Security, Incident Response is Key

As many well-known organizations learned the hard way this year, security breaches can not only impact the bottom line, but they can severely damage your reputation. If people feel they cannot trust a retailer like Target or Home Depot without risk of their financial information being compromised, they simply won’t do business with them. It’s enough to put even the most successful company on the road to ruin. The problem is, security breaches like this happen on a much smaller scale by the millions each and every year.

Organizations of every shape, size and industry are vulnerable to hackers and would-be online thieves who prey on any opportunity they can get their hands on. So, how can businesses protect themselves from such a disaster? The answer lies in quality incident response.

What many companies mistakenly do is place all their trust in detection, like malware. But, as the entire world learned following the Target debacle, this strategy isn’t always fool proof. In fact, if you’re not handling incoming incidents the right way, you could be placing your business in the same position as the others that have traveled down this dangerous and costly path.

Simply put, when it comes to maintaining the integrity of your sensitive data, prevention is always the best approach. Of course, there is no way to achieve 100% protection. You can come close, however, by designing a complementary incident management strategy that marries prevention with sound IT security practices. This ensures that in those instances when attacks manage to slip through the security measures that are in place, the incident response process will serve as a second line of defense.

Tips for Setting Up Your Own Incident Response Team
  • Choose the right personnel. This can include employees from within the organization who are at different levels and possess various skillsets. Generally speaking, most incident response teams are made up of workers with the following credentials:

o   System Administrators
o   Network Administrators
o   IT Managers
o   Software Developers
o   Auditors
o   Security Architects
o   Disaster Recovery Specialists
o   Chief Technology Officers (CTOs)
Maintain accurate logs of applications, networks and operating systems. These should be checked daily by network administrators to ensure that all software is logging properly. Use of log analysis programs is also recommended

  • Logs should be automatically backed up and stored not only locally, but also externally. This is essential to proper recording and analysis
  • Ensure that all incidents are documented, both for auditing and compliance purposes as well as for future enhancements to IT best practices
  • Use quality software products that can improve the process and visibility of incident ownership
  • Incorporate  IT automation into the alert management process to improve prioritization, delivery and escalation of critical incidents
  • Establish a balance between reactive services (incident management and documentation) and proactive services (security audits, intrusion detection system maintenance, security strategy development, pre-incident analysis)
  • Set and implement schedules for all proactive service activities
  • Enlist a third party to conduct penetration tests at least once a year
Additionally, the team tasked with handling incident response should be made up of the following subsets:
  • Team Lead – member in charge of all incident management activities
  • Incident Lead – member who reports directly to the Team Lead and coordinates all incident responses
  • IT Contact – coordinates communications between the Incident Response Team and IT Department
  • Legal Representative – member possessing experience in IT security policy and incident response tasked with mitigating risk of litigation
  • Public Relations Officer – handles all communications regarding security incidents

Given the fact that cyber risks are at an all-time high, and with criminals learning newer, more sophisticated ways to hack, there has never been a more critical time for businesses to employ proper security measures. The most effective way to do so is by developing and implementing a quality incident response strategy. The tips highlighted above should provide a good foundation and help establish your organization in a much more secure position moving forward.

eBook: 5 Reasons You Should Automate Cyber Security Incident Response

How Managed Service Providers Can Gain Operational Efficiency and Add an Edge to Their Clients

Managed Service ProvidersIn years past, businesses had little choice when it came to managing their own internal IT operations. For many, the only feasible option was outsourcing. Today, with so many advancements in technology, the concept of outsourcing has shifted and more companies are bringing these services in-house. So, how can Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) compete and stay profitable? Simple. They must maximize efficiency while delivering the highest value proposition to their customers.

Do More with Less

The first step in staying successful as an Managed Service Provider is finding a way to get the most out of their employees while also keeping expenditure down. While hiring more staff may seem like the logical step to staying on top of tasks and delivering exceptional service, doing so would be too cost prohibitive for most firms.

As an alternative, Managed Service Providers can turn to technology and leverage the various tools available to them to help boost productivity without the need to bring on additional employees. IT process automation is an excellent solution to this dilemma, as it can alleviate many of the day to day tasks. Not only does this allow firms to keep staffing lean, but it also frees up those who would normally handle those repetitive workflows to focus on other key business initiatives.

By automating activities such as incident management, the program itself can handle much of the process without the need for human intervention. This improves response time and efficiency levels, which ultimately enhances SLA to the clients.

Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse

One of the reasons MSPs are in a risky industry is because tech advancements, such as cloud hosting, have made managing operations in-house easier and more affordable. To counteract this, MSPs must make what they have to offer too valuable to refuse. Beyond just taking on the task of handling operations for a company in real-time, these firms must remain one step ahead. This means taking a proactive approach and identifying issues before they occur.

Again, the best tool for this task is automation. By leveraging a robust IT automation product that can be integrated with other existing systems, things like alert management can be streamlined to maximum efficiency. This reduces human error and allows problems to be corrected at a much faster rate. When an Managed Service Provider can demonstrate to a company that is considering hosting IT in-house that their services are much more valuable, they’ve won the battle for survival.

eyeShare for Managed Service Providers

To stay afloat in an increasingly volatile, highly competitive environment and disprove the impending “outsourcing is dead” theory, Managed Service Providers must continue to adapt. Performance will need to be at its highest with cost at its lowest. The only logical solution to this is IT process automation. This will provide the edge needed to remain ahead of the pack in the months and years to come.

Are you an Managed Service Provider that is feeling the pressure to perform better? Are you ready to see what the right automation tool can do for your business? 

eBook: Top 7 Benefits IT Process Automation Provides MSP’s

Using IT Process Automation Beyond Provisioning

Using IT Process Automation Beyond ProvisioningMany organizations start their IT process automation projects with server provisioning and stop there. What they may not realize is that there are actually many more ways that IT automation can drive more value to the business. Let’s take a look at some of these ways below.

Reduce operational costs. By creating a more streamlined and efficient operation, productivity naturally increases, as does output and service levels. The results is higher performance at a lower cost overall, which is great for the bottom line.

Improve problem identification and root cause analysis. As we all learned from Target’s debacle last year, incident management is a critical part of the IT role. Determining which alerts are worth pursuing can be a challenge, and if you choose wrong – as was the case with Target – the results could be disastrous.  IT process automation helps quickly identify real issues so they can be prioritized and addressed.

Ensure consistent security. Another key step in the incident management process is properly handling potential security breaches in the most timely and effective manner.  IT process automation helps to ensure that all risks are identified and the appropriate parties are notified so the organization can keep sensitive data safe.

Reduce infrastructure complexity. When IT automation handles the majority of tasks, what’s left for IT personnel to handle is much less complex and daunting. This allows for better infrastructure management and enhanced levels of control.

Enable faster application delivery. Technology allows people to work better, faster and more effectively, which improves service levels and speeds time of delivery.

Enhance capacity management. How do you know when your servers have reached maximum capacity and are about to experience an interruption? Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a proactive approach to this important information? With IT process automation, you can keep one step ahead and avoid problems before they occur.

Help achieve compliance objectives. Identifying and reducing risk is a big part of IT management. So is keeping systems in line with ever-changing requirements. Automation is an excellent tool for streamlining all systems and applications and creating the checks and balances needed to stay on the right side of compliance issues.

Simplify audits. Nobody wants to deal with an audit, but they happen and when they do, you’d better be ready. Having IT process automation at your disposal helps you keep up with compliance issues on an ongoing basis, so that if and when an audit occurs you’ll be ready.

Ensure infrastructure and application SLAs. When an IT problem occurs, it’s the entire department’s job to get things up and running again as quickly as possible. With IT process automation, incident management is much more efficient, and this naturally results in a higher level of service by meeting and exceeding SLAs.

Attain higher server/admin ratios. We hear it time and time again: to stay competitive in the IT industry, people must find a way to do more with less. IT process automation provides the perfect solution, removing the tedious day to day operations and freeing up existing personnel to focus on other important tasks. Instead of having to hire additional staff, you can essentially optimize your existing resources and actually end up with a better outcome overall.

As you can see, IT process automation is not only a great tool for provisioning, but it can also improve operations, cut costs, boost service levels and so much more.
Are you leveraging this important resource for your own organization? 

eBook: 10 time consuming tasks you should automate