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How to Align Business & IT: Who is Riding Whom?

Let’s Go!

Recently, Comcast brought pureIntegration on to manage a software trial and deployment in a department that previously had been burnt. The last major system they launched was well-designed, however input was not solicited from the end users and their leadership was generally unaware of the need for the tool or the plan for its roll-out. A few months after going live, the metrics made it clear that utilization was poor. To solve this, the business implemented code changes to force utilization. Within 3 months, the app was retired.

What went so wrong? In hindsight, there were a number of gaps. The product team was operating under the assumption that adoption wouldn’t be a problem due to the strength of their idea. However they didn’t have the reporting and metrics necessary to back that up. This, combined with a natural need to hit deadlines, led to a premature launch rather than letting the facts and data determine when they were ready. Additionally, due to the lack of a more formal collaboration with the market-level leadership, the folks on the front-line hadn’t bought into the program. These factors resulted in the end users losing trust in the team and confidence in the product itself. Without the right organizational change management throughout the life-cycle of the project, even the best idea can run into resistance and adoption hurdles – creating a risk to the entire product launch.

As a result (of the above problem), the subsequent project was undertaken with a much more formal change management strategy, based on the Prosci ADKAR Model. This approach is based on the necessary outcomes that must be achieved for an individual to make change successful: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. A roll-out will only be as successful as the people responsible for implementing it. Change needs to focus not just on the business side but on the personal side, with additional attention on individuals’ incentives.

Early on, the markets were surveyed for their input and to identify points of resistance. The divisions created and owned their change plans and we established numerous feedback avenues for all levels to be heard. Reporting was stood up early, so that the pilot could be properly assessed for efficacy. We put added emphasis on front-line communication, including full transparency on our progress and challenges. And change goals were instituted prior to the pilot to ensure the impacted populations were heard and surveys were taken of all the affected teams prior to each phase of expansion and launch. We knew we were on the right path when a large expansion of the pilot was halted based on concerns expressed from the front-line agents. Rather than groans and pointed fingers, there was universal support (and a little shock) from our end users.  Never before had they seen a program of this magnitude halted based on their input. They were actually being heard! Instead of trying to force the product upon them based on pre-determined milestones, we listened to what they needed in order to feel comfortable expanding and adjusted our priorities and timeline accordingly.

The end result of this engagement was feedback from the field that “this is the way we should deploy everything!” By engaging both front-line and executive-level stakeholders, we were able to anticipate concerns early on and effectively develop a roadmap that met their needs. Continual check points enabled us to adjust accordingly along the way. We obtained their buy-in and commitment ahead of time and they took pride in the end product as a result.

By Matt Cohen

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By | March 30th, 2017|Organizational Change Management|Comments Off on How to Align Business & IT: Who is Riding Whom?

Why Data Center Automation Did NOT Save You Millions…

How many data center devices are you trying to manage?

Five thousand? Fifteen thousand? How about over thirty thousand devices? That was the scale of a TWC’s (now Charter Spectrum) data center management requirements. At that level of scale, even the most simple questions can feel like standing at the base of K2, looking up at the task. Let me give you a specific example: with twenty-six thousand networking devices (from multiple vendors), an innocent question like “how many are policy compliant?” is not easy to answer. Let’s not discuss the level of perspiration when the rumblings of a security audit are floating around. Companies can no longer afford costly downtime, nor labor for simple tasks such as patching for policy compliance and expect to remain competitive.

We worked with Charter to build a tangible game plan to automate manual tasks, by starting with a single pain-point for a quick win within the system ops group. Inside the first few months, we delivered automated (policy-based) patch management to just under two thousand servers. Server automation tools coupled with orchestrated workflows reduced time spent on tasks such as discovering out-of-policy servers, opening patch tickets, deploying bios and OS patches, and closing tickets. Days worth of effort was reduced down to minutes (with errors falling below 0.5%). The initial savings and speed gains were noticed by the network ops teams and the solution was expanded.

In the second year, we began engaging with the NOC, QA teams, and expanded the footprint with sys ops. The annualized savings rate began creeping up towards $2.5 million by the end of the second year. That is an incredible amount of OPEX that can be leveraged to boost the bottom line or reinvest for more efficiency. By the time the program was wrapped up after three years, the total annual savings was over $4.6 million in OPEX. The program brought 73 data centers under automated management across over thirty thousand devices.

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By | March 28th, 2017|IT Operations Automation|Comments Off on Why Data Center Automation Did NOT Save You Millions…

Is Your HPE Software Hitting Max ROI? (Hint: Nope.)

Here’s a fun fact: The average user of Microsoft Excel only uses 5% of the program’s full functionality. Low utilization of software functionality is a tale as old as time.  When we speak about that in reference to enterprise software, the story remains the same but the opportunity cost is significantly greater.  Low software leverage has very little to do with team talent but more so a few recurring factors:

  1. The functionality of the software is too robust for a single system operations team to take full advantage
  2. The software is delivering to the original use-case design and status quo has taken hold
  3. There is a lack of functionality awareness (function of time – not skill)
  4. There is not enough time to do the integration (everyone has a day job)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had recently purchased a Server Automation tool from HPE but needed help with deployment. The tool was right for the job but it was also new to the team.  There were two main initial goals: 1) deploy the software for quick ROI 2) work side-by-side with experts for hands-on learning.

We began by working with the FAA’s server and database administrators to install HPE Server Automation. We were able to help them with the installation and complete the project ahead of schedule. The next step was to develop scripting in the tool and again, we made sure to accomplish this with the sys admins so they could absorb and learn.

One of the brightest moments during the process was watching the evolution and upskilling of FAA Staff.  Job satisfaction increased from a few different drivers.  First, we helped to make people’s jobs a little easier, and second (more importantly), a sys admin of the past was now an Automation Engineer.  This not only helps the individual future-proof their career but also returns dividends to the organization with new talents.  Now, the FAA is more self-sufficient and continually developing automated workflows that increase efficiency.

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By | March 26th, 2017|IT Operations Automation|Comments Off on Is Your HPE Software Hitting Max ROI? (Hint: Nope.)

This is Why Exceptional IT Starts with Data

Give yourself a test…

If you were to have a business critical application fail, like the sales team’s CRM or a customer facing video streaming service, how long would the following take?

  1. Identify the outage
  2. Understand the severity by users impacted
  3. Find the root cause (this is where roughly 70% of MTTR is spent)
  4. Remediation
  5. Update SLA adherence metrics and report out business impact

We recently found our client was working through those exact questions. The challenge is not to figure out the answers for a handful of applications. Most customers can do that with a data store and application mapping (sometimes using Excel or Access – which I don’t recommend). The real challenge comes with scale (that word is tossed around a lot so let’s be specific). When you need to manage 5,700 business applications with thousands of people making changes to servers, networks, and the applications themselves – that is scale.

So how would you answer the questions above?  You need the right CI data and process to discover and absorb changes to the environment. That data needs to be leveraged for application dependency mapping, so engineers understand their change risks. That model requires a significant amount of process automation to keep up with the speed of changes made to the environment – without it, the data quickly becomes irrelevant.

Start with the configuration data store (CMDB) and leverage discovery tools like HPE’s Universal Discovery to automatically detect change and update the CMDB. This becomes the single source of truth for the operations teams to build business service and application maps of system dependencies. Both engineers and service desk teams are the winners here; once those changes are deployed, the CMDB will update with new data that can be leveraged during future failure.

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By | March 25th, 2017|IT Service Management|Comments Off on This is Why Exceptional IT Starts with Data

How You Can Find More Time for Your IT Ops Team

Sprint had a bit of a headache

Sprint IT operations teams were overloaded with requests for new services from their development teams while trying to keep dashboards from turning red.  When you’re a telco, any business critical services that turn red is a disaster even if the baseline measurement is milliseconds.  Service management is always the #1 priority which means new requests for services from employees will always make way to unplanned downtime.  So how do you free up time from managing services to provide more services to your dev teams?  Start with strategy, improve the fundamentals, and leverage best-in-class standards to map out your system management process.  As soon as Sprint took a step back, they were able to achieve just that; which paid amazing dividends.

Orchestration was the Answer

As a result of strategic planning (side note: amazing excuse for team building), Sprint realized that what it thought was an automated process for OS patching wasn’t at a high level of maturity.  OS compliance status information and patching was provided by one tool called HPE Server Automation, while a separate tool called HPE Service Manager handled OS patch ticket and status management (open ticket, current status of work, and close ticket). These two systems were not integrated, which required system admins to move between tools to launch patches. Sprint needed to document the end-2-end process and orchestrate those steps with software to ultimately free up some time to focus on their developer needs (not to mention reduce downtime and risk from change errors).

Happy Customer

With the requirements collected and process architecture mapped to the right tools, the orchestration workflows were developed and tested to deploy into production. Sprint’s initial release of HPE OO flows proved highly successful.  Besides being completely automated, the workflows provided tighter security control of the root administrative password (part of the non-native custom build).  As a pleasant surprise, Sprint even achieved several automation benefits from the HPE OO “Close All HPSM Change Tasks” workflow to automate the Service Desk Admin work.  The Service Desk team was quite happy to give up that job, which moved the close ticket process from hours to seconds.

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By | March 24th, 2017|IT Operations Automation|Comments Off on How You Can Find More Time for Your IT Ops Team

5 Dumb Things People Do with HPE Software

So let’s get the list out of the way, since we all know that’s why you are here:

  1. Relying on the software to discover the depth of automation challenges

  2. Assuming that the automation capabilities are enabled with ‘set and forget’

  3. Thinking all HPE Software will just-work together (as promised by PowerPoint)

  4. Trying to take advantage of automation software while still working a day job

  5. Not planning to upskill staff on automation technology as part of the change process

What is the shared problem? Not enough focus on people and process as part of the software deployment.  The consequences are quite significant, as 80% of technology deployments continue to fail.  Smart people are still making common mistakes and spending most of their time working in operations and not focusing on operations.  The wording of the previous sentence is subtle but the impact is significant; let me explain.

I hire smart people. I hire smart people because I want them doing smart things. I don’t want my smart people overburdened with tedious but necessary tasks. Most of us realize that a vast majority of IT work is just that. Specifically, we force a human to look at something and make a pre-recorded decision. And THAT is what you were trying to eliminate when you bought HPE Software, to help you automate and orchestrate your environment… aka, let the software do the boring stuff.

While HPE Software may enable process automation, ultimately YOU need to have the appropriate lines of communication between your various IT tools to achieve the desired functionality. With the correct integration between your HPE Software and your various existing systems, you can have your smart people defining the policies that your software will enforce instantaneously.

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By | March 23rd, 2017|IT Operations Automation, IT Service Management|Comments Off on 5 Dumb Things People Do with HPE Software