“Integration prevents errors and duplication. This saves a lot of frustration and time”
SCCM AND PACKAGES, THE EASY WAY
Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is used by many organizations. It is not always the most ideal solution for distributing application packages (what is?), but it usually works fine. However, efficiency and user-friendliness are hard to find. Just adding an application package can be quite a challenge. For example, in extreme cases, we have measured it can take up to 15 minutes before you have everything up and running. There are many decisions to be made and even the smallest mistake can cause an error. However, it can also be done the easy way using SparkleFlow. Only a push of a button and you’re done. Lees meer
SPARKLEFLOW AND SCCM INTEGRATION
By integrating SparkleFlow with SCCM we can automate all actions related to the distribution of applications. This means severall improvements:
- Adding application packages to SCCM can be done with a single push of a button. This takes a few seconds instead of 5 to 15 minutes. Perhaps an even greater advantage is that errors are prevented. Anyone who has ever worked with SCCM knows how annoying it is when a small mistake has been made. Before you recognize the problem, fix it and get things back on track, it will take you at least an hour. Imagine how much time this will save if you have more than a thousand applications to manage.
- SparkleFlow does not care whether you have single or multiple SCCM servers. For example a test and production environment, or multiple customer environments. Put a checkmark at every environment to roll out and SparkleFlow takes care of the rest.
- Track&Trace. Actions are managed in SparkleFlow, so it’s always clear who, when, and what action has been taken. All actions are therefore traceable. Always useful when questions arise. In addition, the entire workflow regarding making applications available can be made conditional. Tasks are then only performed when applications have been tested and completed. This can prevent, for example, packages being rolled out that have not yet been approved.
- Keep it mean and clean. Because applications can be rolled out or not, depending on their status, it is also very easy to keep the SCCM environment clean by automatically removing entries when they are no longer needed. This means that only current applications are kept in SCCM and all legacy will be cleaned up neatly. This puts an end to unmanaged packages.
- Easier handover of activities and shorter training time. Because all SCCM actions with regard to application distribution are automated and secured, everyone can manage this very easily. Nobody needs to be trained when hiring application packagers, application availability managers, or new employees. They can get started right away without having to have any knowledge of SCCM. Not only easier but also more fun for everyone.
In addition to managing the application packages, SparkleFlow can also perform version management for Task Sequences in SCCM. An additional advantage is that both the image process and the packaging process can be linked together. This allows you to prepare packages for an image so you can see which packages are in each image. In addition, information about customized packages and images can be shared via the Dashboard with colleagues who need it. This includes status information related to an image, a detail page with the content of an image, or an overview per image with status information. It is also possible to view the order of the Task Sequence in SCCM (and in particular the how and why). In addition, the relationship of the image with policies and workspace management can be found.
GET ACTIVE WITH ACTIVE DIRECTORY
With regard to application packaging, Active Directory (AD) is usually used for creating application groups. By adding users to such a group, you can instruct other systems (distribution and workspace management) to make the application available by installing it or offering it virtually. In addition, any necessary rights and policies are also set, so that the user can use the applications they need in their daily work without hassle. SparkleFlow can communicate with AD to simplify management, but also to collect valuable information. Lees meer
FASTER AND ERROR-FREE
The first bonus is already achieved when creating a new application entry in SparkleFlow. Because SparkleFlow has a flexible and freely configurable naming convention, application groups can be generated automatically. This is even possible for multiple environments. Because everything is filled in automatically, the chance of errors is zero. In addition, AD is automatically cleaned up afterward.
COMBINING INFORMATION, A REAL TIMESAVER
Because SparkleFlow can read information from AD and combine it with information and functions in SparkleFlow, a number of advantages arise:
- Application usage versus available licenses. SparkleFlow’s open data model allows for the storage of license information. By monitoring the number of users per application group, SparkleFlow can issue a warning if too many users are linked to an application. If desired, this method can even be expanded with information about the actual use of the applications by deploying an agent.
- Migration readiness for departments and users. Because SparkleFlow can request the number of users per application group in AD, it is possible to display information on a Dashboard about the status of a user or group. SparkleFlow knows exactly which applications belong to the user or group and also knows what status these applications have. This makes it very clear when the user and/or group are ready to be migrated. This is a huge timesaver during migrations because all information is automatically obtained.
- Retrieve contact information. Administrators generally don’t like to document everything. They prefer to just work with technology because they have not become techies for anything. To make it a bit easier, SparkleFlow can retrieve the contact information of employees from AD. If contact persons have to be linked to applications, such as a functional manager or the contact information of the supplier, the administrator only needs to select the name from a list. SparkleFlow will then automatically fill in all relevant fields.
TOPDESK, DO MORE IN LESS TIME
TopDesk is one of the best-known service desk systems in the Netherlands. For this reason, customers choose TopDesk as their central source of information and the statement: “TopDesk is leading” is inextricably linked to this. However, filling such a complex system often proves to be a challenge. For example, we regularly see that not all modules in Topdesk receive the same amount of attention resulting in information gaps. From our perspective, this is often in the provision of information about software applications. A system that is incomplete has little added value, which is a waste of investment. Lees meer
TWO KNOW MORE THAN ONE
SparkleFlow comes to the rescue. SparkleFlow can exchange all data with TopDesk (or other ITSM systems) so that the information in both systems is synchronized. An additional advantage is that each piece of information only needs to be entered once. And it doesn’t even matter in which system the origin of the information takes place, SparkleFlow automatically takes this into account. This integration has, among other things, two very important advantages:
- Synchronizing requests and/or tasks. Since TopDesk is often leading, application requests must be arranged via TopDesk. However, SparkleFlow is much better at managing the applications, so that’s where the entire application packaging process is housed. However, it could become annoying if the administration in both systems had to be kept side by side. That is (fortunately) not necessary. In fact, it is actually made very simple. If an application is approved in TopDesk, an entry is automatically created in SparkleFlow. The application packagers do not have to look in TopDesk, and no emails need to be sent. All steps in SparkleFlow are then automatically linked back to the request in TopDesk, so the requestor can perfectly see the status of the request in TopDesk. A kind of track & trace, so to speak. All this without anyone having to search for the information in a second system.
- The second advantage arises when the application package is ready. SparkleFlow can ensure that the CMDB is automatically updated by creating a software card. In this way, the current status of all applications can be requested at all times in the TopDesk CMDB. When applications are End-of-Live in SparkleFlow, the CMDB can be updated, so that the information is always up to date or removed. All this without even one extra action from the technician. If that doesn’t make you happy!
SNOW SOFTWARE (SNOW) INTEGRATION
SNOW software is a solution with a focus on managing software licenses (Software Asset Management or SAM). For this, they have developed a number of ingenious tools such as the Software Recognition Service and a database with extensive (license) information for a huge number of applications. This allows them to automatically scan the network for applications, inventory them and then create reports. This saves a lot of work, but it is never perfect (that is almost impossible anyway). SNOW cannot answer is the question of whether applications are managed or not and SNOW does not recognize homemade or very rare software. In some cases, this concerns almost half of the managed software inventory. Lees meer
SPARKLEFLOW COMES TO THE RESCUE
The above sounds worse than it is. There is no system that can solve all problems without help. Our experience shows that the employees who work with SNOW do not have time for this, but perhaps more importantly, do not have sufficient knowledge of all applications. This information is managed by the technical application administrators, and you guessed it, they work with SparkleFlow. SparkleFlow can automatically provide SNOW with missing information about applications. In addition, SparkleFlow knows everything about the executables which SNOW does not recognize. This allows SNOW reports to be richer and better without manual labor. Other information can be shared as well, such as licenses, costs, dependencies, categorization, you name it. After thorough preliminary research and a well thought-out design, an interaction between SNOW and SparkleFlow can save a lot of manual labor and significantly increase the value of the reports.
Most large organizations in the Netherlands have a Configuration Management Database (CMDB). A CMDB is a catalog that contains information about the components that make up your IT infrastructure. These components are called configurable items (CI). According to ITIL, a CI is a business asset that must be managed in order to provide IT services. A CMDB can help with, among other things, cost savings through more efficient use of hardware and software assets. Many organizations have the CMDB as a component in their service desk system or also referred to as ITSM solution. However, it also happens that the CMDB is a stand-alone system within the IT environment. Lees meer
The value of a CMDB is determined by the quality of the information it contains. If this information is incomplete and/or not up-to-date, the reports will not be complete or correct. In the worst-case scenario, the reports are unusable. The usefulness and necessity are often recognized, but the consequences of having a CMDB are often underestimated. The CMDB must be filled and updated. A number of challenges arise here:
- Gathering information from other sources can become complex and costly. Depending on the system, this can be largely automated. Whether the results are usable will have to be tested and missing or incorrect information will have to be corrected. These are time-consuming and uninspiring tasks.
- Organizations are becoming increasingly dynamic. Because organizations grow, merge, move to the Cloud, migrate and/or reorganize, the CMDB will have to change along with those changes. This is often forgotten or it turns out to be a (too) great challenge.
- Collecting data alone is not enough. This data must be interpreted and put in proper perspective to become useful information that can serve as input for decision-making. To make this possible, it is important to safeguard all relevant data in the correct context in the CMDB. Preferably in real-time.
SparkleFlow can provide a solution for keeping the CMDB up-to-date in real-time with regard to software applications. Almost all information about applications is gathered during the application packaging process. However, we regularly see that administrators provide little or no input to the CMDB. They are often just too busy for that. The administrators of the CMDB do not have this information or are not even aware of the existence of the large numbers of applications. By linking SparkleFlow to the CMDB, all information about the applications is updated in the CMDB in real-time. Both the entry of new applications and the removal of old ones, everything is updated neatly and correctly. You can say that SparkleFlow takes a tedious task off your hands by processing the right information, in the right place and at the right time. An incomplete CMDB (with regard to application information) is therefore a thing of the past.
E-mail is indispensable in these modern times. Despite the many new forms of communication (think of WhatsApp, Twitter, online video meetings), it is still one of the most used forms of communication. Partly for this reason, SparkleFlow has developed a number of methods to automatically send e-mails. Lees meer
EMAILS FOR COMMUNICATION BETWEEN EMPLOYEES
Any desired workflow can be configured in SparkleFlow. Depending on conditions, automated actions can take place. One of the possibilities is to auto-send an e-mail to a contact person. Consider, for example, notifying a test coordinator when the package is ready to be tested. SparkleFlow knows the e-mail address of the test coordinator and will send an e-mail at the right time with a standard message supplemented with specific information. This is just an example. In principle, SparkleFlow can send an email to anyone inside or outside the organization at any point in the process. For example to the power-user, a test-user, a migration manager, or a supplier. The possibilities are endless.
EMAILS FOR COMMUNICATION BETWEEN SYSTEMS
In addition to sending emails to individuals, SparkleFlow can also send emails to other systems. Any response from such a system can then be interpreted and processed. A good example of this is a link with a service desk system that is not within the same domain. SparkleFlow can automatically send emails to the other system at certain steps in the process. Consider, for example, status updates. The other system may in turn return emails to the SparkleFlow mailbox at certain events. SparkleFlow can interpret these emails and take the desired action. The format of these emails, like all other ways of communicating with SparkleFlow, is irrelevant, as long as the structure is consistent. In this way, SparkleFlow always adapts to the other system, so that a workable connection is always possible.
Powershell is a task automation and configuration management platform, which consists of a command-line shell and scripting language. Unlike most scripting languages, which accept and return text, Powershell is based on the .NET (CLR) and accepts and returns .NET objects. This fundamental change brings completely new tools and methods to automation. We see that Powershell is increasingly an indispensable tool for IT departments. It is therefore good to know that SparkleFlow can very easily integrate with the various scripts that are already in use at an organization so that investments made (especially energy and time) are not wasted. An additional advantage is that the scripts can easily be adjusted in case of desired changes. Lees meer
SparkleFlow works with actions. This can be, for example, clicking a step in the process, ticking off an action in the process, but also if a certain condition becomes true, such as an automatic trigger that becomes active when a predetermined value is reached. At such a moment you can activate a series of actions. These can be internal functions in SparkleFlow but also calling external functions such as a Powershell script. All data fields defined in SparkleFlow can then be passed as arguments to the script. Because the SparkleFlow data model is completely open, all necessary arguments can always be created in the data model. Where possible, SparkleFlow will automatically edit these values or get them from other systems, so that the number of manual actions can be minimized.
The possibilities of the integration between SparkleFlow and Powershell are endless. Below we will list a number of examples:
- Creating an application or package in SCCM.
- Removing an application or package in SCCM.
- Creating application groups in Active Directory.
- Removing application groups in Active Directory.
- Preparing a test environment for testing an application package.
- Installing a package in a test environment.
- Moving files in SparkleFlow, for example to a central distribution point.
- Automatically creating a new entry in SparkleFlow.
- Managing an API.
- Exchanging information with a database.
These are just a few examples. Scripts can be started automatically from a central point, but it also ensures that you keep everything together, which improves clarity and manageability.
NVD INTEGRATION (SOFTWARE VULNERABILITIES)
Everyone in IT now knows that vulnerabilities in software can be exploited by malicious parties with all the consequences that entail. Fortunately, software developers are working hard behind the scenes to fix any vulnerabilities as quickly as possible through software updates. However, in a large organization with hundreds of different applications, it is a challenge to keep up to date with all vulnerabilities. However, there are tools for this, such as the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), but you still have to go through the new list of updates every week to see if there are updates for the applications that are relevant to your organization. In addition, there are also commercial solutions that can do it more or less automatically for you with varying degrees of success, but the costs for such solutions are considerable. Lees meer
THE MIDDLE ROAD
If you are already working with SparkleFlow, there is a simple and cost-efficient way to automatically compare the NVD database with the applications in SparkleFlow and get a daily report on any vulnerabilities in the software present. This works as follows:
- SparkleFlow gets the catalog of all application names from the NVD (CPE’s).
- The application names may or may not be automatically matched with the applications to be created in SparkleFlow.
- The latest state of affairs can then be downloaded daily in the form of CVE’s.
- SparkleFlow can then check whether a CVE has been issued for the managed applications and possibly only show those vulnerabilities that exceed a certain threshold.
The above scenario will never reveal all risks, but it is always better than just ignoring this problem. This is an open system that is maintained voluntarily from a multitude of sources of varying quality. A commercial software developer, who seriously invests in this, certainly has more quality to offer. However, that quality comes at a considerable price, which may well constitute a high barrier. However, doing nothing at all is not an option and if you have already opted for SparkleFlow, then this integration is actually a no-brainer.
Large organizations generally consist of many roles, departments, and layers. Each with its own processes, information flows, and support systems, which help in carrying out the daily tasks. This usually works fine because the needs are clear and given sufficient attention. However, it becomes more difficult when insight has to be gained about information and processes that cross departments. For a correct insight for decision-making, information and processes must be combined to arrive at a total picture. Lees meer
SparkleFlow has been developed with the aim of collecting all relevant information about software applications and exchanging it with other systems. Consider, for example, distribution systems, workspace management systems, service desk (ITSM) systems, software asset management systems, configuration management databases, Active Directory, etc. This makes it possible to collect data, combine it into useful information, and put it into perspective. This information can then be displayed on various dashboards. SparkleFlow has its own dashboard platform with a number of standard dashboards, or dashboards can be tailor-made to fulfill any information requirement. However, it is also possible to submit a dataset from SparkleFlow to a reporting tool of your choice, such as Power BI, Crystal reports, or Tableau.
CROSS DEPARTMENT INSIGHT
Because we now have access to all relevant information, it is possible to generate interesting and applicable reports, without the need for additional research. The number of possibilities is almost inexhaustible, but to give an impression, I will mention a number of examples below:
- Migration readiness. It can be seen per user whether all applications that this user needs, have been tested and are in production. If desired, this can also be done per department.
- License compliance. By combining information from Active Directory, SCCM, Software Asset Management, Usage Agent, and SparkleFlow, it is possible to trace flawlessly whether there are sufficient licenses and whether the number of licenses is not exceeded anywhere. In addition, it will be possible to reduce any excess licenses.
- Project status. At any time, it is immediately clear how the application packaging project is doing. All KPIs can be displayed in various ways.
- Resource planning. SparkleFlow knows exactly how much work needs to be done and can determine, based on averages, how many resources are needed to complete the work within a specified period.
- Vulnerability alerts. By combining information about vulnerabilities with the applications in SparkleFlow, it can be indicated in real-time where the greatest risks lie and a solution direction can also be indicated.
- Monitoring SLA. With internal or external customers it will be possible to monitor the agreements made so that it is possible to make immediate adjustments. Think of lead times, costs charged, or other measurable parameters.
- Application dependencies. All application dependencies can be made visible in various ways. With a proposed change, it is easy to determine which applications could be affected, so that proactive action can be taken instead of clearing up the mess afterward. This also applies to VDI-images. SparkleFlow can indicate which packages are in which images so that it is clear whether old packages are still in use somewhere unnoticed.
- View costs management applications. Since SparkleFlow automatically monitors the entire process, it is possible to integrate cost calculations, making it very easy to indicate where the largest cost items are.
SERVICE NOW INTEGRATION
Service Now is an IT management system that is gaining popularity and we therefore regularly encounter it. It is a well-thought-out system that has a lot of functionality. However, setting up and maintaining such a complex system often proves to be a challenge. For example, we regularly see that not all areas receive the same amount of attention, as a result of which the system shows gaps in the information provisioning with regard to software applications. A system that is incomplete has little added value, which is a waste of investment. Lees meer
TWO KNOW MORE THAN ONE
SparkleFlow comes to the rescue, as SparkleFlow integrates perfectly with Service Now, synchronizing information across both systems. An additional advantage is that each piece of information only needs to be entered once. And it doesn’t even matter in which system the origin of the information takes place, SparkleFlow automatically takes this into account. This integration has, among other things, two very important advantages:
- Synchronizing requests and/or tasks. The request for a new application is often made via Service Now. However, SparkleFlow is much better suited for managing software applications that include the following topics such as process, documentation, administration, and management. However, it could become annoying if the administration had to be kept in both systems separately. That is (fortunately) not necessary. In fact, it is actually made very simple. When a request is approved in Service Now, an entry is automatically created in SparkleFlow. The application administrators do not have to look in Service Now and no emails need to be sent. All steps in SparkleFlow are automatically linked back to the request in Service Now, so the requestor can see perfectly the status of the request. A kind of track & trace, so to speak. All this without anyone having to search for the information in a second system.
- Filling the CMDB related to applications. The second advantage arises when the application package is ready. SparkleFlow can ensure that the CMDB in Service Now is automatically updated. In this way, the current status and all relevant information of all applications are available at all times in Service Now. When phasing out applications in SparkleFlow, the CMDB can be updated again, so that the information is always up to date. All this without even one extra action from the technician. If that doesn’t make you happy!