No overview in the application landscape?
The most common reason for purchasing SparkleFlow is “a lack of overview”. It sounds familiar to me every time. I can still remember that in the past I was responsible for the technical management of the IT (in the broadest sense of the word) of a healthcare organization. Since I was temporarily hired there in the role of system administrator, the head of I&A decided to outsource part of IT management to an external party. This party would also be responsible for the roll-out of applications. When this party came to me for a list of applications that we were using, I had to look far. “Then we’ll take a look in the software vault,” I said, but on closer inspection there were more empty boxes than filled ones. Documentation about the applications was everywhere and nowhere, or it was completely missing. It was also unclear who was actually responsible for the applications. We then spent weeks trying to clarify the “application landscape”. And to think that there were less than a hundred applications in use. Imagine how the same scenario would play out in an organization with over a thousand applications.
- There is no unambiguous method. Requests for new applications or updates are, as it were, thrown over the fence. This is then picked up and handled by someone. This usually goes without a planning, registration or process. As soon as multiple applications are handled simultaneously in this ad-hoc manner by multiple technical application managers, the overview is understandably quickly lost.
- Not everyone knows when and where to keep records. Because there are multiple systems and documents that are located at different locations, administration and documentation quickly becomes a tedious task. Especially in busy times you always see that administration and documentation are skipped. Once a few months later and the backlog is impossible to catch up.
- Techies hate to document (with some exceptions). I see that in practice time and again. Or there is only limited documentation, or just not at all.
- Several systems must be maintained separately. This leads to duplication and a high risk of inconsistency. In addition to the Excel sheets and documents here and there, I also often see that the CMDB and TopDesk also need to be updated. In this way it seems as if the administration is more work than the packaging of the application. “But I did not choose that” you hear the technician think out loud.
- Nothing is automated with regard to the (technical) management of applications. All actions with regard to technology and / or administration are all (to a large extent) repetitive and often also duplicate work. It is not for nothing that the lead times for making applications available are far too long at many organizations.
In my opinion, the biggest problem arises because it is not clear who is responsible for the application landscape. By this I mean the entire collection of applications that are used by the end users in the organization. I regularly ask the question “who is ultimately responsible for the applications at your place?”. I rarely get a conclusive answer. Is it the end users who requested the software? Their managers? The techies who package the applications and keep them “in the air”? The CIO? Purchase? Who? The above-mentioned roles all do “something” with the applications, but nobody looks beyond that something, while combining all information about applications is the only way to create a complete overview.
In the 15 years that we have been active in the market with SparkleFlow, we have now learned how we can ensure that all information about applications becomes available, without the need for duplication of work or without anyone in the organization having to adjust their working method. I will explain, again point by point, below how that works:
- First, SparkleFlow ensures that a central system is set up for managing and exchanging information about applications. In addition, the process (the working method) of the customer is secured in the SparkleFlow workflow. We always optimize this process by discussing our experiences with the customer. All this from the perspective of technology, because that is where most information is collected and the most time is spent on managing the applications.
- The data model in SparkleFlow is set up according to the needs of the customer, so that everything that needs to be secured can also be secured. This includes, among other things, software dependencies, contacts, version management, status information, security information, license information, and so on.
- Everything that can be automated is automated. These actions are checked and executed by the workflow system at exactly the right moments. Things like creating installation manuals, test instructions, creating Active Directory groups, adding packages in SCCM, updating TopDesk, sending E-mails, and so-on, are all performed flawlessly and quickly.
- SparkleFlow is then linked to all relevant systems (which contain information about the applications), so that information can be exchanged. This can go both ways. This prevents duplication and errors. In addition, it ensures that all relevant systems are supplemented, so that the reports of the relevant systems become more complete.
- When everything is in place, the Dashboards are the last to be worked on, so that they can show all the desired insights in real time. This finally provides the desired insight and every piece of information can be found immediately.
Does this sound too good to be true? Our users don’t think so. We are happy to show you how this works during a presentation. A reference visit to one of our customers is also possible. And given the fact that we have built SparkleFlow in-house from the ground up, we can add features if needed. But to be honest, I don’t think it will go that fast, because we have had most of the requests by now.
Techies generally hate to document. Very understandable, because technology is fun, documentation is boring. Still, documenting information about applications (and packages in particular) is important to be able to work efficiently. It ensures that a lot of time can be saved with updates, new versions and migrations. SparkleFlow lends a hand at this challenge with the following features:
- You can include multiple standard documents in the form of templates in SparkleFlow. This way you can easily manage multiple documents. This includes an installation manual, an intake document, a package document, a test instruction and possibly test results. These templates are always immediately available. You do not have to look for the location of these documents.
- The templates can be filled automatically, such as the installation document, among other things. By means of the AutoManual function you can make screen prints during an installation which can be automatically added to a document, whether or not supplemented with text.
- SparkleFlow can copy information from the documents to SparkleFlow data model, but it can also be done the other way around. A document can be filled with information from the SparkleFlow data model.
We cannot make documentation more fun, but it can be a lot easier.
Too many (Excel) lists?
We regularly see a proliferation of “lists” in organizations that do not have a system for managing applications and packages. These lists are generally made in Excel, because Excel is a great tool for this (we also use it regularly). However, it is no longer very useful for managing large lists (think of hundreds of applications with dozens of columns). Especially not if you have to keep this list up to date with several colleagues. What you soon see is that not everything is adjusted every time, so that the list soon no longer corresponds to reality. Where things go completely wrong, however, is when one copies parts of this list to other Excel sheets in order to make a “list” of it for a certain insight. Consider, for example, a list of available applications per department, or a list of applications that use Java. These lists will take on a life of their own and before you know it it is no longer clear which list is current and whether the source of which these lists are an extract was already correct in the first place. Far from ideal. SparkleFlow puts an end to this chaos of lists. SparkleFlow creates a “Single Source of Truth” by means of a central data model which is fully customized, ie adapted to the needs. This customization ensures that all information (every organization has a number of unique characteristics) can find a place. From this central point, information about applications and packages is exchanged with other systems and / or documents. SparkleFlow can still generate lists on the Dashboard, but these are real-time and are automatically updated. This way you always have the right information at the right time.
Searching takes (too) much time?
Delivering ad-hoc packages is no problem for a small organization. As soon as there is a new request for an application for packaging, one of the technical application managers gets to work and when he is ready he often delivers it to the end user himself by making the application available on the network. However, as soon as you do this with a team, it will go well until it goes wrong. This means that if something does not work as it should, one must look for answers. Who made this package? Which version is this actually? Where is the documentation? Has it been documented? Who is the contact person for this application? Does this application work with a client or middleware? Does it still matter which version of middleware? And so on. This information is often not available or difficult to find in an Ad-Hoc environment and then the clock starts running. In practice, this translates into hours of searching for the answers by various employees. Every time again.
With SparkleFlow you never have to search long. All information in any context is directly retrievable via SparkleFlow itself, or via the Dashboard. And since SparkleFlow is always tailored to the needs of the customer, we can even make your unique, complex and almost impossible to manage environment transparent and well-organized with SparkleFlow. In addition, SparkleFlow can be linked to any helpdesk, so that helpdesk employees can directly find answers to application or package-related questions from users.
Done with double work?
Application management is a process that is spread over multiple departments within a large organization. This includes purchasing, contract management, technical application management, functional application management, the help desk, project management, change management and so on. Since there is often no central system to centrally safeguard all information, administration is generally pragmatic. We often use Word and Excel, but systems such as a service desk system (ITSM) and / or Software Asset Management (SAM) system are also used. Very large organizations often also have a Configuration Management Database (CMDB), which may or may not be linked or integrated with ITSM. Keeping all of these systems up to date is quite a challenge. What we often see is that the technical application manager is asked to maintain one or more other systems in addition to his own administration. This often falls short due to high workload and / or complexity of these systems. Or there are errors in the manual updating of information. This then results in incomplete and incorrect reports, which in principle makes the usefulness of keeping up-to-date meaningless. All very annoying, but the biggest killer is the fact that duplicating these systems is very demotivating.
Fortunately, there is also another way. SparkleFlow solves the aforementioned problems by automatically exchanging information with other systems. Think of hero desk systems (ITSM), Software Asset Management systems (SAM), CMDBs, Active Directory, distribution systems (for example SCCM) and so on. This communication can go both ways. In addition, SparkleFlow can also help by automating various administration operations. For example, you can read from and write to Word and Excel documents. With SparkleFlow, double work is a thing of the past. Making mistakes is also greatly reduced. In addition, SparkleFlow ensures centralized administration for applications, without the departments having to adjust their working methods or enter information twice.
Can’t find information about applications?
In the complex environment of a large organization, we regularly see that finding insights with regard to the application landscape turns out to be very difficult. In extreme cases, information is even untraceable. This includes information about versions, licenses, contacts, dependencies, details, etc. Since this information is not requested on a daily basis, it is not immediately experienced as a problem. However, if you look at how often this occurs and how much time is involved on an annual basis, you will only see the size of this cost item. This problem arises because information about applications is maintained by multiple departments and in multiple systems. Correction, “should be tracked”. Because it is often unclear who is actually ultimately responsible for the applications, no department feels called upon to fully take on this task. When IT management begins to realize that things need to be improved, it is often too late and the chaos is now so great that solving this problem will cost (too) much time and money. “Reaching with the oars we have” is often the strategy.
There is no system that just solves the above problem. It will have to be considered who is actually responsible for which aspects of application management. In addition, a well thought-out process and correct tooling can ensure that information is secured in a timely and correct manner. We have over 15 years of experience in this field and our software has evolved over the same period into the perfect link in the IT management chain. By, among other things, synchronizing information between systems and by simplifying and automating the number of administrative actions, everything is secured automatically and in a structured way. Finding the right information is just minutes of work instead of hours of searching, or worse, you cannot find the information at all. In addition, SparkleFlow is so open and flexible, so that even the most complex environment or the most difficult reporting can be made transparent with ease.
Are the license numbers incorrect?
Managing licenses is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks within IT management. It is an administration that is not part of the primary process, so postponing a day (or a week, month, etc ..) does not have to be an immediate problem. In addition, it is not always clear who is responsible for keeping the license numbers correct. And I mean not only the numbers purchased, but also the numbers in use. So due to a lack of urgency and lack of clarity about responsibility, the management of applications remains floating somewhere within the organization, without anyone feeling called to tackle this problem. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, because in practice many more licenses are used than what has been paid for. Figuring this out can result in a significant unexpected cost, while IT departments are struggling enough to stay within budgets.
In addition, the administration of licenses is difficult, because there are many types of license, each with its own specific properties. Service desk systems (ITSM) or Configuration Management Databases (CMDB) often have fields to keep track of the licenses, but the employees who work with them often have too little understanding of application and license properties. The technical administrators usually know this, but they work with their own lists and do not care about licenses. Now there are several commercial systems that can automatically scan license usage, but great as that promise may sound, they often only tell part of the truth.
SparkleFlow can solve many of the above problems. This deliberately contains a large part of the problems and not all problems, because the most important factor is the structure of IT management. Without a clear responsibility for managing applications, license management will float. A possible solution can be found in the introduction of a new job profile: “the Application Availability Manager”. The Application Availability Manager bridges the gap between the departments involved in managing or making applications available. This not only concerns application administrators and the helpdesk, but also the complete process including license management, application packaging, application distribution, software asset management, license management, and so on. This process is organized differently for each organization, but the main issues are the same.
Where SparkleFlow then helps is the collection and structuring of information about applications and licenses. By linking SparkleFlow with the existing systems, all information about licenses and usage can be collected and put into context. This prevents errors and saves a lot of manual work. This information can then be stored there, where it is needed, such as a CMDB. SparkleFlow also provides real-time reports on the Dashboard.
No unambiguous method?
A frequently heard problem in organizations without workflow tooling for application packaging is a lack of an unambiguous working method. The employees involved have their own vision of the work in progress. This results in a proliferation of folders with source files, project files, documents and packages. All this without a clear naming convention, version management and overview.
Basically the application process is quite simple. The process consists in its simplest form of four phases:
- Intake (collecting all information)
- Packaging (making the package)
- Testing (technical and functional testing of the package)
- Distribution (rolling out the package)
As long as a packager goes through the entire process himself and keeps records about it, additional tooling is not necessary. However, if there is a whole team of packagers and hundreds of applications need to be packaged, tooling is a must to ensure uniformity is enforced. Standardization ensures efficiency and overview.
SparkleFlow is a flexible system with which every conceivable process can be configured. This ensures that SparkleFlow can follow the organization’s working method instead of the other way around. Because all employees involved work with SparkleFlow, many actions are not only automated, but it is also automatically ensured that everyone follows the same process. Status progress is automatically secured and resource planning is simplified. Handing over work to a colleague is no more than assigning one task. All status information, documentation, progress, etc. is automatically transferred. All can be found at standardized locations within the tool.