The most common reason for purchasing SparkleFlow is “a lack of overview”.
Strangely enough, this scenario occurs every day in many organizations. Administrators try to create an overview by keeping a multitude of Excel sheets. In addition, there are various folders with packages, documents, scripts, and other related files. And this only applies to the technical side of application management. There is more to application management like a CMDB, an ITSM system (for example Service Now), Active Directory, a distribution server (for example SCCM), contract management (often for purchasing), and sometimes even a SAM system (software Asset Management). If you read the summary, you may get the impression that people are on top of this and that every insight is available at the touch of a button. Guess again. There are several reasons for this and I will describe them point by point in the “disaster list of application management” below:
- There is no unambiguous method for requesting updates or new applications. This usually goes without planning, registration, or process. As soon as multiple applications are handled simultaneously in this ad-hoc manner (by multiple administrators), the overview is quickly lost.
- Not everyone knows when and where to keep records. Because there are multiple systems and documents that are located in different locations, administration and documentation quickly become a tedious task. Especially in busy times administration and documentation are skipped. Already after a few months, the backlog is impossible to catch up.
- Administrators hate to write documents (with some exceptions). Or there is only limited documentation, and in the worst-case, there is no documentation at all.
- Several systems must be updated separately with the same information. This leads to duplication of work and a high risk of inconsistency. In addition to the Excel sheets and documents, we also see that the CMDB and Service Now also need to be updated. In this way administering is more work than the packaging of the application itself.
- No automation with regard to the management of applications. All actions and/or administration are repetitive and redundant. This explains long lead times for making applications available.
In my opinion, it is not determined 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 organization?”. I rarely get a conclusive answer. Is it the end-user who requested the software? Their manager? The administrators who package the applications and keep them available? 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 past 15 years, we have learned how we can ensure that information about applications is available at all times, without the need for redundant tasks or without anyone in the organization having to change the way they work. I will explain below how we achieve this:
- First, SparkleFlow sets up a central system 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.
- The data model in SparkleFlow is set up according to the needs of the customer so that every bit of information that needs to be secured can be secured. This includes software dependencies, contacts, version management, status information, security information, license information, and so on.
- Everything that can be automated is automated. These actions are executed by the workflow system at exactly the right moment. Things like creating installation manuals, test instructions, creating Active Directory groups, adding packages in SCCM, updating Service Now, 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 up to date so the reports are accurate and complete.
- The Dashboards are the last in line. There are standard Dashboards, but they can also be customized so that they can show all the desired insights in real-time.
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. And given the fact that we have built SparkleFlow in-house from the ground up, we can add features if needed so we can always provide the functionality needed for your specific environment.
Administrators generally don’t like writing documents. That’s 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 time can be saved with updates, new versions, and migrations. SparkleFlow lends a hand with the following features:
- You can include multiple documents in the form of templates in SparkleFlow. This way you can easily manage your documents. This includes an installation manual, an intake document, a package document, a test instruction, and test results. These templates are always available.
- The templates can be filled automatically, such as the installation document, among other things. With the AutoManual App, you can make screen prints during an installation which will be automatically added to a document.
- SparkleFlow can copy information from documents to the 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 can’t make documenting more fun, but we can make it a lot easier.
Too many (Excel) sheets?
We regularly see a multitude of Excel sheets in organizations without a system for managing applications and packages. Excel is a great tool for this (we also use it regularly). However, it is no longer very useful for managing large lists of hundreds of applications with dozens of columns. When this list is not updated every time, the list no longer corresponds to reality. Where things go completely wrong, however, is when an administrator copies parts of this list to other Excel sheets in order to make a “list” of it for a certain report. 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 from were correct in the first place. Far from ideal. SparkleFlow puts an end to this chaos. 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 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 is a different story. 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 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.
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 ITSM system, so that helpdesk employees can directly find answers to an application or package-related question from users.
Done with redundant tasks?
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 Servicedesk, project management, change management, and so on. Since there is often no central system to centrally safeguard all information, the administration is generally pragmatic. This is done with 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 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. The technical application engineer is asked to maintain one or more other systems in addition to his own administration. This often falls short due to the 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. This is very annoying, but the biggest killer is the fact that duplicating these systems is also very demotivating.
Fortunately, there is also another way. SparkleFlow solves the aforementioned problems by automatically exchanging information with other systems. Think of Helpdesk systems (ITSM), Software Asset Management systems (SAM), CMDBs, Active Directory, distribution systems (for example SCCM), and so on. This communication can be bi-directional. In addition, SparkleFlow can also help by automating various administration operations. For example, you can read and write Word and Excel documents. With SparkleFlow, redundant 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 information with regard to the applications 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 a direct problem. However, if you look at how often this occurs and how much time is involved on an annual basis, you will get an idea of the costs involved with this inefficiency. This problem arises because information about applications is maintained by multiple departments and in multiple systems. Correction, “should be maintained”. Because it is often unclear who is actually responsible for the applications, no department feels called upon to fully take on this responsibility. When IT management begins to realize that things need to be improved, it is often too late and the chaos is so widespread that solving this will cost (too) much time and money.
There is no system that just solves the above problem itself. 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 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 synchronizing information between systems and by simplifying and automating the number of administrative actions, every bit of information is secured automatically 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 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. 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 licenses, 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 administration 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 is great news, but it still isn’t enough to tackle all problems, because the most important issue 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 applications. This not only concerns application administrators and the helpdesk, but also the complete application lifecycle 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.
SparkleFlow helps by collecting and structuring information about applications and licenses. By linking SparkleFlow with the other 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.
Inefficiency through lack of standardization?
A frequently heard problem in organizations without workflow tooling for application packaging is inefficiency through lack of standardization. The employees involved have their own vision of the work in progress. This results in a chaotic folder structure with source files, project files, documents, and packages. All 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 and keeps records about it, additional tooling is not necessary. However, if there is a whole team of packagers and hundreds of applications 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 automated, and it automatically ensures that everyone follows the same process. Status progress is automatically secured and resource planning is simplified. Handing over work to a colleague is nothing more than assigning a task. All status information, documentation, progress, etc. is automatically transferred. All can be found at standardized locations within the tool.