Auvik and Cherwell recently co-hosted an information-packed webinar to answer some important network integration questions facing network managers: How do we get ahead of our workload and how do we know where to start?

Let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the webinar (you can watch here) on how to move from a proactive to a reactive network operation model, how network integration solutions can help put out fires faster, and when to incorporate tools to automate processes.

Auvik recently posted the results of our 2021 Network Field Report. In it, we see some sobering statistics based on feedback from surveys around the daily tasks faced by IT pros:

  • 52% of an IT pro’s time is spent on projects they hate or simply tolerate.
  • When asked why they can’t get to projects they’d enjoy doing (i.e., those on their wish list), 45% said “not enough time” is the reason.

Another statistic from the report reveals that 48% of our working hours are spent being reactive — that is, we spend nearly half of our day dealing with problems as they come up. We have no ability to get ahead of the to-do list, and no way to set up a routine that’s preventative. And we hate it.

Why are we stuck?

One of the reasons we’re stuck in a reactive mode of business is because of the overall low maturity of our processes. If we look at the Pink Elephant Maturity Scale as presented by Cherwell (below), most organizations hover around Level Two of the five-level scale, meaning processes are assigned to one or more people, and defined by the project, but not yet at the organizational level, and processes aren’t yet automated. Seventy percent of IT budgets are still dedicated to operations instead of innovating the business. We’re stuck constantly dealing with high-effort tasks that deliver low value.

Getting over that hump will require getting past this second stage, to a place where our processes become more integrated across the entire organization. As we increase the maturity of our processes, we become more proactive.

So, how do we get proactive and finally make more time for the projects we do like to work on? Three steps: documenting, integrating, and automating.

Documenting

Have you ever tried to resolve a network issue without actually knowing how the network is configured? Diagnose remote users’ issues when they have no information? How much time have you spent looking for device passwords in a dozen old files? Or restoring the configuration of a network device that had to be reset?

Without documented processes on how to resolve issues like these, the solutions are only valuable to the person whose head they live in. That’s to say, not very valuable to anyone else in the company. For understanding to become knowledge transfer, we need to document it. For example, the issues above could be negated or rapidly resolved if everyone had access to documentation that explains:

  • What’s connected to the network
  • How it’s connected
  • How it’s configured

Documentation is critical to becoming proactive in network management. With it, you can:

  • Spot issues before they happen (and know what to look for)
  • Be proactive in upkeep and upgrades
  • Solve issues faster and more easily when being reactive is required

Integrating

With network integration, you’ll be able to realize efficiencies across the board. Specifically, if you integrate network management and monitoring platforms with your ITSM solutions, you begin to take real steps towards a more proactive workflow.

  1. Proactive monitoring

    Shorten the incident lifecycle and identify outages faster. You’re able to target the root cause of issues faster. You’ll get ahead of potential downtime by being able to identify early indicators of network problems, which in turn allows you to prevent future outages.

  2. Automatic Updates

    Being able to get device inventories to automatically populate within your CMDB actually carries two benefits: You save heaps of time over manually entering the data, and when you’re forced into a reactive situation, the information is already at hand to resolve the issue quickly.

  3. Automatic Updates

    Like an extra set of unblinking eyes, your ITSM platform can provide you with alerts the moment an issue is detected. You can then drive actionable intelligence to the right admins within your organization fast.

Automating

No one wakes up one day to a fully automated network. Instead, you get to network automation through a staged process that can span weeks, months, and even years.

The trick? First: Just get started.
How? Start small: think documentation!.

Network inventories? Topology maps? Password rotations? All of these are examples of network functions that can be automated.

Once that’s accomplished, you can look to more complicated network automation, like provisioning servers, rolling out software updates, and pushing new firewall rules.

Don’t let a complicated end-state stop you from starting small and automating simple manual tasks today.

Assessing your organization

Here are some steps to help you get a better understanding of how to begin charting a path towards a more proactive, integrated network environment, and how to get started down the path to automation.

  1. Identify the most common tickets coming in, such as applications that consistently need to be restarted. For each of these ticket categories, is there a documented process?
  2. For those processes that aren’t documented, are you able to develop one?
  3. Ensure all your process documents are well developed, in that they’re repeatable. This makes it easy for different team members to pick up the process and resolve issues efficiently.
  4. As processes are developed, ask yourself, could this be automated? Is there something off the shelf or easy to deploy to automate this function for a quick win?
  5. For processes that can’t be automated, can they be optimized? Can the number of steps or dependencies be reduced?
  6. Don’t forget to document results, both negative and positive. Track changes to your processes and the outcomes they result in. This will help identify processes that are sub-optimal if the results are negative, and more importantly, it will also help you justify future investments in automation.

So if you’re asking yourself, what’s the one thing that I can do right now to get a better handle on my time and start to mature my network integration processes? I’d say start with this—identify your most frequent tasks, document a process around them, and look for opportunities to automate all or part of that process. Free up your time and get back to the IT projects that you enjoy doing, and deliver real value to your business.

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Appendix: The Maturity Scale — network integration by the numbers

Organizations measure the maturity of service management processes on a 5-point scale that was modeled after the Capability Maturity Model developed at Carnegie Mellon. Organizations may have some processes that are highly mature and others that are not yet well-developed or implemented. This scale should be applied to assess the maturity of individual processes and not the organization’s ITSM maturity as a whole.

So what do these levels look like?

Level 1 – Initial: The initial stage represents the lowest level of process maturity. At this stage, the process is poorly controlled, unpredictable, and reactive.

Level 2 – Managed: At this level, the process has been assigned to someone and it can be implemented in the context of a project, but not yet at the organizational level.

Level 3 – Defined: Processes that reach the third stage of maturity are defined and characterized by the entire organization. They’re implemented proactively and as a matter of routine responsibility, not just in the context of a specific project. The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 can represent the greatest challenge for most organizations.

Level 4 – Quantitatively Managed: Processes in this maturity stage have been effectively implemented at the organizational level and are being operated reliably by process owners and their technical teams. Managers have been able to benchmark the performance of the process and can now use ongoing data collection to monitor the process and find efficiencies. Gartner research suggests that organizations tend to experience diminishing returns when attempting to move beyond Level 3. Investments intended to drive high-level process maturity should therefore be carefully planned, executed, and resourced.

Level 5 – Optimizing: Once a process is quantitatively managed within the organization, the focus shifts away from implementation and toward optimizing the process with a focus on continual service improvement.