Football is one of the most hyped sporting events in the country. With the 50th big game coming in the next week, all of the fanfare will be out in full swing. All of the articles, the speculation, the betting, the back stories and dissection of each team and player. I am a huge fan and I take it all in but what I love the most is thinking about how the teams and players prepare for the biggest game of the year. How to manage being the focus of all the attention and distractions and get ready to play in a game they have been preparing for their entire lives.
This is not remarkably different from what IT has to deal with every day, if you have a little imagination. One must constantly deal with all of the distractions, making sure that skill players (AKA execs) are taken care of, ensuring that game plans are ready, not just for this big game or on Sundays but every day. “Bad actors” take the form of “spies” for the football game, and hackers for IT professionals. Everything goes smoothly – players make the catches they are expected to – there are no service outages, and no one notices. Miss a game winning field goal, or find that no one is getting e-mail for an hour in the middle of the day, and the sky falls. Depending on how willing one is to push the analogy, the parallels can go on indefinitely.
Without stretching TOO far, though, it’s possible to examine an effective endpoint management strategy through the lens of preparation for the greatest spectacle in American sports.
Get Ready for the Big Game!
1. Internal Game Planning - Coaches will tell you that one of the first things that teams do to get ready for the big game is prepare a critical self-evaluation. Before they even start looking at the opposing team’s game films or play planning, they do an extensive internal evaluation. You can’t focus on winning until you know what is working and what is not. Kind of like a SWOT analysis so they can see what worked well in the last few playoff games, where to improve and what needs to be corrected.
Similar to endpoint strategy and planning, one needs to have that same level of introspection and analysis. It’s amazing how many IT organizations still say, they don’t know how many devices or applications are connected to the network. That could be a good place to start. Start with focusing on that discovery and understanding your infrastructure. Where are the gaps and holes in your line that need to be adjusted to be ready for game day – which is every day?
2. Be Prepared for Every Situation – We all know that no matter how much you plan, something unexpected will go wrong. We have seen this so many times in football games that huge fumble, bungled snap or blown coverage, resulting in a touchdown at a critical time that totally changes the momentum of the game. Organizations face similar issues in IT. Top coaches focus on situational football where players know what to do, when and where; the two-minute drill, goal line play, short-yardage, backed up near their own goal line, etc. The last thing anyone wants to hear from a player during a game is, `I wasn't expecting that to happen,' or `I was not prepared for that.'
As IT systems become bigger, more complex and more difficult to manage, organizations need to have that same visibility and situational planning. Everyone knows that something will go wrong, but a good IT organization can be proactive and identify the issue quickly and take quick action to solve it. One can never be too prepared for a software audit, and knowing who is using what, and preparing for that, is a terrific place to start.
3. Manage the Process – One of the most successful and prolific college football coaches today, Nick Saban talks a lot about “the process” and getting the details right. Saban’s “Process” is all about focusing on the journey, and not the destination. About doing the right thing the right way all the time. He instructs his players to treat each play as if it was a game, and focus on what is needed to be done during that play to be successful.
If one looks at this process from an endpoint systems management perspective, one might be thinking about automating repetitive processes, such as ensuring there is a fully automated software patch management system, a configuration management tool as well as regularly scheduled compliance reporting. Why not have a BYOD playbook in place that everyone is following?
4. Defense wins Championships – Anyone that follows football has heard this axiom. Although I’m not sure that it is statically true as one needs a balanced approach, no one would argue that defense isn’t a critical aspect to the game. Just ask Tom Brady about the Denver defense in the most recent AFC championship game. Systems management is like defense in football. One can't win without building strong front lines. If one doesn't build a good systems management discipline and strategy then it becomes impossible to win the IT Bowl. Just like football, security is a tough game and not for the faint of heart. There are threats lurking around every corner. One may be blindsided at any moment. It’s important to have defense at all levels of infrastructure to protect against all different types of threats while concentrating on the most important assets –endpoints, data and the network.
It has been estimated that 80% of malicious security attacks could have been prevented with improved patch management. One must ensure that the front line – endpoints, have all the protection they can get.
5. It’s all about the Team – Just as in IT, one’s resources and personnel are key to achieving IT initiatives and goals. Players don’t just show up on game day and start playing. They have had hours or preparation and training so that when game day arrives, it has become second nature for them to understand how to react, adjust and respond to every situation. This goes for IT Administrators as well. It is not enough to prepare with the skills needed but to also have the appropriate policies and procedures in place. And just as each player needs to do their job, they need to also remember that there is a whole team behind them.
Patching endpoints covers one piece of the puzzle. Configuration management solves for another. Compliance reporting provides protection in a different, important way. All of these parts of the systems management whole help put prepared organizations in a position to be successful.
So as the world gets ready to watch the big game this coming Sunday, remember that just like in IT, each play, each yard, each touchdown moves us closer to that win and a foundation for success!
How is your organization preparing for the IT Bowl?