By Bryan Zanoli, Principal Architect, Entisys360

Some may think intelligence and automation sound like “nice to haves”, but are they really necessary? The answer is yes. And their importance is only growing. It comes down to a few realities of the quickly evolving, modern IT landscape.

The Changing End User Landscape

Consider the following:

Challenge: Security Threats. 

First, threats are everywhere. Attacks are already leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI). Combating these frequent, highly advanced threats and attack schemes will require some technological intelligence of your own. As the attackers increase their usage of AI and Machine Learning (ML), using traditional means of defense will fall short.

Challenge: Accelerated Change.

Next, there’s the rate of change in applications, systems, and entire platforms. How can these changes be handled without incurring overwhelming technical debt? What if failing to adopt such changes at this ever accelerating pace diminishes an organization’s competitive advantage to a point of irrelevance?

Challenge: Increasing Application and Data Sprawl.

If the rate of change within applications is worrisome, the sheer number of applications and data sources is downright confounding. For cloud accessible data sources alone, you have Google Drive, Dropbox, ShareFile, Amazon Cloud Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, ownCloud, and more. It is difficult enough to find the files you need when using one repository. How can we expect users to keep track of their file storage and usage if the organization is forced to leverage multiple file services?

The list goes on, but the reasons outlined above should elicit cause to investigate the benefits of automation and intelligence. Of course, the savvy reader will realize that automation and intelligence rarely, if ever, stand apart. Leveraging automation without some sort of intelligence brings chaos. Intelligence without automated responses and actions handicaps IT potential. We should be building automation and intelligence, together, into our Digital Workspace to improve security, manageability, and the user experience.

Automated Lifecycle Management

Today, most Workspace Platforms, including the two most well-known — Citrix Workspace and VMware Workspace ONE — are focusing heavily on API integration, both within their own platforms and when integrating with third-party systems. Once all actions and configurations are API driven, automation capabilities will be limited only by our ability to imagine new routines and sequences. For example, we could store an entire Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops deployment or any of its component builds as code. This code could then be used to quickly deploy entire test environments when an upgrade is released. As a result, “from scratch” platform deployments would take minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks.

Let’s continue on the automated update theme around image management and delivery. Imagine a future where a virtual machine has been provisioned and is waiting for updates to be delivered from IT’s standard image management tool, whether it is SCCM, Chef, etc. Once the upgrade takes place, the automation system detects this change (or uses a schedule). It then performs a series of steps necessary to update and ultimately deliver that VM as a new set of published applications or virtual desktops to test users. These users are automatically notified and login to test the updated environment. Their logins are also recorded offering a sort of auditing trail that testing is under way. Once our users finish testing, the approval workflow could allow for a validation response. If successful, the system would automatically deploy and provision the updated published applications or virtual desktops into production.

This may sound risky. Yet, with enough validation steps in place (and maybe one manual validation for those who may be uneasy) we’ve got ourselves a much more simplified and even more robust image update, testing, and rollout process.

Intelligence Driven User Adoption

Now, what about SaaS and Mobile applications? We already have an easy automation story here with self-service enrollment to specific applications and services. Just as users can download apps on their personal devices, a corporate catalog enables users to access the business/organizational applications their work requires. This story and vision are great, but reality often proves to be something else.

The fact is, individual application adoption in Digital Workspace solutions can be very low. Users aren’t in the habit of scouring a corporate “app catalog” to locate applications. Instead, they want the right applications, easily accessible when and on the device where they need them most.

This is where intelligence can make a difference. By sensing low adoption for a newly deployed application, an intelligent Workspace will suggest the new application to the right users, preventing excessive, noisy notifications. Further integration with service management systems (ITSM), will also aggregate detection of issues and poor performance into the overall analysis.  This will lead to quicker recognition of impact on adoption of the application.

Whether notifying users of a new app, or identifying issues in an existing app, these intelligent Workspace solutions will reduce your obstacles to app adoption and drive up user experience.

Bringing the Right Workflows to the User

Noise. This is a huge problem for users, and it’s only going to get worse. Keeping everything organized through legacy “build and structure” approaches are no longer going to work. A good example of this is what’s happening with Microsoft’s own SharePoint and Teams integration. On the surface, it looks like an excellent solution, and for the most part it does a good job. However, after creating several dozen Teams, finding what you need by simply navigating a standard tree/leaf structure is nearly impossible. Now imagine this multiplied by hundreds of apps and dozens of data stores.

The Workspace of the future is going to resolve this by automatically moving important items to the surface, and handling much of the prioritization for the user. We are already beginning to see this with analytics in Microsoft Outlook, but VMware and Citrix are both bringing similar intelligence to their platforms and expanding upon it even further.

With additional workflow automation, it will be likely that users will no longer have to dig through complex and unnecessary application menus to accomplish their daily work. Although this may only appear to shave seconds off a minute, it will be seconds that add up and allow users to keep their task work streamlined. This is huge for task workers who need to minimize time spent on each step, or knowledge workers who want to reduce friction when performing chore-like tasks. Workflow automation and intelligence has the potential to be a major user adoption driver.

Securing the Workspace with Intelligence and Automation

Security is where intelligence and automation will likely offer the greatest impact to the digital workspace. You might even say I’m saving the most important topic for last.

In the Entisys360 End User Computing practice, we have frequently focused on security for application and desktop delivery due to the nature of virtualized apps and VDI. Most obviously, security is relevant because we want to secure the various tools and designs leveraged for any end user supporting infrastructure. But, a properly designed virtualized app and desktop delivery environment can already provide greater security on its own merit. These legacy approaches improve upon what’s offered through standard VPN connections by limiting the transfer in or out of infected files or sensitive data, respectively.

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, modern security attacks are becoming increasingly intelligent and sophisticated. It would be unwise to think future attacks aren’t only going to become ever more cunning and ruthless in their nature. If malware and malicious attackers can leverage increasingly intelligent AI to boost their attacks, we must find a way to boost our defense.

Of course, the ideal amount of security measures and efforts may vary from organization to organization, but all seek a minimized impact on the end user with a maximization of overall security posture. After all, we could simply lock down access to systems and data by unplugging the power. What we do need are methods that are intelligent enough to recognize the false positives and clever enough to see through the false negatives.

The new Approach to Security

The Digital Workspace will be the path through which all users complete their work. This is where they will interact with company systems and data, which makes the Digital Workspace the ideal place to introduce intelligence and automation to boost security (while minimizing user impact). How will we do it? Here are the four key concepts we’ll see improved and integrated this year:

  1. User and application behavior analytics through improved aggregation of app, device, network and system usage
  2. Introduction of AI and ML to recognize, prevent, and remediate advanced threats
  3. Automated quarantine of infected devices and systems
  4. Contextual access limiting users to the right resources based on dynamic conditions

Conclusion

If you made it here, you deserve a medal for surviving the long read. I’ll keep this wrap up short. We have already started conversations around bringing automation, intelligence, or more “DevOps” like concepts with our customers. Let’s drive up efficiency, reduce the impact of threats, and bring user experience to another level.

As 2019 progresses, you can bet that we’ll be recommending, designing, and implementing far more solutions that leverage automation and intelligence.