Most organizations have IT hardware and software lurking in their estate that no one knows about. For most everyday IT operations, that’s perfectly okay. But when those same organizations make a significant change — for example, consolidating a data center, moving to the cloud, or preparing for a digital transformation — this kind of ignorance isn’t bliss. In fact, it’s a serious problem.
This problem is also widespread. Tanium recently surveyed 750 IT decision-makers around the world, and we found that nearly all (94 percent) have discovered endpoints they previously didn’t know existed. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) also said their teams discover new endpoints every single week.
I call this process “technology archeology.” Just as archaeologists dig through rocks and sand to find hidden treasures from the ancient past, today’s IT leaders engaged in digital transformation need to excavate their technology strata and discover what their IT foundation is built on.
Digital transformation projects require IT leaders to have visibility and control over all of their assets, not just some of them. As our survey shows, right now, that’s not the case.
One reason why visibility is so important: seemingly unrelated IT assets may share essential dependencies. For example, one of our clients had thousands of spreadsheets extracting data from an old SQL server. No one knew the extent of these dependencies until that old server got an upgrade. When that happened, the users of these spreadsheets could no longer draw data, and they flooded the IT department with support tickets.
The problem has also been exacerbated by the events of the past year. Many people who worked in an office in 2019 are now working remotely. Managing this highly distributed workforce requires even more visibility into issues around managing and securing endpoint devices.
Another reason why visibility into the IT estate is so important is that, contrary to common belief, digital transformation is not a once-and-done project with a fixed completion date. Instead, digital transformation is a continuous process, one that involves phasing out older systems no longer able to keep pace with current business challenges and replacing them with newer systems that can.
This kind of continuous transformation can be difficult to manage. Most large organizations have, over time, built complex layers of IT systems. The mix might include older on-premises hardware, cloud-hosted storage, SaaS capabilities, cloud-native systems, and more. What’s more, the requirements of monitoring, managing, and securing this complex IT mix can easily exceed the capabilities of legacy on-premises tools.
Another downside of IT complexity is known as technical debt. This term covers the challenges that build up from short-term or suboptimal technology decisions. Build up too much technical debt, and your digital transformation efforts may be doomed.
Security is yet another victim of hidden IT. Tanium’s survey of IT decision-makers found that more than half (53 percent) believe a lack of visibility into their network could leave them vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Key questions to ask for insight into technology assets
It’s clear from the above that organizations need an endpoint management and security platform that gives them complete insight into their technology assets. These assets must include laptops, servers, virtual machines, containers and cloud infrastructures.
Organizations also need the ability to control these systems. Having this level of visibility and control will give IT leaders the insights they need to keep their digital transformations rolling smoothly.
Here are just some of the important questions that a thorough investigation of your technology archeology should be able to answer:
- Among our older systems, which can be removed entirely and be replaced? And which should be kept running, maybe even augmented?
- Which of our technology assets have fallen off the radar? Are some not even included in our change-management database (CMDB)?
- Do we fully understand our system dependencies? If we want to upgrade a system or shift it to the cloud, do we know the impact that move would have on other systems and their users?
- Do we own technology that’s no longer supported by either the vendor or our own IT team? If so, is this technology still fulfilling an important function, or can it be retired?
- How do we move to the cloud in sensible phases that account for mutual dependencies among systems?
It comes down to visibility and control
The good news is, endpoint management and security can help. It provides IT leaders with both the visibility and control they need across today’s complicated technology environments.
Endpoint management can help IT managers know and understand their IT assets. That includes assets that may have fallen through the cracks, assets gained during a merger or acquisition, and assets acquired by non-IT staff in so-called “shadow IT” purchases. This information is vital, as you can’t manage or secure IT assets you don’t know about.
Endpoint management can then help you map your system dependencies. Which systems talk to one another? Which draw off a common database? And which share traffic among common endpoints?
Once IT leaders have this kind of information, they can dig in for more details. Which software is installed, and in which versions? How many webcams do we support? Are any of our systems running malicious code? How many users are logged in to a particular system, and how does that number compare with the recent past?
With endpoint management, IT leaders no longer need to conduct time-consuming and resource-depleting surveys. Instead, they can get answers to these kinds of questions by querying the devices themselves.
By being able to conduct your technology archeology so quickly and easily, you can speed along any digital transformation initiative and ensure your digital house is in order.
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