IT Operations Best Practices

The rapid adoption of technology has changed the world in major aspects and the business environment exemplifies this reality in a much more deeper version. From way back in the 80s, experts started appreciating the phenomenal impact of technology on business. This has come to pass. Now, the modern organization can hardly do without technology, and this has intensified the demands placed upon IT teams. The pressure is more than ever before and things can easily get out of hand. This has led to a need for IT Operations to adopt a new way of working. 

Historically, ITOps were responsible for just maintaining the infrastructure, acting as the first responders when problems arose. But now, they are much more than that; no longer siloed to monitoring the network from 'above'. Instead, the modern IT Operations is integrated with product and business teams where they share responsibility with others such as System Admins, Testers and Developers. In other words rather than IT owning production exclusively, it's now a joint effort between Development,  IT and even business teams. This new ecosystem has drastically shifted how ITOps works and this change is unavoidable.  

We've worked in the IT industry for over a decade, and this has enabled us to recognize that organizations which stay updated with the changing times and adjust their IT Operations accordingly enjoy an advantage over those that don't.  

Let's take a look at the key best practices for IT Operations, based on our collective observations throughout the years.

What is IT Operations?

IT Operations is the process of overseeing the information technology (IT) systems of an organization — basically the tasks and activities that keep your technology running smoothly, both internally and externally. Think of a typical modern organization with a couple of departments. One of these departments is IT Operations. The IT operations teams have a multitude of key duties, such as technical supervision, product launches, quality assurance, infrastructure upkeep, and ensuring the products, services and systems satisfy the customer needs. This team provides assistance to both internal and external customers. It’s the team that is behind the efficient running of the core applications and systems, essentially responsible for the production, deployment and management of the critical internal and client facing systems. 

Take for example a bank or a large manufacturing company. The pressure to sustain uptime is always high, and IT Operations is tasked with ensuring that all systems are constantly running as expected: making sure the applications are working smoothly, the EPR system is up, the customer interface is ticking, overseeing successful development and installation of new features & systems, etc. 

When these tasks are executed effectively, your business can run smoothly. However, when IT operations are not given the attention they deserve, problems can quickly arise.

IT Operations Management ( ITOM)

Simply put, IT Operations Management is the function that makes sure all IT operations (as defined above) are working seamlessly to continually reach the company's goals. The key components that make up ITOM are the infrastructure, services, compliance and security management.

When your company's IT Operations Management is poor, you'll experience a lot of headaches — too much money spent on the wrong technology, a disorderly IT staff, regular downtime, poor service delivery, security risks — and it won't be long before leadership struggles to see the significance of IT. If this problem isn't tackled, then you could find your business suffering in the modern era where IT plays such an integral role in success.

The best answer to this problem is to apply IT Operations best practices:

Also Read: What are the most frequent IT Problems

IT Operations best practices

Here are the top IT operations best practices that'll launch your operations into smooth sailing. Implementing these practices will skyrocket your organization's efficiency.

1. Create processes

This is where it all begins: your IT Operations should run like clockwork. Don't let it become a patchwork of disparate tasks that are out of sync. The ITOps teams should have an established process, especially when dealing with repetitive tasks.

Generate workflows that are adaptable, so that IT Operations don't fall victim to too much bureaucracy and an inflexible process. The goal is to construct simple to follow procedures which can be quickly modified when needed. To get started, identify and document the IT tasks  that are most significant for the company. Then put together a process map which outlines the steps for each task.

2. Utilize AIOps tools

You may not have heard of AIOps yet, but it's something you'll want to start using. AIOps stands for Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations, and it's a term used to describe the use of artificial intelligence in IT operations management.

AIOps leverages big data and artificial intelligence to proactively detect, respond to and even predict incidents related to operations technology (OT). This capability reduces potential security risks, while also streamlining IT operations. By providing an overall view of the IT infrastructure, AIOps tools enable teams to quickly identify threats as they emerge as well as spot opportunities for improvement.

3. Constant  monitoring

All of your systems should be regularly monitored for any anomalous behavior that could indicate a security breach or other incident. Comprehensive logging should also be enabled to allow analysis of any issues that occur.

This will allow you to keep track of all your systems and quickly identify and resolve any issues that may arise. By monitoring your systems closely, you can avoid any potential downtime or data loss.

4. Non-stop patching

Hackers are always on the lookout for opportunities to exploit network vulnerabilities, and patching is the best way to make sure those opportunities don't materialize. Setting up patching and software updates to install automatically as their vendors release them is the only real way of ensuring that systems stay secure. 

This automated process saves time and energy in addition to improving overall system security; a win-win situation!

5. Documentation

Document all operational processes such as VPN access setup, authentication guidelines, maintenance activities etc., so that important information isn't lost or forgotten especially when personnel changes occur.

In fact, documentation is one of the most effective ways to pass vital knowledge from one team member to another. It also helps create consistent services and results, as everyone follows the same guidelines in terms of performing associated tasks. Investing in documentation goes a long way to foster reliability and accountability for an organization's IT operations.

6. End user support

Have support teams in place to continuously train and guide end users on new systems or troubleshoot issues they run into. 

For example, an HR department installing a new payroll system may struggle to get the entire department staff to learn how the system works. If there is an end user support team in place, that greatly speeds up the whole process.

7. Smart disaster management

Essentially, the disaster recovery environment should always be an exact replica of the production environment, so you can instantly switch over when the need arises. 

We all know disasters don't warn us — they just strike — so it's important that your disaster recovery plan and policy includes regular checks to make sure your DR is clean and up-to-date. For example, are all the necessary software licenses up to date? These small details can really surprise you in a time of need.

The goal is to minimize the disruption to business operations and to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of T resources including information. The plan should be designed to enable the organization to resume normal operations as quickly as possible., in fact instantly

A good plan should address the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities of incident response team members
  • Procedures for reporting incidents
  • Procedures for responding to incidents, including containment, eradication, and recovery steps
  • Communication procedures, including who will be contacted and how
  • Testing and training procedures. 

The plan should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, at least annually.

8. Capacity planning

Capacity planning involves closely monitoring current and expected demands to determine when more IT resources should be acquired. This is done by looking at utilization statistics gathered over time, making sure that the necessary service is available for spikes in usage due to seasonal trends, etc.  

For example, a retail website might use capacity planning to anticipate heavier traffic during holidays and allocate more resources in advance. This will ensure that customers don't experience issues such as slow page loads or a lack of responsiveness.

9. Scalable Infrastructure

You need to have an infrastructure that can grow with your company. You might be small now, but what happens when you have 10,000 users? You need to be able to scale up quickly and efficiently, without any downtime.

To do this, you need to have a flexible infrastructure that can be easily changed and updated. This means for example using cloud-based services where possible, rather than on-premise. 

Check out the comprehensive guide about benefits of cloud computing

You also need to make sure that your infrastructure is well-documented. This will help especially new ITOps team members to quickly get their minds around how things work, and how to make changes when necessary.

Further Reading: Comparing the costs of cloud vs on-premise

10. Establish performance benchmarks

Performance benchmarks are standards by which you can measure the performance of your IT systems. For example, if you want to benchmark the performance of your server, you might look at factors like response time, uptime, and throughput.

To establish performance benchmarks, you need to first identify what you want to measure. Once you've done that, you can research what the industry average is for that particular metric. For example, if you want to measure the uptime rate of your server, you can look up the average server uptime for your industry.

Once you have your benchmarks, be sure to track them over time so that you can see if your IT operations are improving—or if they need attention.

11. Use a configuration management database

A configuration management database (CMDB) is a key component of IT operations and helps you keep track of the IT infrastructure. The CMDB contains all the information about IT assets and their relationships, so you can see how changes to one asset might impact other assets.

Using a CMDB can help you reduce downtime, and improve compliance. It can also help you troubleshoot problems faster and make better decisions about changes.

12. Automate processes when possible

If you have processes that are repetitive and time-consuming, see if there's a way to automate them. This could be something as simple as setting up a script to run every night to check for updates, or it could be a more complex process that requires human intervention only occasionally.

The goal is to free up your team's time so they can focus on other tasks that can't be automated.

13. Utilize MSPs

If your teams don't have what it takes to manage certain tasks, then outsourcing them to MSPs is probably your best option. This comes with a wealth of benefits, like:

  • Access to a team of experts: You have a team of highly knowledgeable and experienced experts at your fingertips. This can be extremely helpful when you have complex operational issues that need to be resolved.
  • Cost savings: You can save money on training and salary costs.
  • Flexibility: Managed Service Providers are typically very flexible, which can be helpful when your business needs change.

Be sure to ask these questions before you settle on an MSP for your critical IT Operations. Please note that there is a difference between an MSP and an MSSP. An MSSP is purely focused on security.

14. Support IT teams to solve issues when away

It's essential to equip key IT Operations team members with the tools they need to troubleshoot issues when away from work, whether it be on vacation or simply on the way home after work. Of course we don't want to bother employees while away, especially on holiday. However, if a situation becomes critical, we must take action to get things running smoothly again — and every conscientious employee hopefully finds it easy to understand this. These simple steps can help avoid major inconveniences for the organization.

If, for instance, there are only two members assigned to crucial activities and one has an emergency while the other is on vacation, the only choice could be to request the person who is on holiday to pitch in. However, they won't be able to aid unless they are provided with the necessary resources to work from a remote location. Have these conversations beforehand and ensure that all expectations are clearly detailed in your policies including compensation, so teams comprehend that they can still be trusted upon even when not on duty.

Conclusion

In the past, IT Operations used to be viewed as the function responsible for repairing printers, solving internet issues and carrying out other similar elementary tasks. Well, not to say that these roles are not critical today — they are still incredibly important and will remain so. But we must recognize that IT Operations have evolved into the nerve-center of business operations overall. Every modern company runs vast IT systems that support their staff and customers; be it services, applications, internal communication or e-commerce websites — all of them rely on IT operations and the best practices we've highlighted will make it a smooth run. 

Even as you apply the best practices here, it's essential to keep your overall IT strategy up-to-date with current trends. For instance, setting up a microservices infrastructure facilitates a faster deployment of apps and services due to the breaking down of complex computing tasks into smaller, independently deployable components. Utilizing software development approaches like the Agile methodologies or DevOps helps teams manage costs while ensuring resources are deployed efficiently.

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