Process automation, endpoint virtualization = ROI

Mercy Health Services is rolling out new kinds of network-enabled medical equipment in a tough economic environment of slashed budgets and static resources, a scenario that demands the ability to "do more with less," said its senior desktop engineer.

Matt Giblin, with the Baltimore-based non-profit hospital that participates in community outreach, said the institute's budgets are constantly being cut and staffing hasn't increased in the past four years. "These (medical) devices have some effect to the patient, so we must make sure we are not only adding automation, but we're monitoring that too," said Giblin, of the new equipment.

Mercy Health Services, a customer of Cupertino, Calif-based Symantec Corp.'s endpoint virtualization technology, said pushing process automation allows it to tackle the challenges of device management in tough economic times.

Giblin was part of a panel presentation at Symantec's ManageFusion conference, a discussion prefaced by a Symantec survey of 300 network administrators and IT professionals on endpoint management issues in light of tight IT budgets.

Sixty-two per cent of survey respondents said their IT budgets will either remain stagnant or be reduced in 2009. Sixty-six per cent said their IT staff will be the same or smaller this year. Moreover, 39 per cent said endpoint virtualization greatly or slightly increased productivity.

Mercy Health Services must continue to invest in infrastructure improvements, despite slashed budgets, said Giblin. In particular, the hospital is trying to leverage the fullest capabilities of the chosen technology to solve the challenges it faces. Automating front-end processes, for instance, can eliminate the need for additional resources, he said.

Fellow panelist, Andi Mann, vice-president of research at Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates Inc., said he's observing businesses still trying to grow but with the same resources and head count, "and that's where automation comes in."

Earlier this week, Symantec announced an update to its Altiris client and server management suites with process automation and workflow capabilities.

The survey also found that 47 per cent of respondents said automating common tasks would be either somewhat helpful or greatly helpful for effectively managing IT. And, along the same vein, 40 per cent of respondents said user productivity through virtualization would accomplish that same goal.

One audience member noted that the favourable responses towards process automation and virtualization technologies appeared weaker than one might expect given the benefits. To that, Mann suggested the issue was a lack of education about available technologies and their benefits to the business. In fact, he said, one of the top areas of concern in a discussion of automation is the lack of defined processes before automation can even begin. "I think that's partially a mistake because automation can help you define processes," he said.

Another panelist and customer of Symantec's endpoint management technology, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer Meijer Inc., also continues to invest in new technology despite fewer resources and funding, said systems engineer David Durkee. Maintaining security through proper endpoint management is particularly important in an environment of increasing threats, Durkee acknowledged, and as a retailer, compliance with the likes of PCI (Payment Card Industry) standards means the organization "is constantly having to change."

For Mercy Health Services, too, Giblin said mitigating security risks is vital "with patient data ever so much on devices." And while policies exist about safekeeping that critical data across devices, those policies are hardly foolproof and risk must nonetheless be managed, he said.

Steve Morton, vice-president of product management for the endpoint security and management group with Symantec, named licence compliance as among the kinds of return on investment (ROI) customers can expect from endpoint virtualization and workflow technologies. They can save money by tracking software usage because "people are oversubscribed to a number of pieces of software," said Morton.

Overall, businesses must be agile to respond to the day-to-day challenges they face and to emerge stronger tomorrow, and endpoint virtualization and process automation will drive that agility, said Mann.

When it comes to continual IT infrastructure investment and ROI, Durkee said, "it's like not changing the oil in your car" because while a business might reap minimal cost-savings by refusing to spend in tough times, the long-term cost will be substantial.

This story, "Process automation, endpoint virtualization = ROI" was originally published by ComputerWorld-Canada.

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