Published: December 2019
In 2012, Cisco IT created an online store to offer employees a single, easy way to request IT services and obtain authorized applications. This front-end services catalog became the employee portal to the new IT-as-a-Business operating model for Cisco IT.
Under this model, we reorganized to deliver IT services with transparent per-unit costs and IT service managers who work to continually improve service cost savings, security, and quality.
Figure 1. Cisco eStore
A single eStore is critical to making this new IT model easier for employees to use and for IT to support and manage than multiple, different ordering and provisioning systems. Over time, the service catalog has grown to offer our employees about 1,700 services, including IT, corporate security and workplace, and external cloud services.
“Requesting and installing software isn’t a core task for employees,” says Julian Wiffen, manager, Cisco IT, and service owner for eStore. “With Cisco eStore, we want to minimize the time employees spend finding the applications they need and going through the ordering process.”
The eStore team initially targeted complex and problematic tasks that caused the most user frustration. One example is setting up crypto keys when installing a hardware or software-based VPN.
Although only a one-time task for most employees, this setup involves a multistep process that can take at least 30 minutes--or far longer if human error requires a restart. eStore automates this process, sending the employee a link that asks for authentication, then automatically creating encrypted certificates within a few minutes. eStore automates several other difficult processes in this way.
As of late 2019, the Cisco eStore serves 70,000 visits monthly and processes 1.4 million orders and 366,000 mobile app downloads per year. Over one-third of the orders are for mobile device apps for our 60,000 mobile users inside Cisco, as seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Cisco eStore Order Requests
We estimate that eStore automation generates $4.6 million annual savings in Cisco IT costs from elimination of manual work by IT teams and reductions in support cases.
We continue to enhance eStore functionality and user experience. Based on this effort, we can offer several lessons for other enterprises that want to create or improve a corporate application store.
The Cisco eStore team has four primary goals:
To meet these goals, the eStore platform runs on the multicloud Cisco network and uses multiple Cisco solutions (Figure 3). The Cisco solutions include:
Figure 3. Core Cisco Products Used by the Cisco eStore Platform
The eStore accepts user requests for a broad range of hardware, software, and IT services. Most transactions are user requests for software to download to their Cisco-issued laptops or an app for their company-owned or company-approved personal mobile devices.
A critical success factor is an easy-to navigate eStore interface, whether accessed in a web browser or on a mobile device. We want to avoid the need to provide user training on eStore features and request processes.
We also discovered that employees may approach the eStore in an unexpected way. Specifically, we learned that 82 percent of our users begin by entering a search instead of using eStore browsing features to find services or applications.
We placed a search bar at the center of the eStore home page and tuned the search functionality for frequently searched words and phrases. To serve users who may start in our internal “One Search” tool, we integrated content from the eStore catalog.
Good user experience reduces support requirements--we average less than one support case per 1000 users. As experience is gained with store offerings and processes, users adopt the principle that eStore is the one place to go for software and IT services and are less likely to download and install unauthorized software and cloud services.
Unused application licenses can represent a big cost for a company, but tracking them is an ongoing challenge for IT. For example, when licenses are sold in bundles, one department may purchase a new bundle not knowing that another department has spare licenses available. The ability to reclaim and reallocate licenses saves time and money in purchasing, tracking, and provisioning activity.
With visibility into how many licenses are in use, we can reduce costs by recommending lower-cost alternatives, pooling licenses across the company, and ensuring that corporate discount rates are applied when we purchase additional licenses. We can also automatically reclaim provisioned licenses when an employee changes role or leaves the company.
The eStore is a complex platform with many integrations into other Cisco IT and business systems. At the same time, the eStore must meet high user expectations for availability and performance.
Cisco AppDynamics solutions help us monitor the health of the eStore platform and identify measures for maintaining uptime. It helps us identify performance issues and their root cause significantly faster, which in turn reduces future support cases and overall support costs.
We use the Cisco Meraki Systems Manager solution to manage corporate application delivery to user mobile devices. Apps can be pushed to target user groups without needing a request from them. Version updates happen silently in the background.
Streamlined delivery processes and infrastructure support high levels of download demand during special events and peak times. For example, eStore handled over 15,000 event app downloads for our annual global sales meeting with fewer than 50 support cases. Participants learned about the app on the eStore and installation was easy.
Delays in receiving needed software or IT resources can impact employee productivity as well as schedules for projects, events, and deliverables.
“Obtaining approvals is a significant factor in the delay between request and provisioning,” says Wiffen. “We found that only one percent of requests were denied, so we asked which requests really needed approvals and how we could streamline the approval processes.”
We began by classifying eStore services and applications for the level of approval needed. Some applications and services are defined with automatic provisioning for all users. Other applications are defined as “one-click,” meaning they are preapproved but the user must submit a request for provisioning.
However, requests for many IT services and resources still require an approval process. We integrated these user requests into the corporate My Approvals app for automated routing and handling, which decreased average approval time from 1.8 days to .6 days.
Finally, some services are not suited for full automation in eStore, such as user requests that require more extensive reviews by a system administrator or the Cisco Legal department.
For these services, eStore collects information from the user into a form created by the service team, which can also define automatic routing of a completed form. eStore enables teams to set up or edit the form and routing for themselves, with no IT development work needed.
Instead of a strategy of “give everything to everyone,” we create user profiles based on their job roles and automatically provision the corporate software, mobile apps, cloud services, and IT resources defined for that role (Figure 4).
These definitions are created as rules in the eStore’s internal policy engine with provisioning handled by the internally-developed OnTrack tool for laptops, the Cisco Meraki System Manager for mobile devices, and a personalized interface for other IT services.
Figure 4. eStore Processes for Pushing Services to a User Based on Role
Delivering only what users actually need means Cisco doesn’t waste money provisioning resources that won’t be required, and users don’t waste time requesting tools they are certain to use.
The cost savings are particularly notable for software-as-a-service (SaaS) licenses that are tied to email addresses. We found that many email addresses had never been used, indicating roles with no need for these types of tools and allowing us to reclaim the associated software licenses.
“The future is about making the right services find the users,” says Simon Power, senior manager, Cisco IT.
Having the capability to automatically deliver services based on what we know about users shifts focus from pure IT delivery to understanding how users work and how that work varies by factors such as role, organization, or location. This enables us to set policies at a more granular level, resulting in more tailored user profiles.
The eStore user experience team will revise the way order forms work so users can order all services--not just mobile apps--from a mobile device. The team will also continue to automate services from across the IT Operations organization, which will require a new level of scalability in the workflow orchestration.
To support this scalability, we will migrate from Cisco Process Orchestrator to Action Orchestrator, the next-generation tool in the Cisco Cloud Center Suite. The new tool will allow us to take advantage of containerization and tenant management, which will help us insulate the overall platform from performance issues in individual service integrations.
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