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Unified Application Management

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is Application Management?

Application management is the process of controlling an organization’s applications within a corporate environment to ensure workers are both productive and secure. Tools are often employed to provide this service, with the most common being either Microsoft Configuration Manager (SCCM) or Microsoft Intune.

The application management process ensures that applications are deployed successfully to the target users and devices. Application lifecycle management is also a key function of the process, allowing applications to be updated or removed if required.

Application Management Components

Application management encompasses the below core functions:

  • Application Deployment – The ability to deliver applications to specific targeted devices.
  • Application Updates – The immediate or scheduled update of existing applications.
  • Application Removal – The option to uninstall applications which either fall out of scope, or which are not desired within your device estate.
  • Enforcement – The creation of recuring policies to install or remove applications from devices which meet the specified criteria (such as group membership).
  • Scheduling – The optional ability to specify maintenance windows when applications may be installed, updated or removed.
  • Licence Management – Some application management tools offer licencing management including licence metering & reporting.
  • Performance Monitoring – some application management tools offer the additional benefit of performance monitoring and reporting. This functionality will often leverage a dedicated agent on the device to capture these metrics.
  • Reporting – The ability to review the status of a deployment or device to identify whether the deployment was successful.

Application Management Use Case Examples

Listed below are some example scenarios of how application management benefits an organization.

A new hire joins the sales team and requires all standard corporate apps to be installed on their Windows 365 Cloud PC – things like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Teams, Zoom. Additionally, the sales teams have specific applications which must be available to team members such as CRM systems or pipeline-related software.

Solution

Application management tools allow for applications to be deployed based on criteria such as group membership. The outcome described above could be easily automated by:

  • Assigning core applications to an Active Directory (AD) or Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) group (e.g. “Core-Applications”)
  • Assigning Sales team applications to an Active Directory (AD) or Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) group (e.g. “Sales-Applications”)
  • Assigning the new user to the groups above if already created.

The recuring process then becomes simply to assign the new user or device to the required groups, and the application deployment process will occur automatically.

An old version of a line of business application has been identified as having a security flaw. A new version must be installed on all corporate devices.

Solution

  • Application management tools should allow for either the update or removal of existing applications, irrespective of whether the application was originally deployed by the tool.
  • In this scenario, an administrator should simply create a new policy (or edit an existing policy) to specify the latest version of the required application. This policy should then be tested on a small subset of test devices to ensure it functions as required, before being deployed to the wider device estate. This deployment should be forced or prioritised if possible.

Reporting functionality within the application management tool should provide status information for all devices, allowing administrators to review compliance and target any non-compliant devices for investigation.

In summary, Microsoft Azure provides a broad range of cloud computing services, and Microsoft Intune is focused specifically on device and endpoint management. Both services are designed to help organizations leverage the power of the cloud to enhance their operations and security posture, and better achieve business goals.

Application Management Processes

Application management as a function has several ongoing processes which must be completed on a regular basis. These include:

  • Application Updates – Most application vendors will provide regular updates to resolve bugs or security issues. Application updates should be regularly applied to the device estate to ensure the applications function optimally and securely.
  • Compatibility Testing – New versions of applications should be tested, either automatically or manually, prior to deployment to users to ensure they function as required. This activity is normally performed on a small subset of test devices, sometimes with the involvement of users if the application provides critical business functions.
  • Deployment Scheduling – For physical desktops and laptops, most organisations will deploy application updates ‘immediately’, meaning the devices will receive the new version of the application as soon as possible. However for virtual desktop environments, including Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), organisations prefer to use the concept of the ‘maintenance window’. These are specified times and dates (usually outside working hours) where updates will be applied. This avoids impacting the user experience, especially in shared desktop scenarios.

Application Management: Logical Flow

The below diagram describes the basic logical flow for application management actions. This example case shows the delivery of department-specific applications (sales) to the sales team’s devices

Application Management Framework

As well as defining the functional processes, application management within an organization must adhere to corporate change management processes. This is especially true when new applications are introduced, or when critical business applications are updated to a new version.

Best practice when making such changes should include the below phases and considerations. This list provides an example framework which must be adapted to suit organisational needs.

Planning
  • Technical diagrams including application architecture and dependencies.
  • Technical documentation
  • Project documentation including timelines.
  • Implementation plan
  • Application lifecycle management planning
  • Support process planning
  • Resource planning
  • User manual planning
  • Request for Change planning
  • Communication planning
Implementation
  • Communication management
  • Technical support training
  • User manual creation
  • Requests for change approval
  • Functional deployment
  • Technical documentation update
Functional Testing
  • Communication management
  • Initial functional testing
  • Sponsor and stakeholder testing and validation
  • User manual validation
  • Technical support issues review
  • Security and compliance review
Review
  • Technical issue mitigation
  • Security issue mitigation
  • User manual finalization
  • Sponsor, stakeholder and business alignment
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT) pilot planning
Planning
  • Project documentation including timelines
  • Implementation plan
  • Resource planning
  • Request for Change planning
  • Communication planning
  • Technical support – additional training
Implementation
  • Communication management
  • Requests for Change approval
  • Functional deployment (where change is required)
  • Technical documentation update
Functional Testing
  • Communication management
  • Initial functional testing
  • Sponsor and stakeholder testing and validation
  • User manual validation
  • Technical support issues review
  • Security and compliance review
  • User feedback
Review
  • Technical issue mitigation – validation
  • Security issue mitigation – validation
  • User manual finalization
  • User Acceptance testing (UAT) – feedback review
Planning
  • Project documentation including timelines
  • Implementation plan
  • Resource planning
  • Request for change planning
  • Communication planning
  • Technical support – additional training
Implementation
  • Communication management
  • Requests for change approval
  • Functional deployment (where change is required)
  • Technical documentation update
  • User manual provision
Early-Life Support
  • Support team issue tracking
  • Functional performance tracking
Project Closure
  • Outstanding issues
  • Functional performance tracking
  • Project success review
  • Lessons learned review

Advantages and challenges of application management

Application management tools provide net benefits to any organisation. The ability to dictate, manage and report upon the application landscape for your devices offers intrinsic value. However, there are challenges and considerations when implementing application management tools. These include:

  • Skills – Application management tools are inherently complex and require significant experience to manage. Organisations must invest in staff training to make the most of their application management tools.
  • Risks – These tools are also very powerful, as they can manage the configuration of devices. If application management tasks are delegated to engineers with limited experience of the tool, human error could occur which impacts your users.
  • Costs – Application management tools generally have a cost associated with them, which must be weighed against their benefits to an organisation. There is no benefit to an organisation in paying for an application management tool which goes unused or is poorly implemented.

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