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Automating Common Administrative Tasks

Another look at how to automate common tasks - making your administrator's life easier.

In my working life of talking to many companies about their technology usage, and their deployment plans, I tend to find that the needs & wants of the average Systems/User Administrator are often forgotten. This, I think, is a dangerous mistake to make with a number of technology deployments as it can lead to issues and frustrations with deployment & administration.

Spend some time making your Administration team's lives simpler, and you'll be repaid with faster turn around times, and fewer errors in administrative functions. Just for clarity on that last bit, I'm not suggesting that Administrators are error prone - far from it - but you ask anyone to manually configure telephony for 30 users (for example) and expect them to get them 100% right
all the time - well, I think you're asking for a lot.

In my mind, I tend to think that if you are doing something specific, with a pattern, and
repeatable in a manual method, well, quite frankly you're doing it wrong. Wrong in that it's slow, and probably more importantly - it's error prone.

Microsoft Lync, and Exchange, are prime examples. There are
loads of PowerShell tools available for automating tasks, and for implementing certain functions, features, and processes fully automatically and with minimal input. The problem is though that they require scripting skills. A lot of Sys Admins are very comfortable with scripting - but it still takes time and effort. What about front-line user managers? The ones who set up users, who configure their telephony policy for example - do they know scripting? Do you WANT them to know hows to script-admin against your systems? You'd hope the risk on the last one would be negated by security policy of course, but that's not really the point.

When I've worked on larger projects I've always tried to put effort in to simplifying take on processes, whether those take-on processes are migrations from legacy, or delivery of new services. Make it simple, make it repeatable - and what you achieve are fewer errors, and faster take on. Fewer errors means less headaches from support calls, and fewer unhappy users during migration/take-on. I'm uncertain on the less/fewer in that sentence.

How does that apply to Microsoft Lync & Exchange, my most common take-on/migration project? Well, there products have their own administration tools. Lync Control Panel for example. Having multiple tools does involve additional understanding and take-on from the administration staff. Admittedly it's really not hard to administer users in Lync Control Panel - but it is something typically new, and it is something

The other thing - and probably the real drive - is that most common tasks are utterly repeatable. Think about that -
repeatable. The task to achieve the the end game is the same, all the time. If that doesn't shout out automation I don't know what does.

Setting up a new user in an organisation is a great example - Add the user in Active Directory User and Computers, add them to the right groups etc. That gives them their identity. Next, jump in to Exchange management and configure their mailbox. Then, jump in to Lync management and configure their Unified Comms stuff. Sure you can see where I'm going with this - it's a faff. A repeatable faff that's prone to error.

How do I fix this? Well, I extend ADU&C to automate the common tasks of:

  • Configuring their Exchange mailbox
  • Configuring their Lync environment
  • Configuring their telephony in Lync etc.

There's absolutely no reason that this cannot be extended to take-ons too, rather than new users. For example, with Lync Deployments, I often put in scripts that enable Administrators to enable
groups of people, or in certain situations whole Organisational Units for example.

The result? Happier administrators, fewer take-on/enablement errors, fewer support calls, increased productivity, and a certain feeling of TECH AWESOME. You can't argue with that can you?

The video below gives a run through of some of the Lync stuff - it will give you a good idea of what I mean. The hi-def version
can be viewed by clicking here.

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