As your organization scales, inevitably, so too will its infrastructure needs. From physical spaces to personnel, devices to applications, physical security to cybersecurity – all these resources will continue to grow to meet the changing needs of your business operations.
To manage your changing infrastructure throughout its entire lifecycle, your organization needs to implement a robust infrastructure lifecycle management program that’s designed to meet your particular business needs.
In particular, IT asset lifecycle management (ITALM) is becoming increasingly important for organizations across industries. As threats to organizations’ cybersecurity become more sophisticated and successful cyberattacks become more common, your business needs (now, more than ever) to implement an infrastructure lifecycle management strategy that emphasizes the security of your IT infrastructure.
In this article, we’ll explain why infrastructure management is important. Then we’ll outline steps your organization can take to design and implement a program and provide you with some of the most important infrastructure lifecycle management best practices for your business.
What Is the Purpose of Infrastructure Lifecycle Management?
No matter the size or industry of your organization, infrastructure lifecycle management is a critical process. The purpose of an infrastructure lifecycle management program is to protect your business and its infrastructure assets against risk.
Today, protecting your organization and its customer data from malicious actors means taking a more active approach to cybersecurity. Simply put, recovering from a cyber attack is more difficult and expensive than protecting yourself from one. If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything about cybersecurity, it’s that cybercrime is on the rise and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
As risks to cybersecurity continue to grow in number and in harm, infrastructure lifecycle management and IT asset management are becoming almost unavoidable. In addition to protecting your organization from potential cyberattacks, infrastructure lifecycle management makes for a more efficient enterprise, delivers a better end user experience for consumers, and identifies where your organization needs to expand its infrastructure.
Some of the other benefits that come along with comprehensive infrastructure lifecycle management program include:
- More accurate planning;
- Centralized and cost-effective procurement;
- Streamlined provisioning of technology to users;
- More efficient maintenance;
- Secure and timely disposal.
A robust infrastructure lifecycle management program helps your organization to keep track of all the assets running on (or attached to) your corporate networks. That allows you to catalog, identify and track these assets wherever they are, physically and digitally.
While this might seem simple enough, infrastructure lifecycle management and particularly ITALM has become more complex as the diversity of IT assets has increased. Today organizations and their IT teams are responsible for managing hardware, software, cloud infrastructure, SaaS, and connected device or IoT assets. As the number of IT assets under management has soared for most organizations in the past decade, a comprehensive and holistic approach to infrastructure lifecycle management has never been more important.
Generally speaking, there are four major stages of asset lifecycle management. Your organization’s infrastructure lifecycle management program should include specific policies and processes for each of the following steps:
- Planning. This is arguably the most important step for businesses and should be conducted prior to purchasing any assets. During this stage, you’ll need to identify what asset types are required and in what number; compile and verify the requirements for each asset; and evaluate those assets to make sure they meet your service needs.
- Acquisition and procurement. Use this stage to identify areas for purchase consolidation with the most cost-effective vendors, negotiate warranties and bulk purchases of SaaS and cloud infrastructure assets. This is where lack of insights into actual asset usage can potentially result in overpaying for assets that aren’t really necessary. For this reason, timely and accurate asset data is crucial for effective acquisition and procurement.
- Maintenance, upgrades and repair. All assets eventually require maintenance, upgrades and repairs. A holistic approach to infrastructure lifecycle management means tracking these needs and consolidating them into a single platform across all asset types.
- Disposal. An outdated or broken asset needs to be disposed of properly, especially if it contains sensitive information. For hardware, assets that are older than a few years are often obsolete, and assets that fall out of warranty are typically no longer worth maintaining. Disposal of cloud infrastructure assets is also critical because data stored in the cloud can stay there forever.
Now that we’ve outlined the purpose and basic stages of infrastructure lifecycle management, it’s time to look at the steps your organization can take to implement it.
What Are the Steps for Implementing an Infrastructure Lifecycle Management Process?
Step 1: Assemble a Team
As with implementing any program, the first step is to make sure that you have the right people assembled to get the job done. Your IT team will be primarily responsible for the ensuing steps involved in infrastructure lifecycle management, so it’s important to make sure that they are qualified to do so. Include any departmental managers, senior executives, and other people responsible for decision-making that you want to be involved in the process, and make sure that you clearly communicate roles and responsibilities to anyone on board.
Once you have a solid team of stakeholders, you’ll be ready to begin the next step in the infrastructure lifecycle management process: asset identification.
Step 2: Identify and Inventory Your Assets
Conduct table-top exercises with your team to compile a list of assets that you’ll use to develop a more comprehensive inventory. You’ll need to account for every single asset, both physical and digital, which can take some time.
Some of the assets you should include in your inventory are as follows:
- Computers, laptops, mobile devices, and any other computing devices that are on your network.
- Network infrastructure and access points, including both physical and virtual barriers.
- Software assets, hardware, and operating systems.
- All kinds of information stored on or within all devices, networks, and servers.
Your inventory will need to be updated often (ideally via an automated process), whenever any new assets are added or when any other changes occur, including upgrades. Additionally, your inventory will also need to be indexed for shifting compliance requirements.
Step 3: Prioritize Your Assets and Assign Risk Ratings
Especially if you’re just starting out on the journey toward infrastructure lifecycle management, you’ll want to prioritize your assets so you can focus on the ones that matter most. Otherwise you’ll quickly get overwhelmed by the sheer number that require your attention.
Next, conduct a risk assessment for each asset so that you can prioritize them and assign t risk ratings. Mitigating risks in lifecycle management is a crucial component to a secure organization. But before you can begin prioritizing your assets, you need to establish some metrics for measuring risk.
Most organizations opt for qualitative measurements such as “high/medium/low,” but quantitative measures such as statistical analysis are also gaining popularity. You should aim to choose units of measurement that you can use enterprise-wide to establish a baseline for comparison.
Once you’ve ranked your assets from most important to least important, you should start at the top of the list and work your way down, identifying any risks that could be associated with each asset. Using a risk matrix, determine which assets pose the highest risk to your organization and begin to determine what you can do to mitigate those risks.
Step 4: Cross-Reference Licenses and Compliance Regulations
You’ll also need to make sure that all of your software and hardware is up to spec for required licensing and regulatory compliance. Oftentimes, regulatory compliance frameworks will require you to do these steps in a particular way, so you may want to take note if there are any additional steps you’ll need to take.
Here are just a few of the compliance frameworks that businesses must follow to meet regulatory compliance requirements:
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to healthcare firms and related “covered entities.” It’s designed to safeguard privacy and security, and it ensures breach notifications for protected health information (PHI).
- The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) applies to all businesses that process card payments. It requires stringent protections for cardholder data and hardware that processes and stores it.
- NIST SP 800-171 & the Cybersecurity Model Maturity Certification (CMMC) apply to companies that contract with the Department of Defense (DoD).
Most of these frameworks have built-in controls for asset management, such as inventory protocols or requirements to replace factory default security settings with more robust options.
Step 5: Practice Continuous Monitoring
Continuously monitoring your assets means keeping track of them in real-time. This process will eventually eliminate waste, reduce downtime, bring down incidents of theft and keep your assets well-maintained.
Again, your infrastructure lifecycle management process should be dynamic and flexible so that it can easily adapt to any changes to your organizational structure. Revisiting your infrastructure asset management regularly will ensure that it’s protecting your assets and your organization throughout the evolution of your business.
Step 6: Automate the Process
Automated solutions are designed to make the infrastructure lifecycle management process less painful. When used correctly, automation can actually make the work your organization puts into infrastructure lifecycle management less prone to errors.
For this reason, and more, it’s best to automate whenever possible. It will be nearly impossible to automate all aspects of the infrastructure lifecycle management process, so start by focusing on the most repetitive tasks and go from there.
Consider tasks such as reporting, patching and application deployment. These can be easily automated, saving your IT teams time and money. For small to medium businesses with smaller budgets, you may even consider outsourcing the entire process altogether. Ultimately, management software that provides automation will reduce the burden of work on your employees.
Step 7: Collect and Analyze Data
Once you’ve implemented a comprehensive infrastructure lifecycle management program, demonstrate how well it’s working. In the world of business, the only way to determine performance is by measuring results against business metrics or company standards.
Throughout the asset lifecycle management process, you will have amassed data that can help you identify which metrics are most important. Some of these metrics include network configuration, licensing, financial data, metrics linked to business objectives, and user information.
Using these key metrics, you’ll be able to get a better sense of your organization’s asset depreciation rate, average fines paid, compliance failures, the average cost of maintenance, etc. Looking at this data with a holistic view will help you determine which aspects of your infrastructure lifecycle management process need revision, especially when a change occurs, such as the introduction of new technologies.
Step 8: Adapt
Adaptation is key to survival in the modern business environment. These days, technology changes quickly, and frequently. When those changes occur, everything that’s linked to that technology must be upgraded or modified.
This is where a dynamic approach to continuous monitoring and improvement will come into play. By continuously updating your asset inventory, you’ll be better positioned to respond to changes when they do occur, and your infrastructure asset management processes will be better equipped to adapt to any future changes.
What Are the Best Practices for Infrastructure Lifecycle Management?
Now that we’ve laid out the steps for implementing an infrastructure lifecycle management program, it’s time to take a look at some of the best practices that your organization should aim to incorporate for the most successful implementation possible.
Develop Comprehensive Inventory Management Practices that Include Identity and Access Management
Creating a plan for comprehensive inventory management is one of the most essential components of a solid foundation for infrastructure lifecycle management. Inventory management best practices should ideally be baked into your architecture implementation, with the knowledge that you’ll need to account for every single asset your organization owns.
While creating an inventory for physical devices such as computers and laptops will be easy enough, user accounts are one of the most often overlooked (but most important) parts of infrastructure lifecycle management. This means accounting for all the software and hardware your organization relies on, and then thinking about every single person who uses it and how they’re using it.
One of the best ways to do this is by using identity and access management (IAM) techniques. You should also consider requiring access session monitoring and control so that even authenticated users are monitored when they’re accessing sensitive data to ensure that they’re upholding protocols. Together, these practices can even empower insights about how, when, and why pieces of your infrastructure need to be revisited or repaired.
Implement a Incident Response Program and Integrate Threat and Vulnerability Management Measures
Planning for and adequately responding to cybersecurity incidents as they happen is more important than ever before. Even the best-protected systems will be targeted, and so it’s critical that organizations implement a robust, dedicated incident response program.
An effective incident response solution should deliver most, if not all, of the following functionalities:
- identification of an incident and immediate notification to all relevant stakeholders;
- logging of the incident in inventory systems and indexing against threat intelligence;
- investigation and deep analysis of root causes and short- and long-term solutions;
- assignment of responsibilities and resources to personnel for recovery measures;
- resolution of the incident including both seizure of attack and recovery of resources; and
- customer satisfaction and business continuity including getting back to normal operations.
Incident response is most effective when it’s integrated into a holistic cybersecurity system, and will ultimately extend the life cycles of all your infrastructure.
Threat and vulnerability management includes implementing measures for monitoring, analyzing, and mitigating any risks that already exist as well as those that have not yet come to fruition. Doing so will allow your organization to better deal with cybersecurity threats in real-time.
Fortunately, threat and vulnerability management is a practice that’s already baked into most cybersecurity implementations, including most regulatory compliance frameworks. The most effective vulnerability management involves collecting and utilizing threat intelligence, including both proprietary data and governmental lists, such as the index of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). It should also be a system that’s integrated throughout your organization, including both on-location hardware and all software, applications, web presence, and cloud-based networking and computing.
While infrastructure maintenance has and always will be critical for a system’s physical parts, accounting for and mitigating risks of lapsed cybersecurity protocols and cybercrime is becoming increasingly essential in our more digitized and mobile environment.
This also includes accounting for risks across third-party networks along the supply chain. Your third-party risk management (TPRM) program should work in tandem with your infrastructure lifecycle management process. Just as you would with your other assets, you should start by compiling a comprehensive inventory of all your third-parties and their infrastructures that communicate with yours. Ideally, TPRM and vendor lifecycle management should integrate into your vulnerability management and infrastructure and asset lifecycle management overall.
Go Above and Beyond What’s Required
If there’s one thing that organizations with successful infrastructure lifecycle management programs have in common, it’s that they go above and beyond for implementation.
Moving beyond a risk management system’s basic protections and into the most complex and advanced analytical methods means getting a better understanding of where your organization is most vulnerable. By executing a root cause analysis, you’ll be better positioned to understand and eradicate a problem’s source rather than simply treating its surface effects.
You should also consider conducting penetration testing, also called ethical hacking. Penetration testing involves a simulation of a cyberattack performed by an ethical hacker, and is used to determine how a malicious actor would operate.
There are two primary forms of penetration testing, external penetration testing and internal penetration testing. Either type of test can be set for optimization for your individual assets or asset classes, such as network penetration testing or firewall penetration testing. Some companies choose to combine these two types of penetration testing into a hybrid form that uses both elements of internal and external penetration testing.
Choose Automated Tools to Help
The best way to keep your infrastructure lifecycle in check is to integrate all of your practices into one seamless solution. But for small-medium enterprises with modest IT budgets, this can often be a challenge.
Finding tools to help can mean the difference between a thriving infrastructure lifecycle management program, and one that leaves your organization vulnerable to cyberattacks. Fortunately, there are management solutions designed to help.
Implement Better Infrastructure Lifecycle Management with Reciprocity ZenRisk
Managing risks, staying in compliance with industry standards and regulations, and inventorying and tracking infrastructure assets can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are solutions designed to help.
Reciprocity ZenRisk is an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution designed to provide you with actionable insights to gain the visibility you need to stay ahead of threats and clearly communicate the impact of risk on high-priority business initiatives. Turn the unknown into quantifiable and actionable risk insights with built-in expertise that identifies and maps risks, threats and controls for you, so you can spend less time setting up the application and more time using it.
A single, real-time view of risk and business context allows you to communicate to the board and key stakeholders in a way that’s framed around their priorities, keeping your risk posture in sync with the direction your business is moving.
Reciprocity ZenRisk will even notify you automatically of any changes or required actions, so you can be on top of your risk posture like never before. Eliminate time-consuming, manual work and streamline collaboration by automating workflows and integrating with your most critical systems.
Plus, Reciprocity ZenRisk is seamlessly integrated with Reciprocity ZenComply so you can leverage your compliance activities to improve your risk posture with the use of AI. Built on the ZenGRC, the Reciprocity product suite gives you the ability to see, understand and take action on your IT and cyber risks.
Now, through a more active approach, you can give time back to your team with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization mitigate cybersecurity risk and stay ahead of threats.