Don’t just automate for the sake of it: consider these five things first

While it is increasingly clear that businesses can no longer function as effectively without automating their IT infrastructure, they often struggle with how and what to automate and where to begin.

The key is to ensure that automation of infrastructure management is closely aligned to and integrated with a company’s strategic objectives, as without a clear path, businesses can fall into the trap of automating for the sake of automation, without taking actual business objectives into consideration.

To avoid the pitfalls many companies encounter when automating certain processes, businesses should be clear on their current state coupled with desired business outcomes and objectives.

There are three ways to view automation: ‘systems that do, systems that think and systems that learn’. ‘Systems that do’ work by automating the actions through scripts or a set of instructions; ‘systems that think’ look at the output of one action then decide what to do in terms of planning; ‘systems that learn’ offer the best possible solution by automating the process of diagnosis.

Here are some initial steps businesses should take to introduce automation of existing IT infrastructures to help deal with digital transformation, as well as to stay ahead of competitors, be constantly-ready to adapt to change, and offer a wider value proposition and a seamless customer experience.

Decide on organisational objectives for automation

Automation can support many business objectives. These include cost, end-user experience, always-available infrastructure to support digital business transformation and increased service availability or compliance. It is important to decide on which to focus and automate where it makes the most sense.

While the ‘why’ is often clear, the ‘how’ is often not: enterprises tend to automate in isolated pockets and this can lead to issues with both existing and future applications and infrastructure. If the application release is automated but the infrastructure component behind it is not, then the system can break down and recovery will require more effort.

> See also: Rise of the machines: automation in the digital economy

The goal should be either to focus on technology and identify how automated processes can help enhance productivity and efficiency, or identify ways that automation supports objectives such as powering a constantly-ready business or converging machine, and user data to enable real-time business decisions.

Embrace automation in your company’s culture

Automation is not just about removing or reducing human effort; it is about removing repetitive work and focusing human effort on high-skill areas by automating traditional tasks. This way an enterprise can deliver higher levels of value to users inside and outside the firewall.

This is important, as automation can bring disruption to a comfortable and established way of working. Any such disruption can remove organisations from their comfort zones for example, in terms of skills, roles or departments.

This could create a certain level of resistance, mainly due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of automation and the effort required to successfully automate certain business processes.

Another consideration is concern over the end state, where automation could diminish a team’s or department’s importance within the enterprise. These concerns have to be addressed and the company culture plays a big part in that.

Decide which services must be included in your automation agenda

Customers often know more about the products and services of a company, than the company knows about its customers. This presents an interesting challenge, putting company employees at a disadvantage when dealing with customer issues or opportunities that emerge when interacting with them.

In healthcare, automation of security controls that help providers remain compliant with security regulations is a highly desired outcome. In travel and real estate, firms would benefit immensely from seamlessly automating onboarding of contract staff.

IT needs to take a service-led approach and prioritise which areas of the business should be automated for maximum impact. This means taking into account possible limited resources and time, and balancing the business performance improvement and business digital transformation agenda.

Determine your state of maturity

Not only is it important for businesses to identify the outcomes they want to achieve through automation, they also need to match it with the state of automation in the current environment and then decide on an approach.

To do this, organisations have to classify their state of automation, for example on a scale from Expected (with outcomes needed to keep an environment healthy) over to Needed (outcomes required to clamp down on costs) and Desired (examples are automated reporting or automated fulfillment of requests) up to Delightful (examples are automated provisioning of an application anytime/anywhere or automated capacity predictions).

However, needs vary across different industries. In retail, for example, business users are ‘delighted’ if systems automatically recover from failure and complete their jobs on time to ensure that stores have the right level of inventory. In healthcare, automation of security controls that help providers remain compliant with security regulations is a highly ‘desired’ outcome.

Investment and maturity is critical to choose the path of vendor proprietary platform versus industry standard platform. Innovation is rife and building something proprietary might soon get outdated unless significant amounts of R&D investment are made.

Over the next few years, it is likely that there will be the emergence of a few large software players who will set the standard; open source is expected to gain momentum and become dominant.

Reference point: establish an automation roadmap and governance plan

Crucially, a roadmap and governance plan is obligatory for the success of infrastructure automation as it provides visibility on the planned versus achieved outcomes of automation. Governance is especially important when an automated service is sourced.

By considering these reference points, it should be much easier to put your company on the right track to successful automation.

Choose a partner

Some enterprises tend to fall victim to internal challenges or, due to a complex multi-vendor landscape with too many interdependencies, are unable to carry out any meaningful level of integrated automation.

By joining forces with trusted business and IT partners, the company can be helped through the automation journey. A competent partner allows the company to focus on its core business and keep a close eye on market changes to ensure it adapts in time.

This innovation factor is by no means to be underestimated: IT departments that find themselves in the process of transformation towards automation may not always have the resources to also pursue an advanced innovation agenda. Thus, choosing the right partner who adds innovative thinking to the process ensures that the company will not fall behind an industry’s status quo.

Sourced from Venu Lambu, Senior Vice President, Global Head, Markets, Cognizant Infrastructure Services

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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