How to start thinking about automation for your business

For those in enterprise IT automation should be celebrated as a key technological process that cuts workloads while enhancing productivity.

The challenge that is often faced is in convincing others to see it the same way.

This is a challenge that Chef can offer some advice on, having been on the frontlines of software automation since 2008.

The principles of success

Whether you’re talking about software or more physical automation, many of the underlying principles of success are the same.

Especially regarding how best to start thinking and talking about automation, in ways that contribute positively towards a successful outcome.

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The aim of this article is to share six of these general principles so you will be better prepared to propose, take part in, or lead an automation initiative of your own.

One: Focus on business outcomes – what’s your vision?

Speaking of successful outcomes, it’s essential to begin with the end in mind. What is the outcome you are trying to achieve or the business problem you are trying to solve?

All too often strategies can get bogged down in dogmatic discussions about what approach is best.

Is DevOps or Agile better? In truth, this is the wrong question to ask. Automation is just a tool, as are Lean, DevOps and Agile.

Similarly, if you’re pitching an automation project to your CIO or CEO the why is far more important than the how.

Senior staff don’t buy into technology; they buy into a specific benefit or vision of what the organisation can become.

Two: Seek to create value rather than cut costs

A common challenge IT leaders face is having their department seen as a cost centre, rather than a source of competitive advantage.

Similarly, the first impact that comes to mind when thinking about automation is too often reducing overhead or even head count.

Yet this is a short-term view that underestimates the potential effectiveness of automation and sells the organisation’s growth prospects short.

>See also: The rise of intelligent automation in the workplace 

Automation is most effective when it increases the freedom and time people have to focus on more valuable activities.

As the saying goes “You can’t cut your way to the top”, and reducing overhead is hardly an exciting vision that will energise and unite your team.

Instead, think of automation as something that effectively enables you to hire more people without expending greater resources.

What value would you choose to create if you had more time and how can automation contribute? This is a far more interesting question to ask.

Three: Think of velocity as a business value multiplier

At Chef, automation is seen as a tool that ultimately helps you ship ideas, faster.

This key concept of velocity – how quickly you can turn an idea into a functioning product or service that’s on the market and generating income – often has more business benefits than people realise.

This why Chef views velocity as a multiplier of business value, something that can lead to an upward spiral in performance.

For example, there’s a cost advantage from having a shorter investment period before you start seeing ROI.

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There’s a growth advantage in that you’re more capable of scaling to meet demand.

There’s a staff advantage in that your people can spend more time and energy on innovation. And there’s a technical advantage because you’re capable of iterating and responding to customer feedback more quickly.

Four: Does it measurably improve user experience?

A good question to ask of any automation project is whether it will measurably improve the user or staff experience: will it make people happier?

Whether it’s removing some of the daily drudgery or repetitive tasks your people deal with, or helping customers get their questions answered more quickly, e.g. through automatic shipping updates.

This is a powerful litmus test for assessing if your project is heading in the right direction from the start.

Five: Build in compliance and security as you go

As automation leads to an increase in velocity and business output it’s important to build in compliance and security testing as you go, as well as preparing back up plans if anything should go wrong.

This way you can get all the benefits of accelerating your business processes without having to worry that you’re just going faster in the wrong direction.

>See also: Automation and AI: a a new frontier of the human-machine partnership

To build on principle four it’s also important to see automation as something that can help you systematise and scale improvements in quality as well as speed.

Six: Make it tangible and relatable

The day to day (as in non-Google or Tesla) world is already more automated than most people think, from bank loans to Netflix.

Explaining this and the benefits in a positive, relatable way will lower staff and customer resistance to the trial and adoption of automation

A useful example to consider is the “automated lawyer” chatbot service that made headlines recently.

‘Do Not Pay’ has successfully challenged and overturned more than $2.5m in parking tickets in New York and London.

By automatically generating an appeal if people fit the criteria to challenge a parking ticket – all using publicly available information – it’s won a remarkable 64% of cases.


When you look at all these principles and benefits together, you can see how systematic benefits can arise from successful automation projects.

To automate anything you have to analyse and break it down into a process which can be systematised.

By building more transparent systems – with security baked in as you go – you also gain much more visibility and control over the data circulating within your organisation.

>See also: How artificial intelligence is driving the next industrial revolution 

Simultaneously your processes become much more efficient, so instead of having to deal with audits and compliance as mammoth, twice yearly tasks, they become an ongoing, almost self-managing process, that’s much easier to monitor and maintain.

This transition, from opaque systems and disjointed processes to a more connected and transparent whole, is often one of the highest goals of a company’s digital transformation strategy.

The potential of automation to contribute to this evolution is one of the most exciting prospects in IT today.


Sourced by Mandi Walls, EMEA technical community manager, Chef

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...