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05 Mar 2018

‘Are we there yet?’- the journey to widespread automation

Marianne Calder

Automation is “the next frontier of IT”, Gartner called out recently to all companies embarking on their digital transformation journey. Automation empowers IT teams to deploy software more frequently and with fewer failures, by reducing the number of human errors in the software delivery process. With automation, people are freed up to innovate around their customers’ experience and build new digitally-enabled business models.

Thus, there’s no doubt that software automation is a major topic with widely-known compelling benefits, or as I would argue, a must for companies as they look to ways to transform their businesses for survival. Companies are more aware than ever that this transformation is needed, with 42% of CEOs now taking a digital-first approach to business change or taking digital to the core of their enterprise model – so why are many companies are just starting down the automation path and not getting to widespread automation faster?

Why are organisations not fully automated yet?

There are several reasons why automation is taking longer than predicted to become widely adopted – two key ones are scope/level of projects and lack of insight.

Today, many automation projects have been driven first by specific functional teams in more of a grassroots approach. Across all verticals, we see examples, where teams organised by function, meaning they are focused on a specific set of activities, such as server provisioning, testing or deployments, may have developed their own automation practices for the set of processes they are responsible for. However, despite the success within one team, other teams are often still following manual processes to manage other parts of the infrastructure or platform or applications. This will change as automation becomes a CIO-priority and gets visibility across the organisation.

Secondly, automating technology infrastructure requires making changes to processes and resources in use, but people can’t change what they aren’t aware exists. In many cases, organisations don’t have visibility into what’s running across their entire IT stack. Discovering and understanding what you have is the beginning of the automation journey. Once you know what you have, you can take action and drive automation across the full IT environment.

Insight also helps alleviate complexity created by the often-siloed approach between Dev and Ops.

Automation in silos also leads to a proliferation of tools adopted by different teams to solve specific problems. This proliferation creates additional problems in terms of maintenance costs, team collaboration and skills requirements. It also adds to the existing complexity generated by the heterogeneous mix of infrastructure most companies operate, from on-premises to public and private clouds to container environments. With every platform requiring its own management tool, tools proliferation presents a big challenge.

What an IT organisation needs is the ability to standardise the way it builds and manages resources across all technology platforms so that teams can manage users, groups, files, packages, services in the same way, regardless of where those resources reside. By utilising a resource abstraction layer, IT organisations can model resources in a way that stands the test of time and implement them across different platforms, such as cloud provider platforms or containers or whatever the next technology may be.

It’s a journey to widespread automation

Achieving widespread automation starts with gaining the insights required to make informed decisions. Knowing what resources need to be automated most urgently removes the first hurdle.  IT organisations can build automation on two dimensions: depth and breadth. Depth is about identifying a domain, for instance, infrastructure configuration, and striving to automate every change in that domain. Breadth is about breaking up the automation silos and going broader by automating across infrastructure, platforms and applications.

What’s the right solution?

The huge number of options available in the automation market makes the quest for the right solution even more daunting. For this reason, it makes sense for organisations to consider a service provider capable of delivering a solution that works in the present and is designed for increased complexity in the future.  As we have moved from servers, to VMs and to containers, the complexity has continued to increase ten folds – complexity will continue to increase.

In addition, a solution based on multiple approaches to automation that works for different teams and purposes can help organisations shrink the number of tools utilised within the IT domain. Finally, being open to making changes to processes and technology, while educating people to embrace change as a constant element of the work stream, will accelerate the journey to full automation for any organisation that needs to deliver an excellent customer experience to achieve its business goals.

Most large European organisations have taken their first tentative steps on the journey to automation and many more will follow. By adopting the right approach early, they can ensure that when they start accelerating their automation efforts, they won’t get waylaid or take a wrong turn.  The question is therefore not “are we there yet?”, as this will be a continuous journey, instead, the big question for all companies today is “how automated are we right now?” – this determines your ability to transform and ultimately survive.

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