There are a lot of ways to automate your IT operation. Most people in IT today are using some aspects of automation, be it local document macros through to automated deployments, disaster recovery, or self-healing networks.
SXiQ regularly recommends and implements automation for our clients. We often see significant opportunities to gain benefits from the adoption of automation, but we also see many failed attempts. It is not uncommon for us to discover a landscape of partly used, incompatible, or semi redundant automation environments, failing to deliver tangible benefits.
The key to success is to choose something that is pervasive and actively used to deliver benefits, reducing effort, cost, and risk.
This article explores the best way to adopt an automation platform with some specific advice to avoid pitfalls and set yourself up for success. We’ll show you that it’s worth the effort, but you need a plan, and a champion.
Why do companies stall in their automation enablement efforts?
We often find organisations have multiple products that are not delivering benefits. This could be products that are sometimes used, used in just a few areas, are using features that overlap with other products, or products that are licensed buy not in use.
There are a few common causes for this, which can include:
- Lack of vision, sponsorship, and strategic intent: It often takes a CTO-led vision to appreciate what can be accomplished and to drive the adoption to a level where it becomes a standard. Without a common standard, departments are free to compete and adopt disparate products which will never be adopted organisation wide.
- Mergers and Acquisitions need product consolidation: Without a decisive decision to invest in standardising the enterprise architecture and product sets, again, entropy sets in.
- Improper implementation: If not well planned, funded, and resourced, many issues can result that cause the failure to become a workable standard. From funding issues, skill gaps, communication and cultural missteps, experienced planning is critical to ensure a successful adoption.
- Organic growth of duplicate products: Over time, organisations accumulate supplementary products, brought in through projects that have a “specific” need (often the product the architect is familiar with). It can be difficult to fund less interesting projects that deliver product consolidation and retirement, even though they often have a positive Return of Investment.
What else can automation do?
It’s clear that a well-planned, funded, and sponsored implementation will get you a long way to realising your dream of a standardised automation environment. Another factor to consider is the evolution of automation products and what they are capable of. Some consolidation may be possible as products expand their feature sets and integrations.
Most organisations that have embarked on a cloud journey will likely have adopted some level of infrastructure automation for modular, code-based deployments using cloud-native or independent third-party products (especially for multi-cloud environments). This automation delivers standardisation, security, and compliance benefits, ensuring infrastructure (servers, containers, networks, access policies, tagging, and so on) are built that adheres to agreed standards and is less error prone than hand crafted equivalents.
But less known is the ability to automate more deeply and broadly into areas such as networks -not just cloud networks, but also physical networks and software-defined networks. Rather than using parallel or proprietary tooling, many common operational duties can be completed with a single solution with manageability and visibility across the whole stack.
With an increasing focus on security, the integration of automation across infrastructure, networking, access, and control policies, and also, where feasible around the application itself (deployment, upgrades, patching, etc.), it is possible to do more with tooling that delivers visibility and an increased security posture, enabling agility while remaining secure.
Where is automation expected to deliver benefits?
According to a recent Red Hat survey, the surveyed companies top funding priorities outside of IT technology products or solutions for the next 12 months are:
The top five items will all benefit and be accelerated by leveraging automation. There is a clear opportunity to reduce costs, lower risks, and improve efficiency for any business that has yet to implement an automation platform. Let’s touch on a few key take aways for these top priorities.
- A digital transformation strategy should consider tools and processes that will benefit the business. An automation platform is going to be a core service that will enable modernisation, service improvement, while simultaneously and strategically reducing errors and risk.
- For a Technical/technology skills strategy uplift, standardisation and building core platforms that allow your IT team to do more with less is highly desirable. The costs to introduce new products is often a key consideration, but management and maintenance costs are often less understood or overlooked completely. Business benefits will be maximised when new products and technology are aligned to a well-considered strategic plan, then delivered and managed using a common automation platform, reducing operational overhead and expense.
- To optimise People and process skills training, product and technology sprawl can be reduced by way of standardisation. The enablement of a common automation platform will enable standardisation but also and importantly the simplification of deployment and management processes.
- While it’s less interesting, Compliance (processes, training or audits) is something that keeps your CIO awake at night when the auditors come knocking. In this context, anything that eliminates mistakes, reduces risk, and has the knock-on benefit of saving money should be adopted. Too often the compliance and audit problems stem from manual processes that are not followed correctly. Well implemented automation will enforce compliance and reduce human error.
- There are many ways to improve a business position for IT or developer hiring and retention, but the elimination of low skill repetitive tasks is proven to improve morale and hence staff retention, enabling workers to focus on creative work instead.
- Another one that keeps your CIO awake at night is Organisational stability. Too often, outages and problems arise from manual processes that are not followed correctly or human error. Automation for repetitive tasks (such as deployment and patching) will see the consistency of common task delivery improve and human errors reduced.
What have we learnt?
Regardless of your current landscape of technology and where it lives (on-prem or public cloud), if you have yet to introduce an automation platform, the benefits are significant. The challenges and risk of failure can also be high – unless your approach is appropriately structured, and you’ve got expertise on hand.
SXiQ has the skills, experience, and products to deliver the benefits of an automation platform. Contact us to discuss your specific situation and how to get started.
Author: Alistair Wilkinson, Pre-Sales Consultant, SXiQ