Maximising efficiency through service automation

Demands from both customers and employees for more simplified access to IT services and reduced operational costs are driving organisations to become more agile in how services are delivered.

It’s simply no longer practical for enterprise organisations to rely on manual processes alone, but rather, on the adoption of an integrated service automation strategy. Enterprise IT today is all about managing and governing massively heterogeneous IT environments, consisting of internal and external hardware and software resources.

People, supported with effective processes and technology, are how businesses are driven forward. However, very few organisations have implemented a solution that enables the three to work together in harmony. Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) is the end goal, where processes are offered as pre-packaged services that are configured based on their respective business context.

Business units ultimately don’t care about infrastructure technology. They want the same convenient, easy-to-use application interfaces they’ve come to expect from their personal devices to be adapted for enterprise use. Therefore, it’s essential to take a service-centric approach to optimising enterprise IT by looking at automating those tasks that have typically required manual intervention, such as provisioning, management and issue remediation.

While human intervention may still be required, the automation of the bulk of these workflows introduces consistency, speed and general efficiency. In order to maximise this, there are numerous challenges that have to be addressed:

Cultural transformation

Traditionally, there’s been a divide between business units and IT operations, where the latter group does not understand the business impact of its actions, while the former is frustrated about the lack of responsiveness and accuracy when it comes to corporate IT services.

IT operations must understand that management of storage, network and servers, as well as operating systems, all serve specific business tasks and processes, such as handling HR service requests like employee on-boarding. Creating standardised processes that allow infrastructure investment decisions, IT staff allocations, and issue resolution efforts assist with this cultural transformation.

Elimination of technology silos

Lack of integration and communication between IT software and hardware systems often constitutes the reason for inefficient IT service provisioning. Over the years, proprietary network, storage and server hardware has piled up high within the corporate data centre, with numerous groups responsible for each of these individual technologies. Business processes spanning multiple siloes are fragile and difficult to monitor, leading to longer than necessary remediation times.

To bridge the gap across these siloes, automation solutions must be integrated across management disciplines. When independent organisations have access to a consistent set of IT information, they attain a better understanding of how conditions and planned changes will impact other teams and the business as a whole.

Mobility

Business users monitor, provision and manage their personal IT services – Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote, Amazon etc. – via smartphone and tablet. Therefore, they expect the same type of access from their enterprise applications and services. To efficiently provision this type of access, all business resources have to be pre-packaged and centrally delivered in an automated manner. As BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) becomes the norm, businesses need to apply the same levels of security to their infrastructure as they do to business-owned devices.

Workflows and business processes

Corporate IT must offer automation workflows that support the individual activities constituting a business process with the understanding that certain decisions and tasks require human interaction. The ‘automation engine’ must be flexible enough to efficiently facilitate complex workflows consisting of numerous automated, semi-automated and manual tasks. Only in the presence of a robust engine that achieves this goal can the IT department efficiently support entire business processes.

End user empowerment/self-service

Business units need to be able to select the services they require from a comprehensive service catalogue. This goes beyond IT and into business services such as staff on-boarding, equipment acquisition, vacation requests, etc.

Governance

Enforcing central governance across private and public cloud resources is key for successful IT service optimisation. The business context determines what type and quality of IT service a specific user can request and where a specific IT service is located geographically. All the end user has to know is that compliance, security and cost efficiency are automatically enforced. Business units should not be concerned about which hypervisor, SAN, server type or network infrastructure a service runs on.

For the IT department, the challenge lies in striking the optimal balance between providing business units with the choice and flexibility they demand to complete their tasks, and standardising the offered services to enforce security and policy compliance.

While the journey to XaaS may appear daunting, adopting a standards based strategy that automates, simplifies and evolves IT service management is a key component in boosting operational efficiency to deliver more strategic value to the company.

Roberto Casetta, SVP & GM International at HEAT Software

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