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IT automation: The strategic approach to IT operations

Automation
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee)

Increasingly complex technology stacks and the rise of upstart digital disruptors in nearly every industry are spurring the need for comprehensive automation strategies, from back office to customer experience. 

Additionally, Covid-19 has accelerated the need for automation. Workforces have become more remote and distributed while widespread labor shortages threaten productivity across industries, up and down the value chain. One area that especially feels this pinch is enterprise IT. Because of these developments, IT teams are under pressure to accomplish more without a commensurate increase in resources and against a backdrop of labor deficits and constant uncertainty and change. 

It is not surprising that enterprise automation initiatives are on the rise. However, embracing automation isn’t easy, even in more “normal” times. Despite many proven benefits to scaling automation, there are several hidden roadblocks and cultural challenges. If left unchecked, they will threaten the viability and results of any automation program. These are:

  • Employees feel their job security is threatened
  • Automation skills are in short supply
  • Automation will not fix broken operations
  • Organizations must govern automation appropriately

Fear of replacement

Today, automation and AI are already commonplace in many industries — automobiles, retail, logistics – yet many workers still have a real fear of replacement, concerns about changes in their work, and worries over whether they will need to retrain.

For technology automation to be accepted, there must be widespread recognition that people are proud of their skills. Even if an IT worker’s job isn’t threatened, their job satisfaction could be if a hard-won skill is now automated.

Poor IT worker satisfaction with any new automation systems can thwart automation adoption, decreasing potential ROI.

Organizations that implement automation technologies that complement a worker’s skillsets and allow them to be proud of their experience and prosper will have the proper buy-in for a successful investment.

The never-ending search for talent

The never-ending search for the necessary talent to handle increasing technology demands is holding back organizations from digital modernization. Currently, it’s even more challenging finding technical staff because there is both a shortage of these skills coupled with an overall shortage of IT workers. The Great Resignation today is further exacerbating this shortage and difficulty in finding and retaining the right talent. 

Alongside the shortage of automation engineers is the fact that many types of automation require implementation, management, and governance skills that enterprises simply don’t possess. It’s not just a matter of having someone that can write Python code. To produce automation that is useful, reliable, and maintainable requires the same efforts and skillsets used in a full software development process. Ultimately, the biggest challenge: to automate IT, employees need to understand both the legacy, manual method to perform some function, as well as the software development or DevOps skills necessary to build an automated process for that same task. 

This digital talent problem is not likely to be solved any time soon. Organizations desiring to apply successful automation will instead need to find means to abstract away the complexity of automated systems and software. Lessening the effort to deploy and scale automation has the potential to accelerate the range and scope of areas benefited by such modernization, greatly improving ROI.

We are too busy to modernize

It’s one of the great ironies that everyone in IT is familiar with, echoed in the mantra of “we’re too busy to improve.” Carried over to the digital world of IT, this means too busy to modernize. Applying any new IT system entails risks, costs, and considerable efforts. Trial and error can be costly. Automation requires time to assess needs, research solutions, and then implement. With a vast amount of IT teams’ efforts devoted just to keeping the lights on, finding the extra resources and time needed to make such investments can feel impossible.

Additionally, IT is a patchwork of systems, processes, tools both legacy and new, and systems integrations that are often clunky. Technology teams often feel they need to get their house in order before they can leverage new systems like IT automation —that many things will first need to be fixed before automation can be made workable. 

When broken processes, disconnected systems, and keeping-the-lights-on activities are devouring a team’s time, it can appear to be an unwinnable battle. A clear understanding of planned goals and return on investment is essential for implementation. With that in hand, organizations can then justifiably allocate the time and resources for a successful implementation.

The chaos of shadow ops

IT professionals of course love technology and solving problems – it’s the very nature of what we do. Fixing something the quickest way is not always the best way. Enter the world of “shadow ops,” where individual teams and business units are often motivated to solve things with one-off solutions, custom-built tools, and other technology solutions designed to solve a particular problem for one group. 

Generally lacking support, integration, and broad usability, shadow IT tools can negatively affect the long-term stability of IT systems and processes. This is particularly true in IT automation. Teams can incur increased risk and decreased alignment across the organization due simply to the lack of oversight around enterprise automation.

IT is a collection of many constantly moving parts, and IT automation, by its very nature, is a strategic solution. IT automation is designed to optimize workers, tasks, and processes. Strategic solutions require business alignment, documentation, maintenance, and support. Automation governance is critical in preventing rogue IT implementations and broken automations and to ensure responsible use of automation resources. Whether you’re using a homegrown solution or a suite of tools, automation governance is a must.

Conclusion

Change in IT is not slowing down, and Covid-19 and the various ramifications to workforce, technology, and how we engage with each other continues to add new challenges. This makes the incredible promise for enterprise automation even more timely. However, organizations must first tackle the roadblocks that threaten healthy adoption of these new technology strategies. Only then can IT automation bring the much-needed relief to IT teams handling today’s increasingly complex, growing, ever-changing IT landscapes.

Chris Villemez, IT operations architect, NetBrain

Chris Villemez, IT operations architect, NetBrain.