Taking a systematic approach – why it matters in the world of automation

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Big data, artificial intelligence, internet of things, virtual reality – all these topics have dominated the technology headlines in the first half of 2017. However, while many companies feel a sense of urgency to implement these disruptive technologies in fear of falling behind their competitors, businesses must still focus on the fundamentals, including building a strong and adaptable IT infrastructure. This is critical as we continue to see an increase in systems, applications and data being produced, which adds to already complex IT environments.   

In fact, according to an analysis by ZDNet, “enterprise IT in 2017 continues to be highly influenced by consumer technology, but for a change this year we can see a concerted push to craft business-ready versions of emerging tech in hot new categories. This is particularly the case in areas like blockchain, digital twins, marketing integration solutions, and digital transformation target platforms.”   

Industry transformation: a 2020 view 

In May, Gartner analysts Hank Marquis and Milind Govekar presented the keynote at Gartner IT Operations and Strategies & Solutions Summit in Orlando. They reasoned that by 2020, industry transformation will drive new infrastructure and operations (I&O) capabilities.   

The numbers backed them up – according to research they presented: 

  • 50 percent of CEOs say their industries will be digitally transformed; 
  • 84 percent of CEOs expect digital to increase profit margins; 
  • 46 percent of product value will be digital.   
     

So, what does this mean for IT leaders? They need to ensure a strong, adaptable IT infrastructure is in place to accommodate all the changes in technology. This also frees IT leaders to focus on facilitating transactions and finding other ways to add value to the business. Marquis and Govekar predicted that by 2020, 90 percent of successful I&O leaders will spend more time facilitating transactions and improving business than managing infrastructure (up from less than 1 percent today). 

IT teams as a whole are also affected by the transformation. Traditionally, IT teams were highly specialized, but faced with a staffing shortage, stagnant budgets and increasingly complex IT environments, there will be a shift to hiring more versatile employees. 

The role of IT automation    

Most IT teams are already juggling a variety of applications and technologies, so before bringing in even more tools (think, smart devices that must be connected), it’s critical that CIOs decide how their IT department will manage it all. Fortunately, the right IT automation solutions are designed for change. While IT automation is certainly not a cure-all when it comes to ensuring that IT architecture is prepared for the technology advances of tomorrow, it does allow IT to flexibly add on new technologies and turn them into business opportunities. IT automation enables organizations to: 

  • simplify reliable workflow development and maintenance through reusability and reduced reliance on custom scripting;  
  • maximize virtual and cloud investments by automated provisioning and deprovisioning of systems and resources based on workload needs;  
  • improve insight by easily identifying, monitoring, and managing workflows and systems and the data dependencies between them;  
  • quickly adapt and respond to changing requirements, demands, and business conditions with fewer financial and human resources;  
  • …and the list goes on.   

Transforming data into insights, faster  

Now, let’s look at IT automation as it relates to one technology term that many innovative companies are focused on: big data. Organizations often struggle to fully capitalize on the amount of data being produced and collected, not because of a lack of tools, but rather too many siloes, making it difficult to integrate data between various applications and teams. IT automation can help alleviate this issue by making it possible to leverage big data applications across an entire organization, and more easily share data-driven insights between teams. 

In order to achieve the governance, visibility and control needed to get the most out of data, organizations must take an enterprise-wide look at their automation requirements, and then implement an architectural approach that streamlines staff workflow, processes and technologies. This includes all forms of automation that fall under the IT automation umbrella – whether it be workload automation, IT process automation (ITPA), application release automation (ARA) or automation for big data / the Hadoop ecosystem. The same can be said for other parts of an IT system.  

By taking an architectural approach to IT automation, organizations are able to simplify integrations, improve reliability and reduce the amount of manual intervention necessary for preparing and maintaining big data. As a result, companies can minimize the risk of manual errors, optimize the efficiency of workloads, and eliminate wait time for job execution. All together this means IT is able to generate and deliver insights more quickly, which can have a meaningful impact on the bottom line.   

Preventing IT fragmentation   

Unfortunately, if there is no collective plan for automation up front, it almost always becomes an afterthought. As organizations evolve over time, they tend to keep adding onto whatever they already have in place. This leads to a disjointed automation framework that has no central point of control, making it difficult for companies to adjust to changes and implement new technologies.   

And while it may not matter in the long run if one task is done manually, when you look at the wasted resources collectively, that is a different story. Wasted resources, delays and greater chances for error are especially detrimental in an industry where budgets are stagnant, qualified employees are hard to come by, and the complexity and volume of work continues to grow. As such, companies need to shift their mindset when it comes to automation and implement the architectural approach mentioned above.   

The solution: taking an architectural approach   

Companies with a top-down, policy-driven strategy are forced to put in the most work in the planning stages, but they benefit later from having established guidelines and practices for incorporating new technologies and adapting to other changes. Architectural automation fits into this strategy nicely. While it means taking a step back and committing to some additional work upfront – such as taking inventory of all automation solutions, consolidating the number of automation solutions and developing a coordinated approach – the benefits have been proven to be worth it.   

With this architectural approach, automation processes can be managed from a unified construct rather than having to oversee five or more systems. Ultimately, this makes it possible to seamlessly integrate new technologies, operate with better governance, transparency and control, and ensure more strategic resource utilization. 

Getting prepared for tomorrow, today  

Adapting to technology changes is not a new concept; in fact, it’s been an essential part of remaining competitive for decades. However, the rate of change is accelerating at an incredible rate today. This makes it more important than ever for IT pros to optimize the infrastructure that creates the “bones” of a network, and leverage the technologies that support an adaptable infrastructure. As they say, a house is only as strong as its foundation.   

Jim Manias, vice president, Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. 

Image Credit: Vasin Lee / Shutterstock