Elemental Automation for IT
Recent discussions with customers and industry analysts uncovered a common theme or notion pertaining to the approach organizations are taking, or failing to take, when it comes to implementing an IT automation strategy.
Too often, IT organizations take what we’d call an “elemental” approach to IT automation. They identify a “point” problem and solve it with a “point” solution. For example, a DBA needs to automate database backups or a developer requires automation of repetitive and time-consuming FTP tasks. The result is a “point” solution is implemented, e.g. writing a script, Windows Task Scheduler, Cron, SQL Server Agent, a tool for automating FTPs, etc. This same concept extends to process types as well, such as implementing an automation tool for runbook automation, a job scheduler to fulfill batch processing requirements or a solution for the DBA looking to automate datacenter tasks.
This line of thinking, while sound in the short term, presents IT operational issues for the organization as a whole in the long term. Taking this “elemental” approach means implementing a solution without thinking of cross-departmental automation requirements that are at play. It builds silos of automation that present barriers to the integration of business and IT operational processes; processes that can be dependent on one another. Moreover, these “point” scheduling solutions represent a temporary fix that become outdated or insufficient within a few years and that increases IT complexity and imposes increased costs and resources for maintaining multiple tools moving forward.
Architectural Automation for IT
The idea is to take an “architectural” approach by adopting a unified, enterprise-wide IT automation strategy and solution. IT environments are growing in complexity while businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on IT-based services for commercial success in today’s 24/7, Internet-driven world. In order to more efficiently automate and manage the critical dependencies between systems and process types requires an automation solution that bridges those boundaries.
Nor does taking an “architectural” approach require an “all-in” strategy whereby the IT organization is consolidating multiple scheduling and automation solutions in one fell swoop. While some of our customers take this approach, the majority adopt a phased strategy whereby a single process or department type is identified, automated, and then complimentary process are brought under the “architectural” umbrella.
A conversation I had with one of our longer standing customers last month underscores this point. ActiveBatch was implemented within the IT department to directly support the business, including automating overnight processes that move data and manage dependencies between critical business applications, such as their ERP and CRM systems, in addition to automating their ETL and business intelligence processes into end-to-end workflows. Six months later, ActiveBatch was expanded to include the datacenter to automate database backups, file and log shipments, renaming of files and more to ensure continuity between the datacenter and IT department. In the end, the company improved productivity of both the IT and datacenter staff by consolidating multiple scheduling solutions and streamlined procedures for their IT operations team by providing a central point of monitoring and alerting when a scheduled job did fail.
As the example highlights, taking an “architectural” approach lays the foundation for a policy-driven automation strategy that drives governance, visibility and control, allowing IT to more quickly respond to the demands of the business when something does break rather than looking for a script running on some disparate server.
And given the right technology and user interface, it can also enable more business-centric access to IT services such as self-service access to management functions like monitoring workload progress, or self-service automation to allow end users to initiate process themselves – all without the need to involve someone from IT operations.
The combined effects from adopting this enterprise-wide strategy can result in significant business improvements – such as agility and improved service levels – while reducing IT operational costs. These benefits not only enhance IT-business alignment, but can directly impact the ability of the business to expand and grow.
IT organizations need to take an “architectural” approach to IT automation in order to achieve IT service level assurance with true integration and orchestration across business processes, applications and the underlying infrastructure.