The CIO’s Quick Guide to IT Ops Automation
“Automation” has become a major buzzword and everyone from CIOs to IT Directors are bombarded with information about automation in almost every conversation. The buzz is understandable, as there are many examples of organizations reaping great business benefits. Thanks to automation, companies are improving productivity and customer centricity, shedding legacy processes and technology and transforming into more nimble businesses.
However, jumping into an automation journey based on anecdotal evidence can spell disaster in the long term. CIOs must be clear about what automation will do for the organization in order to plan the path ahead. Some critical questions that CIOs must answer before starting an automation journey are:
- Will automation help my organization improve productivity? If yes, how?
- How can we decide to begin the automation project comfortably?
In this article, we will outline six key factors that CIOs should consider before any automation project.
- Ensure your team is organized: The first element (and a good starting point) for CIOs is to review a detailed list of activities for each service area — with clear roles, responsibilities and demarcations. If it doesn’t exist, it must be created. A well-documented RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consult, Inform) matrix for Level 0 through Level 3 support is essential.
- Standardize your processes: Stringent process standards are the next important element. Perform surprise checks to learn if your team is following ITIL standards and using the ticketing system effectively. You need to find out how they handle incident, problem or change management tickets, and if they provide offline services without accounting for their work. If the answers are not satisfactory, you may need to seek help from your IT service management team and empower them with decision-making capabilities.
- Implement standard operating procedures (SOPs): Good documentation, detailed SOPs for all service areas and training the team to follow documented processes is essential for any automation initiative. It reduces risk and enables you to move from a people-driven to a process-driven culture. Some IT Ops team members may not be diligent about documenting their knowledge, so managers must motivate their teams to create SOPs for their lines of service.
- Decide what to automate: To begin, seek inputs from your team leads/managers by asking them to carefully examine their documented services and SOPs. Ask questions like: Do we have too many recurring activities or processes? Do we know the estimated time to perform each activity?
The answers to these basic questions help you determine which activities consume the most bandwidth. Use-case categorization (low/medium/high complexity) and prioritization (critical/high/medium/low) is a key element to consider before starting any automation project.
- Decide how to automate: Now that you understand how your teams operate, have standardized, well-documented processes and understand where the opportunities exist, how do you move forward? Let’s quickly examine the two most common methods of automation:
- Traditional automation is time-consuming, complex, and requires an API to integrate with the application in the back-end, along with high-level access to critical servers like Exchange and domain controllers.
- RPA is easy and quick in comparison, requiring only one or two pieces of software and operator-level access. The main disadvantage is that RPA doesn’t provide the same long-term flexibility. It can develop faults due to changes in target applications, front-end forms or features.
Before investing in an automation tool or hiring automation experts, CIOs should carefully consider the ROI they hope to achieve. Start by asking an application expert and Ops manager to develop a high-level workflow design for one or two use cases. It should include the following elements at a minimum:
- Hardware requirements
- Software requirements
- Integration points
- Automation platforms/tools
- Scripting languages
- Database requirements
- Log/defect tracking requirements
- Info Security implications, including vulnerabilities, restrictions and required clearance
Some additional questions that CIO should ask before beginning the journey are:
- Does the workflow design follow the same steps to achieve and automate the intended services?
- If bots cannot perform every task, does the design cover end-to-end automation or partial automation?
- Are additional process improvements or corrections required to enable bots to provide end-to-end automation?
- Does the design take into account both web-enabled and desktop applications? If yes, which automation tools are most appropriate?
- Does the design dictate the implementation (traditional vs. RPA) method?
- Develop a solid implementation plan: Answering the questions above will provide clarity and increase your chances of success. The last element is to create and document a detailed implementation plan for the selected use cases. It is essential to thoroughly prepare, capture all pre-requisites and prepare a timeline to develop and implement the plan. Once everything is laid out in one coherent plan, making an informed “go/no-go” decision for your automation project will be much easier. A little bit of preparation for automation will help the CIO to arrive at the ROI quickly, and comfortably take an informed decision to sponsor the IT Ops automation program.
Dayanidhi has over 20 years of experience in Infrastructure Management Services. He is currently engaged with Atos|Syntel Inc at Buffalo, NY as IT Program Manager.