Automation is a perennial topic in IT, but uncertainty often around a perceived lack of control has continued to keep it on the back burner. However, today’s increasingly complex IT environment and ensuing challenges have brought the technology to the forefront, driving teams to look harder at how automation might help solve pressing problems.
At 451 Research, we’re observing an adoption pattern that supports a greater comfort with embracing automation, while achieving important goals like driving down Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) and reducing operational cost.
3 Landmarks of Automation
Success stories we hear about typically follow this progression:
Effective automation programs start with an assessment of current processes around incident management. This exercise may yield surprises in terms of the frequency with which some incidents occur, the length of time individuals spend solving certain problems and the number of responders required to address recurring issues.
The next step is to prioritize the simple, repetitive tasks that waste the most time for responders. These make ideal initial targets for automation deployments. Organizations with open minds and a good understanding about the possibilities of applying automation may discover unexpected automation use cases and reap additional benefits. For instance, automation can be used to reduce alert volumes, consolidate tickets, enrich tickets with important diagnostic information, and guide responders to resolution procedures
Teams very often start with human-assisted automation, ensuring a comfort level with the automation process. The idea is for some processes, such as those that make changes to production workloads, an automation system may queue up the changes but require a responder to kick it off. After taking these initial steps and realizing benefits, teams often progress, in some cases removing human intervention from some processes. In addition, some organizations enable new capabilities, such as self-service for end users, which becomes possible once automation is in place.
Benefits When Implementing Automation
There are a number of clear benefits that many organizations realize when implementing automation, as well as some potentially unexpected advantages:
When level 2 or 3 responders set up complex automated resolutions, level 1 responders are empowered to take on more important incident resolution tasks, which in turn frees up subject matter experts to focus on work that drives value for the business. The boost in job satisfaction for people in level 2 and 3 responder roles creates additional benefits.
With the right automation tools in place, users may solve tribal knowledge retention problems, where certain people serve as bottlenecks to resolving incidents because they are the only ones with expertise about relevant systems. Such automation processes can also help reduce the business risk that can occur when resident experts leave the company.
In automating a range of processes, organizations build an audit trail that may be useful for compliance purposes as well as for enabling analytics that can drive additional automations and efficiencies.
Finally, with solid automation processes in place, businesses significantly reduce risks associated with human error.
Embracing automation feels uncomfortable to some but the many potential benefits are clear. Taking baby steps, by initially applying automation to processes that feel low-risk, can be a good approach to getting started. Plus, employing automation isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. We see a spectrum of usage models and note that many organizations start small and begin to increasingly embrace automation because of the benefits they realize.
Nancy Gohring covers application and infrastructure performance for 451 Research, including IT monitoring, application performance management and log management.
Prior to joining 451 Research, Nancy was Editor in Chief of the enterprise IT publications at Fierce Markets. She launched the DevOps publication, setting the editorial direction for the new coverage area, and oversaw seven publications aimed at senior enterprise IT executives.
Previously, Nancy wrote about a wide range of technology subjects, both on staff for a variety of publications and on a freelance basis. She has covered everything from the switch to digital cellular communications to the emergence of cloud computing. Her writing has appeared in The New Stack, Wired, MIT Technology Review, The Economist (Babbage blog), Computerworld and The New York Times.