Blog Post Top IT Automation Trends in 2021 and Beyond

Few of our top nine IT automation trends are wholly new for 2021. Rather, most of these automation priorities are taking on a new urgency as enterprises demand faster, better and more efficient creation of digital products and services.

IT Automation Top Trends in 2021

IT automation trends were of most interest to IT operations in the past, but those days are gone. As the list below makes clear, IT automation today is absolutely necessary if enterprises are to achieve their objectives for the production and delivery of digital products and services. The trends listed below give insight into how IT operations teams are partnering with their IT brethren in DataOps, DevOps and Cloud Ops to help their organizations deliver on crucial, top-level business strategies.

1. Demand for new digital products and services continues to increase

Due in large part to the global pandemic, 76% of CIOs report that demand for new digital products and services grew in 2020. This demand will increase further in 2021, according to an even larger share—83%—of CIOs. Enterprises are adding IT tools to create these digital products and services; IT automation will, therefore, continue its evolution into platforms capable of orchestrating and controlling these newly added tools. 

In 2021, we’ll see an acceleration of the shift to a strategic approach to automation. As the demand for new digital products and services grows, automation must be scalable and accommodate the kinds of use cases that support top-level business strategies. From managing workloads in increasingly common (and complex) hybrid IT environments to creating, deploying and managing dynamic application environments, IT automation will grow more central to an enterprise’s digital business imperatives.

2. Distributed cloud gains ground as a preferred infrastructure model

I&O leaders are well acquainted with the shift to public cloud computing and the accompanying opportunities to accelerate digital transformation. Gartner projects that by 2024, “More than 45% of IT spending on system infrastructure, infrastructure software, application software and business process outsourcing will shift from traditional solutions to cloud.”

How, exactly, enterprises will make the shift to cloud computing is always top of mind. Over the next 12–18 months, distributed cloud is expected to emerge as a preferred infrastructure model. Distributed cloud decentralizes cloud resources, which offers enterprises greater flexibility in their physical location, reduces latency, and moves responsibility for support to the cloud service provider.

3. Workload automation continues its evolution into the service orchestration and automation platform

For anyone responsible for designing or executing their enterprise’s automation strategy, the growing prominence of the service orchestration and automation platform (or SOAP) will be a big IT automation trend of focus in 2021. SOAPs offer many advantages over their workload automation forerunners, starting with handling the needs of event-driven business models and the ability to automate cloud infrastructure. 

The larger goal of SOAPs is to drive business agility and digital innovation. These platforms achieve that by quickly integrating new technologies into larger workflows. SOAPs make it easy to access integrations through a variety of simple build, borrow or create strategies, which allows enterprises to make product upgrades themselves. The agility created by this integration approach enables fast, on-demand workflow creation with the entire IT ecosystem. Plus, unlike workload automation, IT teams no longer have to depend on the vendor to develop the desired integrations at the vendor’s pace. 

Looking back at our first trend—demand for new digital products and services—it’s easy to see why Gartner projects that through 2024, 80% of organizations using workload automation tools will switch to SOAPs.  

4. Democratizing access to automation technologies

Workload automation has long been used by IT Ops teams to automate IT tasks and jobs. As an increasing IT automation trend, enterprises are now empowering line of business end-users with self-service. This shift has created citizen automators, or end-users who are enabled to kick off sophisticated workflows from within the solutions they natively use each day—without needing support from IT Ops. 

Look for this trend to accelerate in 2021 as more enterprises recognize that citizen automation delivers benefits like greater productivity and empowerment of end-users. We’ll also see citizen automators spread beyond IT Ops and Development into other business groups, from finance to HR to the C-suite.

5. SOAPs amplify the business value of DevOps methodologies

Although most enterprises now have a DevOps methodology in place, according to the 2020 State of DevOps Report, four out of five organizations report being stuck in the middle stages of the DevOps evolution scale. 

There’s no one-size-fits all way to implement (or improve) a DevOps methodology; however, service orchestration automation platforms have proven their worth in uniting IT Ops and Development through a series of processes and tools. In 2021, look for enterprises to use SOAPs more widely to maximize the value of their DevOps methodology. This value will be derived from orchestrating end-to-end development pipelines, which include linkages and automation across modern source control, container and deployment solutions.

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6. SOAPs further amplify the power and business value of the DevOps toolchain

In the world of IT automation solutions, service orchestration and automation platforms are uniquely capable of orchestrating automated jobs and workloads in real-time across increasingly complex hybrid IT and application environments. These qualities enable SOAPs to orchestrate the DevOps toolchain as never before. 

In 2021, look for enterprises to push ahead with using SOAPs as a single orchestration point to execute, route and delegate along their DevOps toolchains. By doing so, organizations benefit from improved agility and faster time to market; faster development cycles through self-service automation; streamlined workflow creation across hybrid IT environments; and improved collaboration between DevOps and DataOps.

7. DevOps adopts the platform model

For many enterprises, a major DevOps challenge is finding an effective, cost-efficient way to scale their methodologies and make DevOps part of a viable long-term, enterprise-wide strategy. In 2021, look for more organizations to answer the scaling challenge by adopting a platform model; specifically, more enterprises will use the service orchestration and automation platform as a solution to orchestrate all the many and varied automation tools used along the DevOps toolchain.

8. Reducing IT’s fundamental complexity

It’s no secret that the fundamental complexity of IT has never been greater. In 2021, IT automation will be a major player in the push to eliminate complexity wherever possible. A potential downside of the massive move into cloud-native environment and applications has been to introduce new complexities into automation. In 2021, look for enterprises to focus on automation efforts that reduce complexity by easily managing and orchestrating end-to-end IT workflows from a single, unified view within a centralized platform.

9. Workload automation, other IT automation processes move under the hyperautomation banner

As Gartner’s number-one strategic technology trend of 2020 and the only one to return to the list in 2021, the term hyperautomation doesn’t refer to a specific technology. Rather, hyperautomation is a process for orchestrating the rapidly expanding volume of automation technologies in place at most organizations today. 

It’s fitting that hyperautomation rounds out this list of top IT automation trends for 2021. That’s because hyperautomation is, in a sense, a blanket term that covers everything we’ve discussed up to this point (and more).

Final thoughts about IT automation trends

As the IT professionals Stonebranch works with are well aware, task automation, job scheduling and workload automation have long been on the automation agenda for many organizations. Of course, with the urgency driven by business users and additional IT functions, the requirement to centrally orchestrate an exceedingly complex list of disparate automation tools, both within and outside of IT Ops, has become a paramount objective in 2021 and beyond.  

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