IT automation is a set of software tools and methods employed across a business to reduce human workload through workflow, replicable sequences, and tasks. Its ability to transform not only IT environments but also the jobs of the IT operations team make it a cornerstone of many digital transformation initiatives and programs. Automation platforms have many important uses, including the reduction of errors and increased efficiency.
In this article, we’re going to explore the quantifiable benefits of using IT automation. In addition, we will explain its potential scope within (and across) organizations, highlight several use cases, and touch on where automation is headed in the future.
Definition of IT Automation Categories
IT automation comes in all different shapes, sizes, and even on different scales. The main categories are outlined below:
- Automating Tasks: In the most simplistic use case, an organization will automate an IT task. A task, put plainly, is one technology-related action. An example would be the creation of a user account in an operating system. Basic automation tools will automate simple tasks such as these. However, they are only able to do so within a specific environment or operating system. Job scheduling software is typically used for the automation of basic IT tasks and processes (sequences of tasks). Most often, tasks are scheduled in batch for a certain time of day or day of the week.
- Automating Workflows: IT workflows are slightly more sophisticated, generally involving the completion of a series of related IT tasks. Workflows can still utilize basic job scheduling software to perform linear flows of tasks and processes set to begin at a certain time. An example would be running a script to validate current operating systems installed on the network. Or workflows can grow more complex with the aid of a workload automation solution.
- Automating Workloads: Workload automation (WLA) solutions enable IT process automation across platforms and various applications. The goal is to expand the capacity and control of IT operations. A WLA workflow could involve, for example, monitoring a shared drive for disk space utilization. Once the utilization hits a certain percentage threshold (the trigger), additional storage is set to automatically be added. This is done via an event trigger that is completed in real-time, rather than according to a time-based schedule.
- Automating Business Processes: Finally, IT automation can function at an enterprise or business level. In this scenerio, a solution will orchestrate processes across various areas of the business, as well as across environments, APIs and instances. An example would be the automatic assignment of access to certain services and usage levels based on customer account level or region. Another good example of business process management, powered by IT automation, is the provisioning of computers, mobile devices, and software for onboarding new employees.
Powering Hybrid IT Environments
When it comes to hybrid IT landscapes, automation can offer unique and valuable benefits. Many organizations turn to automation software to help them cross platform and application boundries. Common examples include orchestrating big data pipelines, managing cloud infrastructure, and developing event-driven application workflows.
Gartner's recent market guide on Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms re-emphasizes the enterprise demand for a platform to support automation. Their market guide hones in on the theme that orchestrating automation from a centralized solution is the way I&O teams are heading.
Benefits of Evolving Your Approach
Why are organizations expanding upon earlier forms of task-based automation? There are many answers to this question, depending on your enterprise’s scale, needs, goals and current IT setup.
- Customer Service: Modern automation tools and solutions enable faster delivery of mission critical services and increase the quality of SLAs to customers, end users, and internal stakeholders.
- Self-Service Enablement: Citizen automators have become a popular requirement as of late. Modern platforms allow upstream integrations with tools that line of business users work within each day. Empowering these end-users with self-service automation is crucial to minimizing the workload for IT Ops while encouraging productivity and confidence in technical and non-technical users. Creating self-sufficient citizen automators is a key driver toward embracing a more sophisticated approach to automating an IT environment.
- Infrastructure and Application Management: Enterprises need to reduce the complexity of evolving, growing, and sprawling IT environments. This is especially true as hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments become more commonplace. Automation solutions play a key role in scaling control and management. In addition infrastructure-as-code, found in some solutions, helps to support end-users while controlling cloud infrastructure costs.
- Real-Time Performance: More advanced automation platforms make the constant flow and high volume of data more manageable. They accomplish this by using both time-based and real-time event-based triggers to initiate workflows. Event-based triggers allow an enterprise to run tasks or business processes in the moment, versus as part of a daily plan or in date/time batch-based intervals.
- Future Proof Investments: The growth of platform and application silos are the silent killers of an operation. As employee skill sets change, it becomes more difficult to find talent that can manage each tool. A modern automation platform allows an enterprise to manage the workloads that keep these solutions running without needing expertise in each individual tool. Modern solutions are built to break down the boundaries inherent to a hybrid IT environment. Moving data between and across these silos is the key to digitalization.
The Overall Impact
Nearly all next generation buzz-worthy solutions, including AI, IoT, and the like, require some level of automation. They need to collect and aggregate data, move information between systems, and most importantly, automate in real-time. Below are a few examples of how the use of IT automation solutions is evolving to meet this demand:
- Machine Learning & AI: At present, many companies have dipped their toe in the shallow end of machine learning technology. However, they’re getting ready to dive into the deep end. This shift requires the delegation of human tasks to self-learning machines. AI is powered by big data. Getting to that huge amount of data is no easy task. It requires the use of any number of databases, ETL and analytics solutions—all of which require automation to run. In addition, IT automation is a critical part of enabling AI applications to take action across the enterprise.
- Automate the Applications You Use Every Day: Automation solutions increasingly enable IT teams and business users to run automated tasks from within the tools native to their functions. While automation can be managed centrally by IT, the processes that are being triggered can be performed by business users within their native toolsets. Basically, DevOps, Data Analysts, Marketing, Finance teams (and more) will be able to trigger workflows without IT requests. All processes will be automated in order to output functional and reliable workflows. As these tools become more self-service and integrated, IT teams will see their productivity soar.
- Next-Level Reporting: More granular and detailed reporting will increase ITs transparency across the organization. Incorporating IT performance metrics into business-level ROI reporting is always a challenge. Automation will help create real-time information and statistics, enabling leadership to clearly illustrate how their team is contributing to the business.
The future is bright for IT automation. This scalable and agile concept has changed with the tides of IT technology and organizational growth. However, it's certainly not done evolving.