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The Case for Automation in IT Operations

OptanixVisit any major online retailer, and you’ll see a common theme. Whether it’s Amazon or eBay – or even Sears – the consumer experience is completely automated. It’s not just about having a searchable catalog – you can get automatic recommendations, compare products with a few clicks, easily add items to your shopping cart, and check out in seconds. And, once you’ve placed your order, you can often track it right to your front door. Without automation, online retailing just wouldn’t work – and neither would just about anything else on the Web. Just imagine if you needed an army of people behind the scenes to handle every customer click – it would be excruciatingly slow and the cost would be prohibitive.

However, here’s the embarrassing truth. While IT has automated a huge range of applications – both business and consumer – many IT organizations still manage these services manually. For example, when something goes wrong with a service, IT staff have to plow through huge amounts of monitoring data to find out why. And, when they need to reconfigure something, they end up making the change manually – whether that’s upgrading software, modifying LDAP directory permissions, or provisioning new cloud resources.

IT organizations pay a huge price for these manual processes – and so do the businesses that they support. Unless IT embraces automation within its operational environment, it will continue to suffer as it struggles to keep the lights on.

Here’s why automating IT processes is so important.

Greater Speed and Efficiency

Manual processes are inherently slow. In the past, this was less of a concern because the pace of IT itself was slower. However, that’s no longer the case. IT is expected to respond instantly to business needs – not take three weeks to fire up a VM in a private cloud. These types of delays are just not acceptable – they act as a brake on the business itself.

Let’s be clear. Rapidly increasing digitalization is a driving force in the modern enterprise. It underpins productivity, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction. That’s why IT is embracing the cloud – to deliver the speed and agility needed to keep pace with a constantly accelerating business environment. However, unless IT itself becomes more agile and automated, there’s no point. It’s like putting a racecar engine into a horse-drawn carriage.

Improved Service Availability

Businesses continue to be plagued by IT service outages – in fact, a recent study showed that outages cost North American businesses $700 billion a year. When mission-critical services go down – such as e-commerce portals, contact centers or supply chain management systems – productivity, revenues and customer confidence all suffer. And yet, many IT organizations still rely on manual processes to keep these services up and running – and that’s a huge problem.

Today, there are intelligent, automated technologies that can automatically identify the root cause of service outages. These technologies can also pinpoint potential issues before service is affected. As a result, they dramatically reduce both the frequency and duration of service outages. Our experience at Optanix has shown that these technologies can cut restoration times in half, and can proactively identify more than 90% of issues before there is an end-user impact.

Increased Accuracy

Whenever someone makes a manual change to an IT environment, it’s easy to get it wrong. Even if changes are carefully planned and go through a rigorous change approval process, ultimately it’s a human that actually makes the change. And, humans make mistakes. In fact, these types of errors are responsible for a significant proportion of service outages. And, even if the service isn’t immediately affected, errors still have to be detected and corrected – resulting in a significant amount of rework.

By automating configuration and provisioning processes, IT organizations can dramatically increase accuracy – reducing the potential for mistakes. Unlike humans, automated processes do things repeatably and reliably. Of course, it’s not feasible to automate every change – for example, while it’s technically possible, there’s no point in automating “one-off” changes. However, when the same type of change is made over and over again, automation dramatically reduces both risks and costs.

Enhanced Visibility

When IT organizations use manual processes, visibility is a major problem. There’s no easy way to track activities when information is spread out over innumerable emails and spreadsheets. Even when an IT organization uses some sort of recording system – for example, a ticketing system – the system still relies on manual updates, leading to incomplete and inconsistent data. As a result, it’s incredibly difficult to measure, analyze and improve processes – or to meet regulatory and internal compliance requirements.

On the other hand, automated processes deliver dramatically increased visibility. For instance, when an incident management process is automated, every step is recorded. This makes it simple to analyze trends, identify process bottlenecks, and drive proactive processes such as problem management to prevent incidents from reoccurring. Ultimately, this leads to improved service quality, reduced incident volumes, and lower operational costs. And, incident management is just one example.

Faster Innovation

Today, IT organizations are increasingly expected to partner with their business – helping to increase enterprise velocity and competitiveness. However, the reality is that 80% of IT’s resources are typically consumed with day-to-day operations. And, while the pressure on IT budgets is less than it was during the great recession, there is still no blank check – IT is expected to step up to the mark while keeping a tight lid on costs. Furthermore, budgets aren’t the only limiting factor. It’s incredibly difficult to find and retain high-performing IT staff. Even if an IT organization has the budget to innovate, squandering skilled resources on mundane operational activities just isn’t an option.

Automation doesn’t directly drive innovation – by its nature, automation is applied to well-established, high-volume processes. However, by eliminating time-consuming manual work, automation frees up resources to drive innovation.

And, given the overwhelming and increasing business demands placed on IT organizations, that’s just one more reason why automation should be top of the agenda for every IT operations team.

Learn more about maximizing your business service availability and ensure a positive digital experience for all of your customers with our free eBook: Transforming the Tidal Wave.

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