What Your IT Operations Teams Need to Know About Captured Intelligence

Let’s start with a quick review of two terms we have discussed in recent blogs: automation and orchestration.

  • Automation is the technology that enables a single task to run on its own – it automates one very specific thing. This single task can be anything from launching a web server, stopping a service, rebooting a network device, or integrating a web app.
  • Orchestration is the proper term when we are referring to automating a lot of things at once. After all, automating a process requires numerous steps, potentially spanning application, mobile app and database. So, orchestration is the perfect term for this larger, more complex technique.

The goal of orchestration is straightforward: Any time a process is repeatable and its tasks can be automated, orchestration can be used to optimize the process in order to eliminate redundancies. This enables operational efficiencies.

Now let’s look in greater detail at a side benefit of orchestration – let’s call it “captured intelligence”.

Collecting Institutional Knowledge

While your cloud provider or enterprise application supplier may be able to provide templates for the automation of tasks and the overall orchestration of various workflows, the construction of these workflows is built from the code behind the processes that run your business.

In every corner of your business, from the shop floor to the finance office, the processes and workflows that keep your business running have evolved as your staff has found the optimum way of getting things done.

From production techniques to invoice processing with vendors, a remarkable amount of knowledge is not actually documented anywhere – it’s been passed down as new staff come on board.

Unfortunately, that means that the know-how to manage a large number of these processes may live only in your employees’ heads. This should be alarming to you when you stop to think that employees come and go, and a huge amount of institutional knowledge leaves with them when they do go.

The orchestration process, with its associated automations, are an ideal mechanism for capturing that institutional knowledge and then ensuring that it is consistently applied in situations where it’s required.

Fine-Tuning Your Processes

The very first step of automating a process is documenting it. The process must be well understood, well defined and have a standardized approach. As we’ve pointed out in previous blogs, trying to automate a process or workflow that is inherently flawed from the start is an exercise in futility.

This is also the perfect opportunity to fine-tune the processes as they are currently handled. Since they will not be dependent on the availability of staff, if it is more efficient and convenient for the process to be run at a set time of day, you can accommodate that.

Another example: given manual tasks, an ops team member typically waits for multiple instances to queue up before processing them all in a batch. That may be more convenient for a human operator, but given that there is virtually no incremental cost to running a given workflow when needed, automated tasks can be processed as soon as they are available for processing.

Fortunately, your IT ops vendor will have experience in facilitating the process of building your orchestration workflows. But they won’t know what your workflows need to contain. So where do you start?

How to Tap Your Tribal Knowledge

  1. Identify the knowledge gurus. It seems evident, but make sure that the people who are providing the guidance for the workflows are those who actually understand the process. We all can think of situations where we have someone perfectly willing to talk about a process, while the person who actually developed the process is available, but stays quietly in the background. Find the right folks.
  1. Identify what your knowledge is and where it is. Again, it may seem obvious, but the process of transferring tribal knowledge into automated workflows requires you to split everything down into discrete, concrete steps. Exactly what is this workflow going to do under what conditions? Lay it all out. And again, different people in your organization may have the knowledge necessary for different stages of the process.
  1. Commit to the time. Understand that this will take some time. Given that much of the knowledge that you are trying to capture has never been documented (or only in a sketchy manner) and that you are migrating it to a rigidly structured environment, only a thorough, methodical approach will work. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to attain this kind of process. Not committing to capturing it fully is short-sighted. If you do short-change the effort here, a flawed workflow could happily execute over and over thousands of times, each time multiplying the effect of a truncated build process.

All IT operations teams have vast amounts of tribal knowledge that are at the core of their business. Committing to automated workflows in your environment is a great way to translate that knowledge into consistent and dependable operations.

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