IT automation: A better way to grow your business
Learn what IT automation is, common mistakes to avoid, and how to implement it to drive business efficiency and compliance.
From machine learning to artificial intelligence (AI), it’s an understatement to say that information technology (IT) is evolving at breakneck speeds.
This evolution doesn’t come without challenges. Using mixed platforms, IT services, and complicated workflows can all be huge timesucks.
Moreover, these varied and complex technologies often require an IT workforce to conduct manual processes and IT tasks, leaving DevOps teams less time to work on their company’s growth objectives.
However, with technological advances, automation software tools can give your IT team more freedom to work on vital goals.
In other words, your company can drive more business success with a proper IT automation strategy. But what exactly is IT automation, and how can it help your business grow?
What is IT automation?
IT automation is software programming with little or no human direction or control to read and perform repeatable instructions, processes, and workflows.
Another term for this is IT process automation (ITPA).
IT process automation (ITPA) vs. RPA vs. orchestration
Like ITPA, robotic process automation (RPA) is a form of business process automation (BPA), a software product that interfaces with programs on behalf of humans. Its programming and function are simpler than ITPA’s, however.
In essence, RPAs function as an assistant to end-users who aren’t programmers themselves. For example, programmers can program RPAs to perform manual IT tasks like data entry or batching.
In contrast, ITPA automates areas of technology management. First, it monitors alerts. Then it verifies, analyzes, and prioritizes them, notifying relevant people for further action.
In other words, ITPA requires skilled IT experts to oversee its more complex processes. It’s more of a behind-the-scenes type of automation if you will.
Note: Workload automation (WLA) can be viewed as combining ITPA and BPA. A general-purpose workflow automation solution focuses on workload balance and workflow optimization.
Above all is orchestration. While automation sets up a single IT task to run independently, “Orchestration is automating many tasks together,” as Stephen Watts of BMC puts it. Orchestration is the automation of an entire IT-driven process.
Why IT automation is essential for business processes
IT automation, or IT infrastructure automation, takes a workload off your team by taking charge of repetitive, manual processes.
As a result, it reduces human errors and frees the team to engage in creative and collaborative work. As The Enterprisers Project notes, “Automation is key to IT optimization and digital transformation.”
What is IT automation used for?
According to Red Hat, there are several benefits of IT automation. It's helpful for a variety of business needs like:
Application deployment: “IT automation allows you to deploy your applications with certainty, configure needed services from the start, and get your apps and their artifacts up and running—all via a common, transparent approach understandable by all of your IT staff.”
Configuration management: A robust configuration management solution lets developers define the infrastructure (bare metal, cloud, containers, virtualized, etc.) in a way IT teams can easily understand. Simplifying the process to automate ad hoc scripts and practices for system management makes it easier to complete the job.
IT migration: Automation can contribute to faster and smoother projects during an IT migration, which reduces repetitive manual process errors.
Orchestration: Controlling orchestrations with robust automation solutions lets you keep track of them, connect them, and run more advanced, autonomous systems with ease.
So what was about boxes, cables, and racks in a data center is now virtualization, from software-defined data centers, networks, and storage to containers and virtual machines. In other words, instead of setting up these IT environments through manual templates, roll out deployments in a data center with automation. It works with existing infrastructure and management tools to take advantage of your current state to get to the future state you want.
Security and compliance: “Move security to the forefront of your IT processes and be more proactive with automation.” Put another way, define compliance, risk management, and security policies. Then enforce them, remediating issues by installing them as automated steps throughout the infrastructure.
Other IT automation benefits
By automating these workflows, you reap benefits such as:
- Assigned task accountability
- Better accuracy
- Improved communication
- Increased productivity
- Time and money savings
How to get started with IT automation
First, choose business or IT processes that make sense, as not all IT operations are worth automating. Some workflows won’t save you time or money, nor will they boost productivity. For example, you wouldn’t automate a process that changes over time. Also, don’t automate a broken workflow thinking the automation will fix it—because it won’t.
Second, identify low-skill and time-consuming IT work that could save time or money or boost productivity. For instance, use IT automation to spend less time on day-to-day activities like provisioning, patching, and installing virtual machines (VMs). Your IT staff can achieve more company goals if they have time to work on them.
Last, audit and evaluate IT automated workflows. To know if your automation is effective and successful, compare before and after metrics. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine whether the workflow was worth automating. These measurements can identify where to optimize to get more out of automation.
Common mistakes with IT automation
Relying too heavily on a single IT automation software platform
Many organizations purchase a single automation tool to automate as many routine tasks as possible. But aside from a small set of end-to-end IT automation tools, most operating systems are only designed for a handful of use cases.
Falling in love with one platform and using it to automate as much as possible drives automation initiatives based on software capabilities rather than the other way around.
Instead, the goal should be determining which tasks must be automated and building a software stack around that strategy.
Failing to engage with all internal stakeholders
Often, IT teams jump into automating tasks and create API integrations without first communicating with the stakeholders whom the automation impacts.
For instance, automation rules that affect how people’s jobs function should involve an executive member of the HR department, and so on.
Not leaving enough time for testing
Implementing successful IT automation can be a trial-and-error process that’s slower than expected, especially when working with third-party cloud-based automation software providers or when your team is still getting the hang of a new platform.
When rolling out an IT automation initiative, leave sufficient buffer time to consider potential setbacks and delays.
Creating overly complex automated systems
The most effective IT professionals use an automation platform to streamline workflows and complete manual tasks without human intervention.
More importantly, they’re careful with what they automate and when they choose to automate it, looking to avoid creating overly complex systems more prone to bugs.
A good rule of thumb here is to make each automation process as simple as possible to achieve the desired goal. Sometimes, 90 percent of the way there is sufficient if the last 10 percent requires too complex an automation rule.
Not monitoring performance post-implementation
Even the most well-developed automation processes are open to vulnerabilities. One of the biggest mistakes teams make when implementing IT automation is failing to monitor the performance of the automation recipes they cook up.
The best teams create a real-time monitoring dashboard on the automation platform and establish a regular quality check routine to prevent malfunction.
3 IT automation best practices
Get stakeholder buy-in: Focus on how automating IT processes and workflows will benefit the IT department and the company.
Use the right tools: The ideal automation tools provide flexibility, simplicity, and usability. Also, they should automate at least 90 percent of identified processes or workflows.
Work incrementally: Think long-term, but start small. Early and easy wins help your team adopt the transition to automation, which helps your company achieve its goal sooner rather than later.
- Consider employing an IT automation lead
- Document clear, automated processes
- Avoid automating unfit processes