The Three Pillars of Effective Automation

Writing for Defence Online, Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds, examines how businesses can make the best use of automative processes.

 Most IT professionals across the defence sector will be familiar with the role of automation as a mainstay of technology strategy for many years. What’s changed recently, however, is the potential automation increasingly offers to transform more complex IT processes, reduce costs, and improve efficiency.

While it’s tempting to apply a broad brush to automating IT processes, many organisations find a more focused approach delivers more effective performance. In defining a practical approach to automation that delivers a responsive and intuitive IT system, it’s important to start with a framework based around three key considerations.

Automate the Right Processes

Processes are central to the way every organisation works, but in the technology context, overloading defence IT teams with potential automation projects risks introducing new problems that may otherwise not be present.

For instance, managing an overwhelming volume of tasks is likely to be labour-intensive, and when many can only be accomplished via manual means, it’s more likely to result in mistakes, added staff costs, and system downtime. In the defence sector, none of these can be risked.

Before identifying the IT processes most suitable for automation, it’s important to restrict the number of “candidates.” A useful approach is to examine the IT processes currently used and determine which could be removed. This gives IT teams the chance to eliminate outdated processes and IT assets, such as applications or idle servers, adding further efficiency gains.

Next, assess the scope for combining multiple processes into one—especially for tasks performing similar functions on multiple compatible assets. Not only can this provide an immediate boost in productivity, but it can also deliver maintenance and support savings. It also gives the automation team a smaller list to work from, cutting the amount of time necessary to identify the manual processes that can be translated into automated tasks.

Remove Manual Processes 

Armed with a concise list of candidate processes needed to manage the IT stack, defence IT teams then have a starting point for a key step in the overall process—eliminating manual processes.

Although some manual processes won’t qualify for automation, there will likely be sufficient processes to deliver valuable cost savings and release resources to work on more strategic projects. In some cases, effective process automation may also reduce the need to hire additional staff, while simultaneously giving new development opportunities for those people already on the team.

Don’t forget, any cost savings are dependent on the number of manual processes that can be automated, and while it might be tempting to include some more risky, borderline automation-friendly processes, it’s sensible to avoid options that may introduce higher risk variables.

Don’t Automate for the Sake of It 

Automation should only be applied to processes or tasks where there’s sound business or operational justification—don’t invest time and effort for the sake of it or to tick the automation box. For instance, there are almost endless possibilities for potential points of automation, from patching, asset management, software metering, and security monitoring to reporting, provisioning, and data management—all of which can potentially make a good case for areas in the IT stack where you’ll see an increase in efficiency when automation is used.

Focusing on a tight set of priorities will also ensure important tasks are being regularly and consistently executed using strictly determined specifications. Add to this the potential offered by automating support tasks and functions, and it can help defence organisations improve issue response times with highly accurate resolutions.

Specifically, implementing automation in the support area can deliver better ITIL-based workflows and automatic escalation conditions, while the ability to employ artificial intelligence (AI) can help build self-healing systems. Together, these lessen the chances of an extended, unplanned outage and play an important part in keeping automation cost savings intact.

Ultimately, successful IT teams are defined by an ability to quickly deliver reliable services without interruption. But as part of this objective, automating IT processes will help build a strong platform from which to provide responsive and intuitive IT systems and to create a support structure to optimise systems with minimal additional cost. Striking a balance between an automation strategy that doesn’t overburden the IT team and delivering tangible impact will ideally place defence organisations to reap the benefits.

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