As CIOs come to grips with the new business reality, a focus on accelerating recovery and preparing for future growth comes into view. Now is the time to apply IT process automation and agility within organizations for ultimate business benefit.
Automation allows organizations to do more with less, optimizing support for business units that have themselves become automated. For CIOs looking to spearhead their organization’s digital transformation, automation delivers efficiency; greater throughput and productivity; greater stability and control; and repeatability and confidence in IT processes. Yet, the implications can be vast for enterprises, as automation touches everything from technology to IT and business processes to corporate culture. As boards of directors challenge CIOs to balance security, risk, and resources with an open approach to digital business, automation becomes integral to solving today’s business challenges while keeping an eye on tomorrow’s opportunities.
Automation Isn’t New, It’s Evolving
While automation itself is not new, today’s IT automation offers new and exciting ways to drive digital transformation that impacts business innovation and revenue-generating activities.
I’ll explain using an anecdote about the “A-Enter Guy” — a story shared with me by a former colleague about a person who started their workday in a room full of computers. His task every morning was to go to the first computer, type a command and press enter. He’d then go to the second computer and type the same command and press enter, and repeat until he’d worked every computer in the room. To make himself a little more efficient, he aliased the command to the letter “A”. So, rather than typing a full command and enter for each computer, he needed only type “A” and enter. Hence he became known as the “A-Enter Guy”.
With new levels of sophistication in automation and digital transformation, CIOs are able to transform “A-Enter Guys”, using their ingenuity for much more strategic, business-impacting work. Truly, there really is no need for human resources to be spent on something that’s so streamlined and so easy to automate like copying files over from one computer to the next. These things can be fully automated, freeing the organization to focus on innovation and agility, instead of manual, rote tasks.
Where to Start
Understanding where to start to reap the biggest dividends of IT automation is important. Starting with four core areas will enable you to quickly integrate automation that will help rid your organization of technical debt while creating a positive cycle where teams are freed from manual tasks and able to deliver more and more strategic, business-impacting work.
1. Infrastructure as Code: Automate provisioning of new virtual machines, and everything below them with components, containers, and templates. Managing systems with IaC not only eradicates human error — and the downtime and problem resolution investment that comes with it — but also allows you to make infrastructure changes quickly, easily, and safely. Many organizations are able to reduce provisioning times from days to minutes while keeping developers hard at work as they no longer need to wait for system resources to be spun up for them.
For example, our team at Flux7 worked with a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) where we helped it develop a service catalog offering where the data analytics team could — with a single click — spin up a data analytics cluster. We created a form for the QSR with a drop-down menu, then the analysts only needed to select the amount of compute and storage they needed, and with the press of a button, had a fully provisioned data warehouse. While this process formerly would have taken days, now within five minutes, the data analytics team could access and use the cluster, all thanks to IT automation.
2. CI/CD of Code: Orchestrate continuous integration and delivery for code pipelines, with streamlined, automated processes to speed software release. CI/CD of code enables the easy, efficient delivery of quality software while speeding time to market. It reduces the cost of failure, decreases iteration time, and improves continuity, all of which serve to optimize developer resources, in turn reducing the need to attract and train new, skilled programmers.
An example of this type of automation, we worked with a retailer to modernize its eCommerce platform in the cloud. For this retailer, we automated more than just provisioning, we also automated the process of managing the platform. That is, when a new code release is to be deployed, it is now a fully automated, streamlined process that does CI/CD of code. The system is set up such that it can use rule-based automation to auto-scale. For example, if the system is running with five virtual machines and more traffic shows up, the system auto-scales up to accommodate the need and scales down when traffic decreases. Similarly, if one of the nodes stops working, it can automatically trigger a replacement. This system directly impacts business revenue as it, for example, serviced more than nine million hits over Black Friday without missing a beat.
3. Configuration Management: Consistently establish the software prerequisites that enable code to run. Provision resources to meet application requirements. Healthy configuration management processes keep your systems in a known, good state, reducing security issues, and increasing agility as when you know the state of your systems, it’s faster and easier to detect and repair any issues that may arise. Configuration management also has positive impacts to other disciplines, such as making change management more effective and enabling GRC controls for streamlined audits.
4. Automated Compliance Checks: Security is defined as code, providing continuous integration and delivery of security rules, increasing compliance, and reducing risk. Automation can enable compliance to regulatory and security policy by automatically conducting security and audit checks on elements as they move through the system. Together, these automated checks provide continuous auditing, ensuring that systems are consistently in a known and secure state. In this way, organizations are able to easily show auditors their systems for continuous compliance, reducing the manpower needed for audit prep while reducing reputation-harming security issues.
Technology won’t stop providing mechanisms for automation. By jumping in now and beginning to automate key processes, CIOs will tee up their organizations to more easily take advantage of future automation opportunities.