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Learning from the NYSE & United Tech Outages: Five Things to Ask Yourself About IT Automation

September 9, 2015 No Comments

Featured article by Jim Manias, Advanced Systems Concepts Inc.

It happened to the New York Stock Exchange, the Wall Street Journal, and United Airlines — all on the same day: technology outages that led to hours of downtime, numerous losses, and exasperating inconveniences for these companies, as well as their customers.

While hackers and cyber-security threats grab the headlines, there is a sleeping giant among us that can send an enterprise reeling: good old-fashioned technology glitches.

According to a Gartner study, “through 2015, 80% of outages having an impact on mission-critical services will be caused by people and process issues, and more than 50% of those outages will be caused by change/configuration/release integration and hand-off issues.”

As businesses and society increasingly rely on technology, the consequences of ignoring IT infrastructure and the processes that underlie key operations become costlier. As a result, more and more enterprises are turning to IT automation, and CIOs are increasingly being pressured to implement automation solutions.

Why? Because modern automation is essential to obtaining — and maintaining — a highly reliable IT infrastructure. A solid automation framework allows you to reliably add new technologies and automated processes for building, testing, upgrading, and configuring IT while working with the existing systems and applications already in place. Modern automation solutions also offer pre-built integrations so you can connect disparate applications together, creating an end-to-end approach to workflow creation and maintenance. As a result, IT organizations can minimize the risk of disruptions and achieve a more fluid delivery of technology services to the business.

Automation can offer enterprises efficiency, cost reduction, risk mitigation, and predictability. However, most organizations are lagging in terms of adopting the type of comprehensive automation that will truly help them reap these benefits. In a recent poll at Gartner’s IT Operations Strategies and Solutions Summit, more than 75% of organizations said they have automation goals and initiatives, but reported their current strategies only address automation in specific functional groups, with central management of IT processes merely in its infancy. Despite the challenges of implementation, the Gartner research is clear: Organizations should automate wherever possible and have clear objectives when evaluating and implementing a solution.

So what exactly should you consider when evaluating an automation solution? Here are 5 questions to ask:

1. How easy is it to implement?

Some of the roadblocks to implementing a true organizational IT automation strategy include a shortage of people and skills, cultural resistance, a lack of process and workflow creation expertise, and a perceived difficulty of consolidating the automation tools already in place. The solution you are considering should overcome as many of these obstacles as possible with simple installation and rapid organizational implementation.

2. Does it accelerate time to value? 

The automation solution you’re considering should have powerful capabilities that allow you to realize benefits immediately, yet be easy enough to use so the IT organization isn’t stymied by repeated needs for support. Will it let IT develop and implement end-to-end workflows faster and more reliably, without the need for error prone, expensive custom script creation — and at the same time protect the existing script investment? Also consider if the solution will move the organization toward dynamic automation that consistently addresses changing business requirements.

3. How deep do the automation capabilities run?

A cross-functional solution can coordinate, manage, and execute processes and tasks for both the enterprise as a whole and the IT organization. Can the solution automate key IT processes like managed file transfers or provisioning of cloud resources on the IT side, as well as processes like onboarding on the business side? Your team should be able to build workflows with complex logic, using templates and strategies that incorporate intelligent helpers.

4. How broad are the functional integrations the solution addresses?

Many organizations have multiple automation tools, each managed by a separate individual or team. This causes increased cost of operations and slower IT Operations. The solution you choose should help you consolidate and aggregate the automation of key business applications and technologies for the greatest benefit. Direct integration for third party applications, databases, and platforms is critical to the management and execution of processes across the enterprise.

5. How responsive and efficient is the support?

When evaluating an automation tool, it is easy to focus on how it works — to the detriment of considering what happens when it doesn’t.  Before you implement, be sure to get familiar with the quality of the vendor’s technical support team. Look for things like expensive annual support cost increases, outsourced support, or a pattern of untimely responses. Make sure that cases are managed directly by product experts, and involve seamless interaction for rapid communication and fast resolution times.

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