Many of the agility and cost reduction benefits realized by deploying standardized and virtualized infrastructure (compute, network and storage) come from automating management processes.
But those benefits don’t come (forgive the pun) automatically. Automation is an approach to achieve a goal. And your reasons for deploying automation greatly influence both the tactics you follow, and their impact the people, their roles, and skills required to function in a more automated environment.
Strategy Impact on the Automation Manager
I recently spoke with the IT Director of a large multinational bank. As a leader in the IT Operations organization, he is creating a new ‘Automation Manager’ function.
Until last year, he’d been working to get key bank ITIL processes to level 3 or in some cases level 4 maturity, and he’d achieved a state of advanced operations which benchmarked well against peers. As part of that effort, he’d been deploying a group of ITSM process owners in a matrix organization structure with central process owners working part-time placed in various business units. That approach worked well.
Now, though, his focus has shifted from process maturity to process automation. Yes, the department had a foundation of mature and consistent process, created by expert staff. But to get to next level of efficiency, he told me, they needed to increase automation. To help with that, the director created a new role: the Automation Manager.
This wasn’t the first time that I’d heard about such a job. This particular conversation, however, highlighted various questions shaping the new role:
- What type of automation? There are different types of automation: powershell script, cron job, workflow tool, policy based orchestration, configuration automation. There are the different activities that can be automated: provisioning, maintenance, scaling resources, proactive incident response. And there are different degrees of automation: automating just a few actions, partical workflows, or going end-to-end.
- What is the job scope? Automation has a lifecycle: intake, classification, resources, version control, tracking benefits. What part of it does an Automation Manger own?
- Where does the role fit in the organization? An Automation champion ideally owns overall program, but is it also someone to whom others can turn for technical automation advice? The IT Director’s idea is to create a central role. But where does it fit? The ITSM process group? The technology team?
All of these questions had me stepping back and thinking at a higher level. The answers depend more on the strategic goals, and less on the tactics.. Given that, I think two primary automation strategies frame decisions about the Automation Manager role.
- Task Automation. Here, automation helps staff do existing work more, faster, better. With this strategy, the same people continue doing pretty much the same admin jobs they did before. The new automation manager becomes an overlay function that helps each admin use new tools to turbo boost their existing work.
- Service Automation. Moving from a technology or infrastructure focus to a service orientation requires more standardization and automation. This strategy is about automating new processes that didn’t exist before. In many cases, automation enables workflow that wasn’t even possible in a manual process approach. The automation capabilities support admin roles that may be largely new, or may be a combination of previously separate roles.
The Value Proposition Tradeoff
One way to think about these options is by revisiting the basic tradeoff between speed and efficiency, versus customization.
Consider the analogy of the clothing business. If your customers want affordable clothes now, you can offer “off the rack” in standard sizes. If they don’t mind paying more and waiting, you can offer something custom-made. They’re simply different value propositions.
In the clothing business, there are uses for automation that help tailors deliver custom work faster, with fewer errors. But automation can also be deployed as part of a strategy to create goods in standard sizes on a massive scale. They are two different automation strategies. The role of the automation manager is either help tailors improve custom work, or build a factory to mass produce standard sizes.
Similarly IT can deploy automation to help execute existing work faster, better, and with less effort. Or IT can use automation to deliver highly standardized services at scale. Either way, if you’re clear about the strategy, the details about the Automation Manager role will come into focus.
For one, helping existing staff do more, better, faster, requires a role largely focused on implementing tools, training users, and offering support. For the other, building an IT factory that delivers standard “off the rack” services at scale, requires a role that is a process and systems engineer who builds and maintains factory robots that do the work.
Clearly, the IT Director I spoke of has a more, faster, better automation strategy. What strategy do you have?
What can IT admins do to better position themselves for their new responsibilities in the cloud era? Find out by joining a live Twitter #CloudOpsChat, on “The Changing Role of the IT Admin” – Thursday, April 25th at 11am PT.
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