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How Intelligent is Your Automation?

Author: Rich Pleasants

When I talk with my enterprise clients about their IT as a service (ITaaS) strategies, service automation frequently comes up. Scripting might be done to make specific IT activities easier, but it does not necessarily address the need to orchestrate or fully automate a set of process steps that affect an entire process lifecycle timeline or set of quality measures.

The true value of automation lies in functional build- and run-side automation: workflow automation user stories and use cases at higher-level process disciplines such as provisioning, incident, problem, performance, or capacity management. Key build- and run-side technology solutions help your IT organization drive quantifiable business value with the intelligent application of automation.

As a CIO, you and your team focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure your IT organization’s ability to achieve business- or operational-related goals. These include avoidance of service-related outages and the ability to measure improvement over time. In each IT process discipline, there are opportunities for automation to positively impact these KPIs. This will help you demonstrate the business value those measurable improvements provide to your key stakeholders—the consumers of your IT services.

The enterprise organizations I work with usually don’t have an “automation” team. They have operations staff with scripting skills who are focused on optimizing their own day-to-day activities or integrating data from many tool sets. Often each team member uses his or her own methods and scripting tools. This disjointed, one-off automation approach is not efficient or sustainable. In order for your IT organization to meet the increasing demand placed on your operations staff—more than likely, already running lean—you will need to adopt a service automation approach.

You’re probably asking: Where do I get started? And what KPIs should we focus on to measure success? Here are the best practices I share with the IT organizations I work with.

The most important thing is to build a team within your IT organization that includes cross-functional members, each with defined responsibilities, to create a standard approach to service automation across key IT disciplines. This virtual team should focus on four tenets of “intelligent automation” described below (and illustrated in this chart):

Optimize Processes

  • Validate current-state operational process with supporting roles and responsibilities.
  • Tune operational process steps, which could include collapsing steps or re-aligning roles.
  • Evaluate specific steps of process for potential automation. Don’t automate an activity simply because it can be done. Choose steps that will add measurable value to IT and the business, such as reducing full lifecycle provisioning time, reducing MTTR, or rightsizing virtual resources to improve cloud service performance.  KPIs should be baselined to measure how automation provides improvement over time.

Change Management

  • Automation workflows should comply with required change management documentation and notification.
  • Pre-approved changes that utilize automation should be fully documented and outcome(s) reported on, including failure and rollback activities.
  • Automation workflows should be fully auditable in the change management process.

Criteria for Action

  • Select one process to start with, such as Performance Management. Defined automation workflows should include documentation on what, when, where, and how the workflow automation use cases are utilized.
  •  Create a standard automation workflow document that outlines all criteria for each automation script and how the workflow will be maintained as technology, process, and organization roles evolve, as well as how workflow activity is reported and audited.
  • Be specific and maintain the specific criteria or conditions that must exist for certain automation workflows to execute.

Notification and Reporting

  • Define who is notified when a specific automation workflow is executed or is awaiting approval for execution. This includes timing automation activities to take into account human inaction.
  • Assign a member of the virtual automation team as a report owner and publisher.
  • Enable key business stakeholders to see how automation supports their specific business objectives, which includes exposing KPIs that are clearly understood by the business.

Once established, your virtual team of cross-functional members can break down the walls typically existing between IT functional groups and instead help the organization focus on intelligent automation. This will allow your IT organization to consitently deliver measurable business value to stakeholders, providing your staff with more time to focus on continuous innovation.


Rich Pleasants is a business solutions architect with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services. You can follow him on Twitter @cloudopsvoice.