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How NOT to Fail at Process Automation and Continual Improvement

Chris KunselmanProcess Automation and Continual Improvementby Chris Kunselman

A big part of my job at VMware is to help customers transform to an SDDC environment. For VMware Operations Transformation Services, that means understanding the business reasons behind their strategy for an SDDC and Private Cloud, and then defining the roadmap to achieving this strategy.  The transformation is the journey along the way.  Typically, this means significant changes to an organization’s culture, paradigms, skills, technology and operational processes.

Usually our customers already have some level of IT Service Management (ITSM) maturity around operations.  They also usually have highly qualified talent who understand the management of technology.  However, what they sometimes lack is the mindset, skills, and experience necessary to effectively scale a privately operated cloud.  To do this, they need to focus on end-to-end process automation through a rigorous approach to continual improvement.

Without an approach to automation, companies will not be able to scale their operations, retire their legacy environments, and realize the full business value from their investment in VMware technology.  Hear more about this at my VMworld 2016 breakout session, “Tips for Realizing the Full Value of Your SDDC Transformation” (add SDDC7692 to your agenda).

Continual improvement and process automation go hand-in-hand if an organization truly intends to operate their cloud as a business, and gain the benefits from the use of vRealize Automation (vRA), vRealize Orchestration (vRO), and vRealize Operations (vROps).  VMware solutions bring a new potential for an organization to finally achieve the highest level of process maturity.  Automation and continual improvement should be a component of every private cloud operations team.

The Importance of Continual Process Improvement

Imagine that you currently have six globally located private cloud data centers, and four thousand application workloads already migrated to your private cloud.  Not only that, but you are continuing to migrate an average of 400 legacy workloads per month into your SDDC.  That means in one year, the number of your workloads will have more than doubled!

In my experience working with customers, most of them don’t plan to manage their IT services in the same way and with the same number of resources as they manage their legacy environment.  They don’t plan to double their team size as their SDDC grows, but this is a very likely scenario.

Virtualizing your infrastructure creates more demand from the business, for even faster delivery of the same legacy services.  Merely moving your legacy environment to your new virtual private cloud does not give you the full payback you would expect, unless you also have a strategy for continual improvement and automation.  A vast amount of operational cost can be saved if you automate.  However, to achieve this, your continual improvement team should have a good mix of business process re-engineering, systems integration, and development skills

VMware’s Approach to Automating Processes and Establishing Continual Improvement

Say, for example, the request for increasing capacity occurs very frequently in your environment.  Let’s say it takes your team members eight hours to provision 20 of these requests in vRA.  The reasons it takes so long may vary, but it usually boils down to regulatory controls, change control approvals, documentation, and many tedious steps in various systems, performed by different teams.

You start with automating this process so that it takes just a button push to approve it and the rest happens automatically through vRO orchestration, and vRA to provision the request.  After taking out most of the manual tasks in this process, your same resource could provision 20 of these requests in an hour, becoming eight times as productive.  This is the type of scenario you want to tackle on a continual basis.

VMware operations transformation consultants use an incremental approach with customers that works well within agile IT environments.  We work with your business process team to identify these opportunities, prioritize them, and drive them to completion through a series of development sprints.  This requires a strong collaboration between IT business process experts, your ITSM systems and your VMware automation/development team.

Customers often miss crucial aspects of continual improvement, leading us at VMware to create a practical and comprehensive step-by-step approach to follow continual improvement practices by automating end-to-end IT processes.  By following this approach, customers can derive measurable value from their private cloud transformation by increasing the quality of service delivery, removing unnecessary labor, and human intervention

Deep Dive Analysis

We begin with a deep dive analysis of the particular processes we aim to automate.  We look at all types of changes that exist to identify changes that are executed frequently, performed with consistency and require many steps and approvals, then determine which of these can be automated.  We establish a backlog of these automation opportunities.

It is important to note that due to regulatory concerns, it is not possible to automate the provisioning steps of every type of change, especially major changes.  Typically, the list of potential automation opportunities is made up of standard change types that do not require approval.

Because we want to automate the end-to-end IT process, it is important to look at every segment of the manual process.  Some process segments will require forms and data capture, or integration that populates form data and automatically passes this data into vRO, and/or vRA.  Other processes may require approval steps.  This type of end-to-end automation involves integration between multiple systems, such as request ticketing, change ticketing, and VMware vRA, vRO systems for provisioning and orchestration.  We look at the business processes, business and compliancy requirements, as we engineer the automation to ensure we automate the right activities.

Calculate Expected Business Value

Next, we calculate the expected business value to be gained from the automation of each change type that we have identified as an automation candidate. This is a cost analysis of the duration, time, and number of people it currently takes perform each step in the process.  From this information, we can determine the “time-cost” of the entire process.  Once we have an idea of the time cost of every process in the backlog, we can determine which automation opportunities will drive the most benefit.  We rank and prioritize these opportunities based on how much value they will bring to the overall virtualization business case.

Develop a “To-Be” Design for Each Process

Starting at the top of the priority list, we write flow diagrams for how the process will work in an automated fashion.  The workflow diagrams include the user to user, user to system, and system to system interactions and use cases.  From these diagrams, we define functional requirements, inputs, outputs, triggers, roles and responsibilities.  Most importantly, during this step, we establish reasonable metrics for measuring the outcome of the effort.

Validation & Implementation

We then hand-off the functional automation requirements to the automation development team.  This team analyzes the functional requirements, and then creates a technical design.  During the design stage, the technical design team comes back to the business process automation engineer who validates whether or not the technical design meets the functional requirements.  This ensures that the goals for time-cost reduction will be met.

Very often, the development team cannot fit all the required functionality into the first release of this process automation.  So we also must prioritize the technical requirements associated with each automation opportunity, placing them into various releases.

By the time the final release is implemented, the full end-to-end automation exists and we are able to measure the business value metrics that we set out to achieve.  The customer begins capturing performance information on the automated process to determine if the automated effort is consistently saving the time cost it is intended to save.

Keys to Success

Following this methodology ensures that our customers get the benefits they were looking for, maximizing cost savings and optimizing operational efficiency.  By effectively prioritizing your process automations, we ensure the ongoing success of your continual improvement program.  We analyze the functional requirements of each end-to-end process first, ensure that we evaluate improvements to the process before automation, and make sure improvements align to existing policies and regulatory requirements.  It doesn’t make sense to automate a bad process.

Tight integration between your business process and your technical development teams is also key to success.  In some situations, a technical team will attempt automation on its own, often with little understanding of the full end-to-end process.  When that happens, their effort may not focus on achieving a clear business objective. By not evaluating the full end-to-end process, their attempt of automating only parts of a process, will not reduce the cost of labor effectively

By formalizing automation efforts as part of a continual improvement program, customers can achieve these improvements incrementally, over time, and within their normal operational budget.  But most importantly, they gain increasing value from the investment in VMware technology.  With our continual improvement approach, one successful automation project creates a “quick win scenario” that sets you up to tackle all the others that follow, with a focus on achieving and measuring specific business outcomes.

If you are interested in creating a plan for process automation and continuous improvement, reach out to your local VMware representative and my team would be happy to help.

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Chris Kunselman is a Senior Transformation Consultant with VMware Operations Transformation Services and is based in Pennsylvania.  ckunselman@vmware.com

2 thoughts on “How NOT to Fail at Process Automation and Continual Improvement

  1. Chris Kunselman

    Norman,

    Thank you for your reply and your feedback. I agree with your comments wholeheartedly! I am very familiar with industry standard approaches to value engineering from the business perspective. At one time in my career, I was part of an SAP program that promotes a similar approach to drive value from improving business processes. I was trying to make that connection from within the IT organization to show an approach for IT to drive value for its stakeholders. Also, what we do is not just about calculating the value, but we also help customers implement the end-to-end integrations and automations to remove labor costs. Based on your comments, I am going to have the reference to “value engineering” removed to avoid any confusion with standard industry value engineering approaches.

    Thank you.

  2. Norman

    I’m going to suggest that the “value engineering framework” proposed here is not really value engineering at all, but merely a cost reduction calculation. And that it has a myopic, IT-centric perspective. Figuring out how much money and time (value?) we can save by automating manual tasks is a simple calculation, and hardly needs a framework, a specialist engagement, or even the time of business process optimization resources. The approach suggested here does not even calculate the wasted labor costs incurred by the service recipient whilst waiting for manual service provisioning. If you’re pitching this to the business I’d suggest they don’t care, and you will fail. The IT business perhaps not so much.

    My last comment on this blog was not complimentary…and of course it got deleted and the comments got closed. This comment is not flattering either. The views put forward on this blog are positioned as thought leadership. And censorship (or moderation, depending on your view) helps perpetuate this misconception. But really, over-inflating the sales pitch here is not doing you any favors. If you can extend the value calculation to include the business’ perception of value – the hard and soft benefits of being responsive, the reduction in lost opportunity costs, the ability to allocate previously unavailable resources to higher value activities – then perhaps it’s worthy of being called a “value engineering framework”. Otherwise it just looks like you’re making stuff up.

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