Widespread automation: What, where and why


Marianne Calder, VP EMEA at Puppet discusses various techniques and challenges when it comes to organisations embracing automation.

Gartner called automation ‘the next frontier of IT’ – why? Because automation is the key to empowering IT teams to deploy more and fail less by removing human errors from the software delivery process. It also frees up time that would otherwise have been spent on repetitive, mundane tasks and enables employees to refocus that time into innovation and customer experience. So, with 42% of CEOs now taking a digital-first approach to business change, why is it a new journey and why is automation not already widespread?


Sprung from the grassroots

The wide adoption of automation has been picked up a little slower than anticipated and there are a couple of reasons behind this including lack of vision.

Many businesses trial the first automation projects within specific functional teams and not throughout the business as a whole. Examples of this can been seen across all verticals where teams organised by function (meaning they are focused on a specific set of activities, such as server provisioning, testing or deployments) develop their own automation practices for the set of processes they are responsible for.

However, despite the success within one team, other teams are often still following manual processes to manage other parts of the infrastructure, platform or applications. This will change as automation becomes a CIO-priority and gets visibility across the organisation.

The second biggest challenge is visibility. Automating technology infrastructure requires making changes to processes and resources in use, but you cannot change what you cannot see. In many cases, organisations don’t have visibility into what’s running across their entire IT stack. Discovering and understanding what you have is the beginning of the automation journey. Once you know what you have, you can take action and drive automation across the full IT environment.


Alleviate complexity and break down silos

Practicing automation in silos does not work. Rather it leads to a proliferation of tools adopted by different teams to solve specific problems. This creates additional problems in terms of maintenance costs, team collaboration and skills requirements. It also adds to the existing complexity generated by the heterogeneous mix of infrastructure most companies operate, from on-premises to public and private clouds to container environments. With every platform requiring its own management tool, tool proliferation presents a big challenge.

This challenge can be solved by implementing a standardised way to build and manage resources across all technology platforms. This means teams can manage users, groups, files, packages and services in the same way, regardless of where those resources reside. By utilising a resource abstraction layer, IT organisations can model resources in a way that stands the test of time and implement them across different platforms, such as cloud provider platforms, containers or whatever the next technology may be.


It’s not a step-by-step programme, it’s a journey

Achieving widespread automation is a whole journey and it starts with gaining the insights required to make informed decisions. Knowing what resources need to be automated most urgently removes the first hurdle.  IT organisations can build automation on two dimensions: depth and breadth.

Depth is about identifying a domain, for instance infrastructure configuration, and striving to automate every change in that domain. Breadth is about breaking up the automation silos and going broader by automating across infrastructure, platforms and applications.


There is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution

Finding the right solution is hugely important and the abundance of automation options can make this a daunting process. For this reason, it makes sense for organisations to consider a service provider capable of delivering a solution that works in the present and is designed for increased complexity in the future.  As we have moved from servers, to VM’s and to containers, the complexity has continued to increase ten folds – complexity will continue to increase.

Consider a solution based on multiple approaches to automation that works for different teams and purposes, as this can help organisations shrink the number of tools utilised within the IT domain. Finally, being open to make changes to processes and technology, while educating people to embrace change as a constant element of the work stream, will accelerate the journey to full automation for any organisation that needs to deliver an excellent customer experience to achieve its business goals.

Across Europe, the majority of large organisations have taken steps towards implementing widespread automation, with some further through the journey than others. Always ask ‘where in the journey are we and where do we go from here’ – this will ultimately determine the success of the transformation.