IT Automation Explained

Wed, Feb 27, 2019 @ 08:02 AM

Enterprise Automation
IT Automation offers a wide variety of tools, practices, and capabilities. It’s also a rapidly evolving field driven by continuous advancements in digital technology.

In this post, we'll discuss what defines IT Automation, what IT Automation is used for, and why it has become increasingly important as organizations strive for digital growth. We'll also cover the major categories of IT Automation, discuss common automation strategies, and take a close look at the major trends shaping the impact IT Automation is having today.

(We've included links below to help you navigate the page.)

Highlights

  • IT Automation refers to the tools and practices used to automate jobs, batch processes, and            workflows in IT.
  • IT Automation is being leveraged to mitigate the pressures of digital proliferation and market          forces.
  • There are a variety of types of IT Automation offering a wide range of use cases and                            capabilities.
  • IT Automation is quickly evolving and incorporating new technologies such as machine                      learning and artificial intelligence to optimize efficiency and scalability.

 Jump to a Section

  1. What is IT Automation?
  2. What is IT Automation Used For?
  3. Why Do We Need IT Automation?
  4. A List of IT Automation Tools
  5. IT Automation Strategies
  6. Trends in IT Automation
  7. The Story Continues

What is IT Automation?

IT Automation refers to the tools and practices used to automate jobs, batch processes, and workflows throughout IT. IT Automation tools often include a GUI, a job scheduler, and one or more execution agents, allowing users to easily schedule workflows for processing.

The key difference between IT Automation and common point solutions such as native schedulers, home-grown tools, and custom scripts is that IT Automation solutions are designed to integrate a variety of digital tools by automating workflows from multiple sources.

IT Automation is a broad term that encompasses many different types of tools and strategies. As we’ll see below, IT Automation solutions offer a wide variety of capabilities that can be sub-divided into other fields of automation.

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What is IT Automation Used For?

IT Automation is great for automating and scheduling repetitive, time-consuming, and error-prone tasks. This includes large batch processes that must be completed daily, large data transfers, or error-prone data entry tasks.

By automating manual, time-consuming processes, IT professionals are able to save themselves time, reduce operating costs, and increase efficiency. Moreover, by reducing manual interventions into otherwise error-prone tasks, IT can improve SLA management.

Meanwhile, greater integration capabilities mean that IT is able to use one platform to manage workflows from multiple tools. IT Automation solutions can effectively automate and integrate workflows throughout an environment or across an organization.

Ultimately, different IT Automation tools offer different capabilities —and there is a wide variety of IT Automation tools offering everything from analytics, to workload balancing, to ETL processes, cloud provisioning, and more.

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Why Do We Need to Automate IT?

It's important to automate repetitive, time-consuming, and manual tasks, in order to increase efficiencies, optimize resources, and help reduce IT costs. Additionally, there are specific IT Automation solutions that can simplify workflow integrations, helping IT to develop versatile, scalable architectures.

Market forces also play a role in popularizing automation.

Leveraging digital tools is crucial to staying competitive. This is why organizations are implementing more digital tools at a quicker pace. Organizations are continuously adapting to stay ahead of changes in the market as these digital technologies continue to evolve.

As a result, IT teams have seen their workloads surge, their responsibilities multiply, and their business relationships shift.


Digital Transformation

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IT Complexity

As the numbers of digital tools in IT’s catalog has grown, so too has IT complexity. For example, in a recent study conducted by Dynatrace, 76% of CIOs believe that complexity is making it impossible to efficiently manage their digital portfolios.

The problem is that many of the digital tools and technologies deployed by organizations are incompatible, forcing IT to manage fragmented, siloed environments. This makes it difficult to pass information or to manage dependencies between tools, hampering efforts towards scalability and making it almost impossible to create a unified, integrated environment.

Automation solutions for IT help manage and reduce IT complexity by automating end-to-end, cross-silo workflows.

Automation tools for IT are designed to integrate with a variety of other tools either through custom scripting, prebuilt job steps, or out-of-the-box integrations. This means that a single IT Automation solution can help IT manage, monitor, automate, and coordinate workflows from a variety of disparate tools across the organization. This allows IT to consolidate their digital portfolios, further simplifying IT environments.

Rapid Change

It’s not just IT that’s being forced to quickly adapt. Digital technologies are rapidly evolving, driving changes through most markets and industries. In order to stay relevant, organizations are also rapidly changing, adapting to these new market forces and digital technologies.

As a result, organizations are pushing IT to accommodate necessary, continuous changes. However, IT often relies on legacy IT systems that are engineered for static, homogeneous environments that cannot easily integrate with new tools and technologies.

If IT is going to support a dynamic, adaptable organization, then IT itself must become dynamic and adaptable, which is what IT Automation solutions offer by providing a single platform that IT can use to coordinate and automate workflows across the organization.

IT Automation provides the ability to integrate and coordinate workflows, consolidate tools, and simplify IT environments. This is especially true of Low-Code IT Automation solutions which drastically reduce the need to write custom scripts by offering prebuilt job steps and integrations. This means that integrating workflows from a new tool can be done in minutes instead of hours.

Surge of Data

Data is essential to organizations interested in improving products, services, processes, and practices. Over the last several years, as mobile devices, IoT, and cloud computing technologies have evolved, that volume of data has grown exponentially, straining IT resources.

Regardless, organizations are pushing IT to develop the architectures necessary for gathering, processing, and analyzing huge volumes of data.

IT Automation tools can prevent IT from drowning in data by automating the processes that manage the data. This includes automating ETL jobs and data repository updates, for example, making sure that data warehouses are performing in near-real time.

This means that IT doesn’t have to manually monitor hundreds or thousands of ETL workflows. Plus, IT Automation tools will also integrate with Business Intelligence tools, data warehousing tools, provide Hadoop automation, and more, meaning that IT can automate end-to-end workflows that provide the data and analytics line-of-business leaders need.

IT Skills Gap

Even though digital tools and technologies have proliferated, the number of computer science professionals entering the workforce has not kept pace with demand.The IT Resources Gap

In fact, a 2015 US study found that there were only 50,000 computer science graduates despite there being 500,000 open, computer science-related jobs. This deficit has not improved in the last four years, as IT teams still find themselves struggling to attract and retain senior-level IT professionals with the right sets of skills needed to manage diverse IT environments.

The IT Skills Gap, also referred to as the IT Resource Gap, is especially hard for IT teams that manually run jobs and processes. IT teams do not have enough staff to keep up with surging workloads, expanding catalogs of tools, and exponential data.

As a result, IT teams are turning to IT Automation tools to help manage and coordinate workflows, optimizing resources and giving IT professionals the time they need to complete higher-value projects with long-term benefits.

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A List of Automation Tools for IT

IT Automation is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of tools. The tools listed here provide IT with Automation and are engineered to solve specific problems and perform specific processes.

There are also powerful, versatile IT Automation tools that transcend the following categories, offering capabilities that overlap with many other types of automation. There are also categories of automation that share a lot of overlap with other categories.

Here are the nine primary types of automation tools in IT (with brief definitions).

Batch Process Automation

Batch processing refers to the group production of multiple jobs or workflows. Batch jobs are often run together during “batch windows”, the nightly periods of low resource demands when large batches of jobs can be processed together without delay or interference. Batch Process Automation removes the need for human interaction in batch processing.

Big Data Automation

Big Data Automation tools help IT professionals to gather, organize, and process vast volumes of data in far less time than it would have taken if done manually. This is useful because it allows IT to discover patterns and anomalies in datasets that are otherwise too massive to be thoroughly analyzed by IT personnel.

Business Process Automation

Business Process Automation (BPA) tools automate line-of-business workflows. BPA tools offer functions and features that are specific to the needs of marketing, sales, finance, etc. BPA tools are essential to Digital Transformation goals because they provide organizations the ability to restructure their business processes as digital-first processes.

Enterprise Automation

While Business Process Automation seeks to automate specific line-of-business workflows, Enterprise Automation tools are designed for developing cross-silo, end-to-end workflows, orchestrating those workflows to create a single, enterprise-wide automation environment.

Infrastructure & Operations Automation

When IT needs to update the operating systems of multiple servers, or configure servers on multiple Virtual Machines, IT might use an I&O Automation tool. I&O Automation is focused on the hardware and middleware of an environment as well as the processes and workflows that address customer needs.

IT Process Automation

IT Automation refers to all tools that automate the processes that IT manages. IT manages two types of processes: processes for line-of-business clients (Business Process Automation) and processes for IT (IT Process Automation). IT Process Automation (ITPA) refers to automation tools developed especially for orchestrating and integrating the workflows of IT tools and IT processes.

Managed File Transfer Automation

Managed File Transfer (MFT) Automation tools automate and manage the transfer of data between servers using either FTP, FTPS, or SFTP. Managed File Transfer Automation tools place an emphasis on security and encryption with the goal of helping organizations meet compliance and regulatory demands.

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools are software “bots” that mimic how manual processes are completed by users. Users train RPA tools by demonstrating a process which the software can then complete on its own. RPA tools automate manual, routine tasks that are high in volume, such as data entry.

It’s worth nothing that both machine learning and artificial intelligence are being applied to RPA tools, and though it is still new and ill-defined, is being referred to as Intelligent Automation.

Workload Automation

Workload Automation (WLA) solutions are general-purpose IT Automation tools that help users orchestrate and integrate automated workflows across the enterprise. If IT Process Automation focuses on IT and Business Process Automation focuses on line-of-business processes, then WLA can be thought of as the synthesis of ITPA and BPA: A general-purpose workflow automation solution that pays attention to workload balance and workflow optimization.

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Automation Strategies for IT

Automation isn’t just about the tools —it’s also about the strategies that guide the implementation of those tools. Without a coherent strategy, automation can compound the issue of IT complexity and hinder integration efforts.

With a proper IT Automation strategy, a powerful, Low-Code Automation solution can accelerate IT and drive an organization’s digital goals.

Having a viable automation strategy becomes especially important as environments grow and the use of automation spreads: With the right automation strategy for IT in place, an automation solution can help coordinate and consolidate a variety of tools, simplifying the IT environment and delivering the scalability that growth requires.

The top three IT Automation strategies in use today are:

  • The Architectural, Layered Approach
  • Bimodal IT
  • Workflow Optimization

The Architectural, Layered Approach

The Architectural, Layered Approach to IT Automation calls for a Low-Code IT Automation solution that can provide a single point of control for coordinating and managing a variety of automation tools.

The benefit of this strategy is tArchitectural Approachhat by coordinating and consolidating disparate silos of automation into a single framework, IT can direct the execution of tasks across any number of heterogeneous environments. This means that data, information, and dependencies can be managed across silos, allowing IT to integrate and orchestrate workflows across the organization.

The Architectural, Layered Approach is in contrast to the Elemental Approach to IT Automation, which is defined by the use of ad hoc point solutions.

Traditionally, when IT has needed to automate a process or workflow, IT has used a native scheduler or custom scripts. As IT environments became more distributed and the variety of digital tools grew, the Elemental Approach proved insufficient at providing the flexibility and scalability IT needed to keep up with these changes.

The Architectural, Layered Approach, by contrast, relies on automation solutions that allow IT to:

  • Quickly and reliably build and automate complex, end-to-end workflows
  • Drastically reduce the need for custom scripting
  • Cut the overall cost of IT and business operations

Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT calls for two parallel systems, or modes, within IT. The first mode relies on legacy infrastructure to provide certainty and stability for operations and SLAs. The second mode leverages new tools and technologies to drive innovation and to develop new processes, products, or services.

By maintaining these two parallel systems, IT is able to develop scalable solutions and agile processes while insulating traditional infrastructures from uncertainty.

However, these two modes must be able to communicate. There needs to be a way for IT to manage data, information, and dependencies across these two modes. The solution for this is to use a Low-Code IT Automation solution to manage both the operations of Mode 1 and the development of Mode 2. By using a single automation platform, IT is able to automate end-to-end workflows across the Bimodal environment.

Workflow Optimization

Workflow Optimization refers to the process of redesigning workflows to better leverage an IT Automation solution, which in turn helps IT to build more efficient, integrated workflows that improve SLA records.

Workflow Optimization should be applied to both existing workflows (re-imagining these workflows in the context of the IT Automation solution) and to new workflows by shifting automation to the left in the project development cycle.

By building automation into processes from an early phase of development, IT is able to increase efficiency and agility, allowing IT to respond faster to changes by addressing issues across different environments.

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Trends in IT Automation

As digital technologies continue to develop, IT Automation tools are gaining new capabilities and are being applied in new and exciting ways. This is driven in part by organizations adapting to dynamic market forces, placing new requirements on short-staffed IT teams.

These trends in IT Automation offer a glimpse of the direction IT is headed.

Digital Transformation

The modern business mantra is that every business is a digital business. It isn’t enough to digitalize processes and to offer services through an app —organizations must redesign themselves to meet dynamic market pressures by continuously changing.

As a result, IT can no longer rely on fragmented IT environments and static legacy infrastructure.

In order to meet Digital Transformation goals, IT teams are leveraging IT Automation tools to help coordinate and consolidate disparate tools and to integrate cross-silo workflows. This allows IT to more quickly integrate new tools and technologies and to quickly adapt to the dynamic needs of business.

Cloud Automation

Managing cloud resources can be time-consuming. At any given time, IT can have dozens or thousands of virtual machines provisioned in the cloud. Operating cloud resources at this scale is untenable without automation. For example, it becomes prohibitively time-consuming to locate the best resources on which to run specific workflows. And if virtual machines are ever left to idle, then IT can see its bill increase unexpectedly as more resources are licensed to cover these idle machines.

As a result, IT Automation is being used to provide cloud automation. This includes automating the provisioning and de-provisioning of cloud resources according to dynamic requirements, meaning that IT Automation will scale resources up and down depending on the workload. This helps ensure that virtual machines are never left to idle and saves IT personnel from having to manually search through hundreds or thousands of machines.

IT Automation solutions can quickly deploy hundreds or thousands of cloud resources, set up storage and server clusters, and monitor the environment.


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Hybrid IT

Compliance and regulatory requirements can limit what an organization can achieve in the cloud.

As a result, organizations are beginning to take a hybrid IT approach, helping IT to balance prudence with innovation. Hybrid IT employs traditional, onsite infrastructures (such as mainframes and data warehouses) as well as cloud resources, either public or private.

Managing a hybrid environment that crosses from onsite to cloud-based resources can be challenging, especially because cloud resources are not always engineered to integrate with outside technologies.

IT Automation solutions help automate processes within hybrid environments, allowing users to integrate, coordinate, and automate processes across disparate infrastructure resources. With an IT Automation solution, IT can seamlessly manage data, information, and dependencies across cloud-based and onsite resources.

This allows IT to efficiently allocate workloads across environments and to monitor and manage on-premise, private-cloud, and public-cloud resources from a single platform.

Intelligent Automation

Intelligent automation refers to any IT automation tool that utilizes machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Intelligent automation tools can drastically improve processes and outcomes over time by optimizing IT resources and improving efficiency through data analyses.

Powered by machine learning, intelligent automation tools can analyze historical and real-time data to predict and prepare for future resource requirements. This allows intelligent automation tools to scale necessary resources in advance, or reserve the proper resources, scheduling workloads in a way that optimizes the use of resources and maximizes efficiency.

By leveraging ML and AI, an intelligent automation tool can drastically reduce wait times and idle machine resources, improving SLA records.

Self-Service Automation

Organizations are relying on digital tools and technologies to manage critical, day-to-day workflows. As a result, IT teams have seen their workloads surge and their responsibilities rapidly multiply.

Self-Service Automation portals are gaining popularity as a safe, effective way to reduce the volume of day-to-day tasks that IT must complete. Self-service portals are user-friendly applications that allow line-of-business personnel to run recurrent, repetitive processes without involving IT. This can save IT a lot of time even though IT retains ownership and administrative rights over both the processes and the portals.

Self-service portals allow line-of-business users to query data, share files, generate BI reports, and more, while help desks can provision machines, reboot systems, and reset passwords.

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The Story Continues

IT has become essential to critical, day-to-day processes, innovation, products and service development, customer engagement strategies, and more. As a result, IT is moving closer to the center of the organization.

The technologies we rely on are rapidly evolving, and organizations are in a state of continuous change, trying to anticipate where markets are going.

Cloud services and artificial intelligence are two of the biggest trends in IT Automation. Cloud services have made huge volumes of resources dynamic and fast, and AI is now integral to the development of Big Data and analytics. Because of the scales that cloud services and AI operate on, IT Automation will continue to play a role in how these developing technologies are leverage by organizations.

It is interesting to point out growing similarities between Workload Automation and Robotic Process Automation, two very distinct tools that have evolved to comprise a catalog of capabilities and features, with much overlap between them. This appears indicative of a trend towards general-purpose IT Automation tools that are capable of providing holistic, integrative solutions for the entire enterprise.

IT Automation tools have been empowering IT for decades, and as the technology continues to develop, the capabilities provided by these solutions will continue to evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow’s IT.

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