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Wanted: Chief Automation Officer

November 2014

As cloud computing and virtualization morph into mainstream enterprise technologies, the role of automation is becoming increasingly crucial in your datacenter—and more importantly, across your entire enterprise. Automation encompasses a number of technologies designed to eliminate manual tasks in specific areas, including IT processes, scripts, cloud orchestration, workloads, infrastructure provisioning, DevOps, compliance, and more.

Charlie Bess, Fellow and Chief Technologist, Application Business Services Americas at HP, sees the driving force behind automation as twofold:

  • The abundance of IT capabilities and advances in techniques have made reliable automation a reality.
  • The enterprise-wide pressure to drive down costs of tasks that do not require creativity—and yet consume the attention of the workforce—continues to build.

As with security and mobility before it, automation is becoming an issue that applies to processes enterprise-wide.

Ad hoc opportunists need not apply
Many infrastructure and operations organizations continue to approach automation in an opportunistic way—adding tools for one project or problem at a time. When “elemental” automation strategies are implemented by individuals or within workgroups and departments, the accompanying silo mentality fosters narrowly focused tool purchasing decisions and ad hoc implementations. Simply put, point tools and scripting workarounds can be effective short-term fixes, but fragmented automation efforts increase complexity, can’t scale, and represent a governance disaster waiting to happen. IT operations must move from an opportunistic approach to a systematic approach in order to lower costs, boost agility, and deliver real business benefits.

Even with that though, the view is too limited. These same techniques can be applied to business processes across the board—not just IT. Approaching automation with an eye toward cross-platform tools and cross-departmental processes allows you to move from “elemental” automation to the simpler, more scalable, and less costly “architectural” automation model.

Who should lead the automation charge?
A successful approach will need a champion to lead the charge in your enterprise—but to whom do you turn? Does this effort require a dedicated role? Should it be part of the CIO’s purview?

HP’s Bess doesn’t believe that such an automation effort requires a dedicated, new C-level role. Instead, he says, it could be “a role for the CTO or even the enterprise architect.” According to Bess, the automation architect should ask: “What is the business need? How much is enough? What is the new value that can be created beyond just the immediate need?” Once those things are better understood, Bess says, the best technologies can be applied. Automation architects must understand “the possibilities of the technology, then the business needs and finally the best approach and how success would be measured by the business. Another thing that is important is keeping an open mind along the way. Don’t just look for the obvious, pay attention to the other sites along the road.”

Automation road map
Ad hoc, opportunistic automation yields low operational agility and comes at a high cost. Tool sprawl leads to overlapping coverage, duplication of functionality, and suboptimal use of staff. Lack of coordination results in overspending and/or increased risk when executing changes to IT infrastructure.

To succeed at automation, IT operations leaders must take a systematic approach to choosing and implementing automation tools. Enterprises should begin by assigning an automation architect to lead a team tasked with reviewing and coordinating automation processes and tools. The team should then get started and look for automation opportunities to maximize the value generation and improve the quality and consistency of what’s delivered while understanding the implications on the behavior of the leadership as well as the individuals affected.

More to read
HP IT Automation & Orchestration
Is it time for a Chief Automation Officer?
The Next Big Thing Blog