Automation strategy -trator writes bash scripts to simplify redundant tasks in his daily work. However, this incremental automation does not preclude comprehensive vision and planning.
Automation strategies must be incremental. As Red Hat Tech Evangelist Gordon Haff recently pointed out, incremental progress is part of attractiveness. It’s in the DNA of automation.
“This is automation through the lens of old-style system administrators and in many cases even site reliability engineers,” says Haff. “Do something physically more than once and automate it so you never have to do it again.”
This perfectly reasonable progression can also be balanced with a higher-level strategy.
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Three benefits of taking a step-by-step approach to an automation strategy
Incremental development enables IT leaders and teams, to speech challenges in their business processes, organizational culture and technology stack. A phased approach to automation helps ensure your strategy:
- Productive: You can make and share results without waiting for a distant “finish line.”
- Flexible – You can review and revise priorities as conditions change.
- Achievable: Your team can execute strategy, a greatly underestimated trait when setting even the most ambitious goals.
In other words, incremental automation is good. The “automate first, ask questions advanced” (or never) approach tends to compound underlying problems. This approach tends to treat automation as a purely technical matter. The mindset sounds well-meant: “Let’s solve this problem with technology!” The reality is more like this: “We hid this problem under a bunch of new tools. Now we have new problems!”
It’s like the idea of ”buying a DevOps box”: It would be nice if it were that easy, but it’s not.
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Six essential elements of the automation strategy
Total automation is good. An incremental automation strategy is better. The best is an incremental automation strategy, enabled by technology to prioritize people and processes.
Several IT leaders recently shared their automation insights and tips with us in several articles. Here are six key elements to consider as part of your automation strategy:
1. Identify starting point and criteria for further priorities
So-called “boil the marine” strategies offer an attractive way out; no one has to decide where to start if they want to try to do everything at once. (Needless to say, this strategy brings its problems.)
If you take a step-by-step approach (and most experts recommend it), you must decide on steps one, two, three, and so on.
Here’s a good rule of scan: Use boring, tedious, or downright painful work as a guide when prioritizing areas of automation, especially early in your strategic initiative. (By the way, that’s essentially what your sysadmins and other IT pros did themselves.
“CIOs should look for areas that cause frustration or stress among their employees,” said Puneet Mehta, Founder and CEO of Netomi. “Their removal will have a positive effect on the culture.
This isn’t just limited to IT, as we recently wrote: Automation candidates can be found virtually every department. Can someone manually arrive at the same statistics in various systems to complete a single task? That sounds like a starting opinion.
“For example, if customer data needs to be updated across multiple systems, automating that process can ensure that it’s not only done properly and consistently but completed immediately,” Mehta says. “This kind of mundane work can make people feel like robots and lead to burnout and turnover. Employee satisfaction increases when people are empowered to focus on higher-level tasks.”
2. Link automation to broader business goals
Ad hoc automation typically occurs independently of other efforts. Even if it solves a problem, there are no clear connections (if any) to how it aligns with broader goals.
While that may be fine up to a point, it can also create silos, cultural drag, and other potential problems. Strategic automation can be incremental and well connected to the bigger picture
“While a CIO will have many questions when deciding on their automation strategy, the most important question is, ‘How will automation help my organization achieve the business outcomes we need to get where we want to be?’? Will, it is in 4 or 5 years?'” Becky Treviño, VP of Operations at Snow Software, told us.
Treviño points out that a “yes-no” matrix can help with decision-making and prioritization, as in, “Will this automation helps us achieve X?” If the answer is yes, then do it. If the response is no, maybe, you should ask deeper questions about why you’re liability it.
Automation is such a broad group that it can be difficult for people to understand practically. The result of a goal-oriented automation strategy can be of great help here.
3. Creating value for people, not just for the organization
People are tired of business clichés like “do more with less” and “realize new operational efficiencies”. Even when there is a necessary kernel of truth behind them, they are worn out and tend to fuel rather than resolve automation-related conflicts. If left unchecked, these conflicts can affect the dynamics of your show.
Instead, use your strategy (and any accompanying documentation and communications) to show how you create value for individual and team entities, not just the company and its finances.
Automation can help do more with less, says Treviño, but getting people on board means showing them what’s in it, whether it’s career advancement, financial gain, or supplementary aids.
“CIOs need to think long-term, communicate their dream, be open and transparent about how these changes will affect people, and invest in their people to guide them through this journey,” says Treviño. “Vision aligns diverse groups and helps them understand what’s in it for them.”
In a field increasingly emphasizing automation skills and competence, you should be able to create, for example, as part of your strategy, a means for employees to develop such skills in the workplace.
4. Acknowledge and address concerns about workplace impacts.
An automation strategy is incomplete if it doesn’t address the anxiety it can create about the impact it can have on people’s jobs, including the possibility of job loss. Dismissing or disregarding these fears increases the likelihood of resistance to automation-related changes. It can also make you seem disinterested: In a PwC survey of 32,500 workers worldwide, 60% of respondents said they were concerned that automation would jeopardize many existing jobs.
IT leaders can and should proactively address these fears in multiple ways. This twitches with transparency and communication: Silence will surely be another cause for concern.
“The lack of information creates fear and dread,” says Thomas Phelps, CIO of Laserfiche. “You don’t want anyone filling in the blanks with assumptions about the impact of automation on your job and career. IT leaders need to consider employee perceptions when addressing automation initiatives.”
This also applies if you have bad news to deliver. Honesty and empathy should guide this process.
Other IT leaders also recommend making an important part of your automation strategy to invest in current employees whose jobs could be affected. You can’t cry about talent shortages later if you don’t do something today to create development opportunities for current team members.
5. Lay the foundation for the measurement results
Ad hoc automation is usually invisible: no one knows even when it has a positive impact.
As Waleed Kadous, Chief Engineer at Any scale, told us, “It’s important to select automation projects that have measurable benefits, especially early on. You must build a portfolio of success as a CIO who advocates automation in your organization for senior management and employees.”
Kadous points out that this doesn’t need to be too elaborate, especially in the early stages of his plan. Saving time is a good start.
“The math is simple: analyze how long it took before, count how many times it happens, measure the new approach, and you can measure productivity gains very quickly,” says Kadous.
And while everyone loves quantitative measures, don’t rule out a qualitative assessment either.
“It doesn’t consume to be super fancy: a little instrumentation and some ‘ethnographic’ studies (sitting next to people and recording what they’re doing) go a long way,” says Kadous.
6. Equate automation with improvement
Your strategy shouldn’t simply ask, “where can we mechanize?” but “where can we improve?” Automating something just since you can is fine from a knowledge and experimentation perspective but not as useful from a goals and outcomes perspective.
If you can’t respond to questions like “How does this help people?” or “In what way does this make us better?” then you should ask another question: “Why are we doing this?” A clear focus on improvement is results-oriented, not only in the bottom line but also in people’s workplaces.
“If automation just replaces one tedious process with another, it’s likely to fail,” says Kadous.
Automation that improves people’s jobs sells itself over time; “do this or else” commands do not.
“The best approaches to automation make existing employees feel like they’ve been given a superpower,” says Kadous. “They say, ‘Wow! I can do so many cool things now!’ So you can rely on word of mouth to spread usage. If it spreads organically, that’s the same good sign.”