What is automation in IT
The automation of IT operations is currently on everyone's lips. While the topic still sounds like a dream of the future for some companies, others are already discussing specific application possibilities and examples of success. The fact is: the process makes a significant contribution to optimizing IT processes.
In most companies, IT experts are particularly tied to system administration because thousands of tickets (incidents, problems, changes, capacity and service requests) have to be processed. The efficiency of this work has a significant impact on the overall performance as well as the costs of IT. These tasks, which maintain the status quo or develop in small steps, tie up the workforce of highly qualified and expensive employees and limit their capacities for future-oriented projects. As a result, not only does the company's ability to innovate suffer, but the IT budget, among other things, is also used to maintain the current state of IT.
IT automation relieves specialists
A solution that relieves IT specialists in day-to-day business by automatically taking on tasks within the company would therefore be an advantage. Such relief can range from the integration of new users and network operation to the implementation of entire structures in the cloud and the support of large applications. Wherever it is possible to automate processes, it can be worthwhile because it cuts costs, reduces the errors that arise in manual work, and makes IT operations more effective. The result: Employees can focus more on strategic tasks and put their specialist knowledge and innovative strength at the service of the company in a better and more targeted manner.
Script-based tools work like an assembly line
Automation brings various benefits to the CIO and the company he works for. However, it is important to realize that not every method is suitable for complete IT operations, from the operating system to individual applications. Standardized automation solutions that work with so-called workflows, runbooks or scripts and reliably execute defined processes step by step are currently widespread. Each script covers exactly one case, that is, it always completes a task if the defined precondition is met. These standardization-based methods of automation generate IT processes that are similar to an assembly line. This type of automation can be used well in ten to 20 percent of the IT stack. It should also be used there, for example in the administration of the operating system and the operation of the infrastructure, i.e. on a level that already benefits to a high degree from standardization.
Experience has shown that script-based tools can achieve a degree of automation in the entire IT operation of a maximum of 30 percent. However, as soon as an individual application, complex IT environment or new technology has to be looked after, this method reaches its limits. Even if only a small thing changed on the system during the last release, the entry condition no longer fits and the script cannot work as a result. It needs to be completely redesigned.
This is because, with defined standard processes, the knowledge required to be able to handle situations flexibly and correctly is precisely defined and cannot be recompiled or combined with different sources and experiences. In other words: such automation processes designed for economies of scale lack the necessary intelligence to apply existing knowledge flexibly and to take into account the knowledge from what has been learned in future solutions. This means that an IT company tries to maintain such existing systems and standards for as long as possible in order to amortize the investment in standardization.
Batch jobs are the oldest type of automation on Windows and they still work without any problems.
Visual Basic Script, or VBS for short, gives the user access to COM objects and significantly expands the capabilities of batch jobs. However, the future belongs to the more powerful PowerShell.
Only a few users know: The possibility of encrypting VB scripts.
AutoIt 3 allows the user to automate mouse and input processes. Particularly useful for software testers.
The free AutoIt 3 software even offers its own script editor with syntax highlighting.
The specialty of AutoIt 3: Scripts are compiled into real executable EXE files.
Matrix42 Package Robot logs the user interactions and generates script jobs from them. The software is based on WinRobots.
Aagon ACMP AutoMATE logs user interactions and uses them to generate script jobs. The software is based on WinRobots.
The baramundi Automation Studio allows automation within the framework of software and configuration packaging.
A BASIC dialect for creating macros is also integrated in OpenOffice or LibreOffice.
Visual Basic for Applications is a very powerful programming language in Microsoft Office. The change to a .NET-like language variant is still pending.
Entire duty roster procedures can be developed with Microsoft Excel and macros, for example.
PhraseExpress automates the creation of texts in all Windows applications. Even free of charge for private users.
The machine colleague
Knowledge-based solutions go one step further. Instead of concentrating on adhering to fixed procedures, they focus on the correct application of know-how. The tool works like an independent colleague. Like the human employee in a team, the knowledge-based automation software must go through a learning process in advance. To do this, the experts in the IT department collect their know-how in modular components and store it in a knowledge pool that is organized like a wiki.
In this way, the tool learns, understands and combines from the experts. In daily operation, the automation software dynamically compiles a complete sequence of actions from the knowledge modules in order to complete a task assigned to it. The software tool is also able to react to spontaneous events. If it cannot find a solution, it specifically asks for new expert knowledge by documenting the process and forwarding it to a human colleague. A knowledge-based solution administrates the entire technology stack - from the operating system to the individual application - and integrates itself into the existing IT landscape, even in complex, non-standardized environments.
"Nothing has such fast change cycles and expects such a high degree of innovation as the IT industry. Parameters shift, conditions change - completely new structures emerge overnight," explains Hans-Christian Boos, Managing Director of Arago AG from Frankfurt am Main . For this reason alone, says Boos, a knowledge-based automation solution makes sense for IT operations. This gives companies the flexibility they need to manage their IT infrastructures effectively and economically.
- Five mistakes in IT automation
What IT has been delivering to its customers for three decades, it recently also wanted to apply to its own processes. Three experts give tips on how IT can be automated.
- Mistake 1: wanting the big hit right away
Automation sounds like a big promise. This is why entire process chains are often planned at the same time. "But the more complex the system, the longer development and implementation take, and the later possible successes come about," says Böhmann. In addition, the more complex, the higher the susceptibility to errors and the more confusing the error handling. This is particularly precarious in companies that first introduce such automation and have to develop a feeling for it.
- Mistake 2: starting with complex tasks
To want to master the large and complex tasks right at the beginning - that can really only go wrong: Ideal candidates for automation are processes with a high repetition rate and low complexity. Those who start with them can give the management a feeling for the topic and its positive effects. In this way, the organization gets to know the basics of IT automation before it has to tackle more complex and difficult work processes.
- Mistake 3: lack of standards
No automation without process standards. Automation without intervention by IT staff is only possible where processes always run the same or fixed decision parameters lead to different but fixed solutions.
- Mistake 4: Doing everything that is feasible
There is currently at least one automation solution for almost every conceivable application - either for individual steps or entire processes. But in practice there is no end-to-end solution for comprehensive business processes. Therefore, not every technically possible measure actually has an effect.
- Mistake 5: leaving employees out
It is crucial to include the IT staff in the project planning. In this way, possible concerns and resistance can be taken into account. One or the other employee understandably sees jobs as endangered by automation. However, this is offset by the shortage of IT specialists.
More measurable effectiveness through knowledge pools
In addition to the operational advantages of automation already mentioned, companies benefit from a number of strategic advantages with learning tools. A degree of automation of up to 80 percent can be achieved, whereby it should be mentioned that the classic degree of automation is a measure based on the past. Knowledge-based solutions, on the other hand, make it possible to measure the degree of effectiveness using a future-oriented measured variable such as the learning rate. This shows the speed with which new knowledge is acquired and how well the tool applies what it has learned. The learning rate thus provides a prediction of business flexibility, for example by measuring the adaptation of new operating models or capacities. The centralization of operational knowledge in the knowledge pool also reduces the dependency on individual employees or providers enormously. Furthermore, employees are no longer tied to repetitive tasks, but can develop freely within the company.
The focus of the automation of IT processes is therefore on shifting the daily tasks to a machine, so that the experts have more time for interesting and challenging topics that advance their company. At the same time, the costs for IT operations are reduced and the quality increases significantly due to the reduction in machine work. Before implementing a corresponding solution, it must be carefully considered which areas it is to be administered. For example, if only the operating system is to be managed, the introduction of a script-based solution may be sufficient. However, if the application is in a heterogeneous, individualized IT environment, it may be necessary to implement a knowledge-based automation method. This gives IT operations the independence and flexibility they need to achieve a sustainable economic advantage for the company and to actively support differentiation in the market. (pg)
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