What is IT Process Automation?

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Welcome to the "Automate This!" blog. I'm Travis Greene, NetIQ's Chief Service Management Strategist, and I'll be your host for this forum where many authors with IT Process Automation experience will contribute. In this inaugural post, let's take a look at what IT Process Automation really is.

The term “automation” is at risk of becoming a cliché. We see the term being dissected into "Business Process Automation", “Data Center Automation”, “Run Book Automation”, “Task Automation”, "Workload Automation", and so on. The reality is that most administrators and SMEs who work in the data center have plenty of tools to perform automation, such as running backups, job scheduling for file transfers or server reboots, systems management for simple event response, provisioning tools for patching, virtual server movement and on and on. All these point automation tools actually raise another problem: how to coordinate the activities between them to prevent conflict, ensure successful execution and maximize use of resources? Our opinion at NetIQ is that this control and coordination effort is the challenge most overlooked but provides the biggest opportunity for cost reduction through less wasted administration effort.

To solve this challenge, analysts such as Forrester Research are pointing toward an umbrella technology called “IT Process Automation” (ITPA). The term “process” is probably a four letter-word for many of you, as the ITIL gurus impose process controls such as change management, which slow the ability to get work done and add documentation overhead. But as a class of IT management tools, ITPA promises to bridge the gaps between the desire of management for control and visibility and the desire of administrators to get things done. ITPA accomplishes this by integrating with and controlling those existing tools already in place, including ticketing systems and CMDBs, utilizing pre-defined workflow diagrams built by dragging and dropping properly-ordered activities onto a designer. This can reduce manual documentation burdens and offload repetitive and mundane tasks, keeping all tools current with status from other tools and freeing up administrator time. This ultimately provides a budgetary boost by allowing talented resources to be reassigned to more productive tasks, and accomplish more business-enhancing projects without having to add staff.

Now before you get too worried about the scope, you should know that IT Process Automation does not have to be adopted across the entire IT organization to provide tangible return on investment. Most of our customers report positive ROI with the automation of two or three simple, but critical processes that replace manual labor with automation. This will vary from company to company, but examples include automating the archival or deletion of files in response to disk space full events, job scheduling functionality (file movement, SQL job management, etc.), automatic roll-back of unauthorized changes, ordered rebooting of servers, rapid response to critical application errors (e.g. the CEO’s VoIP phone stops working), manage under-utilized virtual machines, or automating the response to security attacks while integrating remediation and analysis. Over time, though, the opportunity to automate additional processes with ITPA is limited only by your creativity, with the biggest benefits to be obtained by automating the most labor-intensive and mission critical tasks.

What do you think? What processes do you think would be helpful to automate? We'd love to hear your feedback.
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