Why Automate? What to Automate? How to Automate?
By John Dixon, Consulting Architect
Automation is extremely beneficial to organizations. However, the questions often come up around why to automate, what to automate, and how to automate.
There are several key benefits surrounding automation. They include:
- Saving time
- Employees can be retrained to focus on other (hopefully more strategic) tasks
- Removing human intervention reduces errors
- Troubleshooting and support is improved when everything is deployed the same way
What to automate?
Organizations should always start with the voice of the customer (VoC). IT departments need to factor in what the end user wants and what the end user expects to improve their experience. If you can’t trace back something you’re automating to an improved customer experience, that’s usually a good warning sign that you should not be automating it. In addition, you need to be able to track back to how automation has provided a benefit to the organization. The benefit should always be measurable and always financial.
What are companies automating?
Requests management is the hot one because that’s a major component of cloud computing. This includes service catalogues and self-service portals. Providing a self-service portal, sending the request for approval based on the dollar amount requested, and fulfilling the order through one or more systems is something that is commonly automated today. My advice here is to automate tasks through a general purpose orchestrator tool (such as CA Process Automation or similar tools) so that automated jobs can be managed from a single console. This is instead of stitching together disparate systems that call each other in a “rat’s nest” of automation. The general purpose orchestrator also allows for easier troubleshooting when an automated task does not complete successfully.
How to automate?
There are some things to consider when sitting down to automate a task, or even determining the best things to automate. Here are a few key points:
- Start with the VoC or Voice of the Customer, and work backwards to identify the systems that are needed to automate a particular task. For example, maybe the customer is the Human Resources department, and they want to automate the onboarding of a new employee. It may have to setup user accounts, order a new cell phone, order a new laptop, and schedule the new employee on their manager’s calendar on their first day of work. Map out the systems that are required to accomplish this, and integrate those – and no more. You may find that some parts of the procedure may already be automated; perhaps your phone provider already has an interface to programmatically request new equipment. Take every advantage of these components.
- Don’t automate things that you can’t trace back to a benefit for the organization. Just because you can automate something doesn’t mean that you should. Again, use the voice of the customer and user stories here. A common user story is structure as follows:
- “As a [role],
- I want to [get something done]
- So that I can [benefit in the following way]”
- Start small and work upwards to automate more and more complex tasks. Remember the HR onboarding procedure in point #1? I wouldn’t suggest beginning your automation journey there. Pick out one thing to automate from a larger story, and get it working properly. Maybe you begin by automating the scheduling of an appointment in Outlook or your calendaring system, or creating a user in Active Directory. Those pieces become components in the HR onboarding story, but perhaps other stories as well.
- Use a general purpose orchestrator instead of stitching together different systems. As in point #3, using an orchestrator will allow you to build reusable components that are useful to automate different tasks. A general purpose orchestrator also allows for easier troubleshooting when things go wrong, tracking of automation jobs in the environment, and more advanced conditional logic. Troubleshooting automation any other way can be very difficult.
- You’ll need someone with software development experience. Some automation packages claim that even non-developers can build robust automation with “no coding required.” In some cases, that may be true. However, the experience that a developer brings to the table is an absolute must have when automating complex tasks like the HR onboarding example in point #1.
What has your organization automated? How have the results been?