Automation (Business) Context...or How To Automate without APIs

In a recent, well thought-out blog about “IT Automation,” blogger Steve Jin shared a list of random thoughts pertaining to the design and deployment of automation for IT systems administration. The blog’s target IT environment for automation is a combined public and private cloud deployment, an environment dubbed “doublecloud.” To open the blog, Steve suggests:

“IT automation is key to IT efficiency, agility and control”

Running the risk of seeming the choir to the blog’s preachings, we’d like to say, amen. And add our own chapter and verse by suggesting that IT automation makes most sense when considered in a business context. To do this effectively requires strong respect for both technical and business points-of-view, and consideration for what is the desired outcome that will justify the effort to deploy automation.

To best illustrate the integration and mutual respect for these potentially dueling POVs, let’s turn to another good point posited in the blog:

“Automation is possible if and only if the target is programmable. Therefore APIs are crucial to automation.”

As a career technologist, I would not venture to disagree. Those familiar with Network Automation know that Automate interfaces with APIs of some of the world’s most popular technologies. As a business person who has encountered many sub-optimal conditions, I know that not every system has an API. The purist approach might be to scrap any un-programmable targets and replace them with new, API-enabled systems. Few would argue that this would be preferable given a zero-cost economic equation. But commercial businesses (or even non-profits) never encounter zero-cost scenarios. So for that old, creaking (green-screen) inventory control app sitting on an AS/400 (or updated i-Series), how do I incorporate that into an automated process?

To be fair, the context of the “doublecloud” blog was in regards to IT systems administration – and here we’ve introduced a business application. But this was done to illustrate the point that context is essential when considering automation. In other words, “What are you trying to automate?” This question is germane whether one is dealing with technical systems administration for cutting edge cloud resources, ubiquitous Windows Servers (either virtual or not), mainframe tech stacks – AND/OR – the applications that reside and execute on any of these environments.

We might suggest that an expansion of the original point is in order. Namely:

“BT Automation is the key to BT efficiency, agility and control”

Here, BT is “business technology” which encompasses IT solutions employed for IT administration. Focus on BT automation, therefore, includes focus on IT automation. In fact, the non-profit BTM Institute defines BT as follows:

“Business Technology is the application of IT to deliver a business capability or automate a business operation. Business technology can be thought of as the result of configuring, implementing, applying, and using IT to produce a business result. Business technology investments and business technology capabilities are investments related to the creation, use, and maintenance of business technology.”

IT automation is a BT effort that seeks to deliver the business result of improved efficiencies and reduced errors (thereby lowering costs) in the conduct of required IT administration.

If we are handed a tabula rasa opportunity, where no systems exist or have been invested, the business situation would certainly support selection of new IT and BT systems that are the most extendible, flexible and adaptable. Sadly, or realistically, very few scenarios afford that opportunity. The lack of APIs does not eliminate the need for automation, nor need it preclude the implementation of automation for IT or BT. It is simply that the right tools need be at hand.

Ultimately, that is why Automate provides not only API-driven automation, but wide ranging methods like Windows Dissection, web and screen scraping, text parsing and many others that allow savvy IT pros the ability to deliver BT and IT automation to their sponsoring organizations even under less than ideal technical and business realities.

So when you are asked, “What do you want to automate today?”, you need not limit your choices to only those systems that sport APIs. API-less automation is possible with Automate.

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