Is Your Boss an Automation Skeptic?

August 29, 2016

There is little doubt among IT experts as to the potential benefits of implementing automation tools at deeper levels within the data center environment. Yet adoption rates have not always mirrored this optimism. Especially among the small business crowd, automation is still seen as something that is "nice to have" as opposed to mission-critical.

The reality is, automation can add significant value to any operation by simplifying the complex and empowering teams to do more with less—regardless of company size or industry vertical. And as businesses strive for still greater efficiency levels across the enterprise, this is quickly becoming a necessity. By taking a detailed, pragmatic view of how and where automated data center technology can be applied, IBM i administrators are sure to (re)discover its promise. In the process, they will also likely uncover several concrete areas of opportunity to be cited when justifying a process review and potentially requesting authorization for new investment.

A Complicated Calling

IT administration can be a rewarding pursuit—both intellectually and financially. But nobody ever accused the profession of being simple. Within larger corporations, staff are often charged with overseeing sprawling data center environments with a dizzying array of moving parts and thousands of internal and external stakeholders counting on their best efforts. Inside smaller IBM i shops, the surface area may be reduced but the list of responsibilities may be much longer as employees are asked to wear many hats at once.

Ensuring uptime is challenging enough, but beyond the basics there are also complex contingencies to account for and ad hoc obligations to attend to. An influx of new e-commerce orders may create a performance bottleneck that requires immediate attention, or a comprehensive review of network activity may be ordered on short notice as the risk management team catches wind of potential betrayal from a disgruntled employee.

Even still, remaining automation skeptics have organized into two primary camps. IT professionals working within large, well-resourced companies insist that separate server simplification and consolidation trends will make it easy enough that they need not give up their reliance on predominantly manual oversight. Meanwhile, some of those that see the potential of the technology are worried that it could make their positions expendable.

A more enlightened perspective would reveal that neither perspective is sustainable—nor particularly true. An automated data center operates with a lower error rate and is not tied to the success with which tribal knowledge can be exchanged and integrated between personnel. At the same time, it handles the fundamentals faster to help teams invariably meet set deadlines and focus their time on value-adding efforts that exceed expectation and are much more likely to be the origin of career growth opportunities.

Automated Solutions

One key distinction that must be made with data center automation technology is that administrators are not ceding control or handing off responsibility; they are merely delegating predefined processes and tasks to systems which boast superior efficiency.

For instance, automated job scheduling software can process routine tasks in batches as opposed to staff orchestrating each command manually. Even if certain sequences get temporarily thrown for a loop, the software can be programmed to react intelligently to certain contingencies and get everything moving in the right direction once again. There is also no need to monitor all messages manually—or feel guilty that you don't. Automation tools can process correspondence much more efficiently and alert administrators to potential anomalies so that they retain workflow visibility and control.

In the end, IBM i shops are better positioned to promote fast, error-free internal operations that help managers live up to service-level agreements with greater confidence and regularity. By extension, that means fewer nights and weekends required to get the job done and fewer requests for overtime pay traveling up the company food chain. And when IT teams can shift from managing hardware to managing its human resources with greater interest, everybody wins. Frontline administrators are positioned for new responsibilities and opportunities, and managers are lauded for maximizing their personnel and giving the business some additional budgetary breathing room.

Be Your Own Advocate

Although business executives are growing more tech-savvy by the day, that's not to say they will be venturing into data center environments asking administrators which problems need to be remedied and which promising projects they would like to see funded. Before IT automation tools are added to outgoing procurement orders, staff are going to have to build a compelling case.

To convince a jury of your peers that automation initiatives not only should be funded, but need to be funded, advocates need to first commission a process review to confirm or deny the validity of their suspicions. This display of initiative will likely be well-received, but it must be presented in the correct manner to enjoy full endorsement.

In today's data-driven business culture, the majority of decisions are first filtered through the prism of expected ROI. While the workflow augmentations engendered by automation may be enough to sell administrators on the new technology, company executives will demand more concrete calculations. With that in mind, it may be best for IT managers to start asking questions framed like the following:

  • How much money has been allocated each quarter to IT overtime pay?
  • If paper-based reporting procedures were reduced by 75 percent, how much would that save?
  • What is the current cost of each job task per end user?
  • If the IT department were able to process 15 percent more jobs each month at current staffing levels, how might that factor into business growth plans?

Once executives develop a more nuanced perspective on the interdependency of business and IT departments, their curiosity should translate into an endorsement of a preliminary fact-finding mission. And the more elaborate and detailed those modeling activities can be, the better. Automation advocates may face an uphill fight and should not expect awareness to be generated on its own. But if a compelling case is framed in the proper context, executives will approach the issue more earnestly and decide if the conversation is worth extending into procurement and implementation strategies.

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