An Architects' place in an automated enterprise
There's an old (like BCE old) saying that change is the only constant, but constant implies some kind of regularity. That's certainly not the case with the pace, scope, and level of change we're experiencing in the world today. Automation is key to helping organizations ride these changes, and IT Architects are in a prime position to ensure that automation is implemented and managed in a way that enables the true innovation needed to thrive in today's often-tumultuous business and global environment—elevating architects' own standing in the organization in the process.
IT automation uses technology to reduce or eliminate manual effort. This, in turn, reduces complexity and costs, enabling staff to move from task-oriented to strategic thinking.
"IT automation, sometimes referred to as infrastructure automation, is the use of software to create repeatable instructions and processes to replace or reduce human interaction with IT systems. Automation software works within the confines of those instructions, tools, and frameworks to carry out the tasks with little to no human intervention."
IT automation improves agility, boosts productivity, increases consistency and availability, improves security and compliance, and helps companies generally do more with less. In fact, Ponemon's 2020 "Cost of a Data Breach Report" states that companies with fully-deployed security automation can realize savings of $3.58 million in the average total cost of a data breach (versus companies with no automation deployed).
Reaping the full rewards of automation
So, where do IT Architects fit into the automation journey? A better question might be, where don't they fit in? Or, more to the point, without an IT architecture framework, can automation efforts ever be fully rewarded?
While automation makes perfect sense in an environment driven by change, figuring out how to implement and manage automation isn't always so clear. That's where Architects—across all areas of business and IT—come in.
According to Gartner, many "would-be automators" underestimate the task and become focused on products and not strategic solutions. "IT shops often think they can buy automation—all they need to do is pick the right tool," notes Paul Delory, research director at Gartner, in Introducing the Automation Architect, a Smarter With Gartner report. "In reality, there is no one tool that will automate your entire data center. More importantly, there is no tool that will devise your automation strategy for you, or deal with the policy and organizational implications of an automation project."
This "Automation Architect," as Garter has described the role, interfaces with both technologists and business owners, and ensures that initiatives are followed through on and completed. Contrast that role with what is happening at many organizations, where a process or tool may have been automated here or there. That kind of ad hoc and discrete automation doesn't scale and probably won't do much to move the organization forward.
"Automation technologies have the potential to transform today's workplace as dramatically as the machines of the Industrial Revolution changed the factory floor," states Moving into the Fast Lane, part of Deloitte's The Opportunity of Enterprise Automation series. "To capitalize on this potential promise, many organizations are jumping into their automation journey by experimenting with these technologies and advancing individual pilots—without planning for scale or implementing a structure that can enable them to do so. The result? Slow, arduous implementations that don't yield the expected ROI."
Starting small with automation
Pilots are a logical place to start and provide important hands-on experience, notes the Deloitte report, but organizations won't be able to "harness the power of automation" if they don't begin by creating structure and preparing for scale.
IT Architects can see the automation forest for the trees, looking beyond point solutions to an automation strategy that includes people, processes, and platforms. Indeed, with their 360-degree view of the organization, IT Architects can help plot an automation path that is reasonable and sustainable by:
- Identifying business objectives
- Setting realistic goals
- Ensuring scalability and compatibility through open standards
- Encouraging cross-team collaboration and coordination
- Centralizing automation content
- Sharing knowledge and success
- Creating a culture that values and looks to expand automation efforts
As far as that last point goes, architects will also play a key role in helping to define success in a way that makes sense based on unique requirements, resources, and goals. An important metric will be the level to which people within an organization can let go of routine tasks to focus on strategic thinking that can move the company—and their careers—forward. Architects will also be counted on to level set those goals as the country and world move through the COVID-19 pandemic toward whatever the new "normal" is on the other side.
"Automation increases after every global shock," according to "Enterprise Open Source Automation Drives Innovation," a Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper commissioned by Red Hat.
And things (hopefully) couldn't get more shocking than they are now.
"Automating infrastructure operations is no longer nice to have," states the report. "It is the only way to go."
Put simply, an organization's ability to automate operations across the technology and business disciplines will be a significant marker of its ability to adapt to new challenges in a way that moves the business and its employees forward. With their overarching view of the organization, Architects across the enterprise are well-positioned to advocate for automation effectively, collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that it is implemented where and when it makes sense, lay a foundation for the success of current and future automation initiatives, and elevate their own value in the process.
Navigate the shifting technology landscape. Read An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure.