If you're still manually partitioning storage or fixing software problems on users' machines, you're behind the times. Don't worry, though; so are many other companies. Automating IT tasks can help keep business users happy and your IT staff sane, but according to the Spiceworks 2020 State of IT survey, fewer than half of all companies do it. Overall, only 43% of IT departments use IT automation. We're even further behind in Europe, where only 39% of IT shops have it in place.
IT automation comes in various forms. At its most basic level, it could mean running a script to chew through repetitive database administration jobs. A more mature approach uses business or technology events to trigger complex workflows. Entering a new employee into the HR system could automatically trigger an Active Directory entry and provision applications relevant to their role.
Automation brings plenty of benefits. It reduces the time that IT staff spend on mundane repetitive tasks. It also gets them done more quickly, improving IT service performance. It can reduce errors, avoiding system downtime.
The problem for many IT departments is creating a strategy for IT automation and then finding the time to implement it. One core consideration is deciding what to automate first. You can get the quickest wins by focusing on repetitive, time-consuming tasks like provisioning or application deployment.
Kickstart your automation strategy by picking small tasks to automate rather than aiming for perfection and trying to tackle an entire end-to-end process. This will bring you some early successes and help you iron out any wrinkles in your automation approach and tools.
As you prepare to automate a task, look for potential improvenents so that you're not automating pointless steps. That becomes increasingly important as you string tasks together to automate larger processes. Document everything so that others will be able to understand your automations in the future.
That documentation becomes a lot easier when you choose the right tools. IT automation is a discipline that can span multiple tools. Building the appropriate technology stack takes some planning and will depend in part on your technology direction. For example, some tool sets focus on continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) for software development. Tools like Jenkins help manage event-triggered pipelines that automate tasks including software tests and builds.
The move to cloud technology - whether in a public infrastructure or using technologies like OpenStack on your own premises - offers plenty of opportunities for automation, because it lets you configure your infrastructure programmatically. This 'infrastructure as code' concept crops up in tools like Red Hat's Ansible, which lets you configure virtual and physical boxes on your network using script-like 'playbooks'.
As your IT automation matures, you can integrate IT service management (ITSM) tools further up the technology stack with tools lower down in your architecture. Users who ask for more storage via a self-service catalogue can trigger an automated provisioning task in an infrastructure-as-code tool.
Automating your IT doesn't have to be a daunting, time-consuming process. By starting small, you can feel your way and begin enjoying the benefits quickly. Working with a third-party services company can also help you to identify IT automation opportunities and even offload some of those processes into a managed contract. Once you begin streamlining those time-consuming tasks, you'll never look back.