IT Operations – the positive disruption of automation
Written by Matthew Catania
Every sector and industry are being considerably disrupted by automation. A phrase I like is that automation is literally everywhere, from the coffee machine in your office all the way up to the International Space Station.
There are traditional arguments in favour of, or even against, automation. Irrespective of that, automation is a reality that we need to embrace and maximize the value it has to offer.
Within the field of IT Operations, such value is far from being irrelevant. IT Operations typically involve the processes and activities within service management, that are required to deliver the service in line with agreed levels, be it inside a Network Operations Centre (NOC), or any other service team such as for example desktop (workstation) or network support.
Business and consumer expectations are continually evolving, bringing along demand for more accurate, consistent, and faster products and services typically requiring more agile IT Operations. What was considered as cutting edge a decade ago, no longer is. This applies not only to technology but also to the approaches, methodologies, and mindsets in general. For instance, while achieving high levels of service availability was something nice to have, it has now become a must have for many services. This can be illustrated by our relationship with using apps on our smart phones – is it acceptable for an app to be sporadically available? Therefore, we need to scale up IT Operations and work towards achieving the business needs of tomorrow, today. These needs may evolve around more agility, efficiency, and improved quality.
Automation plays a key and critical role here to the extent that many debate the idea of NoOps (no operations). Simply put, NoOps is where extensive automation leads to eradicating the need for human-based IT Operations. This is not about expecting others to manage your operations, a partner, or a contractor, but literally having full automation across the service ecosystem.
While software-defined data centres, desktop virtualization, and infrastructure as code, do create some momentum towards that point, I firmly believe in the people element. I believe it is unnatural to replace the human element and we shall not aim to that objective. Yet, people need to continually evolve and the people within the scope of this article (the people in IT Operations) need to evolve at a very fast pace, incessantly. They need to be guided and directed towards what might be the inevitable – that is, the transformation of IT Operations to fit a more software-based environment hence taking more advantage from automation, and also possibly supported by technology such as machine learning (where for example, patterns resulting from NOC monitoring may easily be determined and situations anticipated).
For many start-ups and other organizations whose evolution has already happened, this is preaching to the converted. For others it may be less obvious, or not necessarily required. This is because sometimes, retaining a traditional approach towards IT Operations might still fit the business requirements especially where adopting Agile methodologies would not create considerable value. In other circumstances, both Agile and waterfall approaches may co-exist as a combination, depending on the specific targets or objectives of the given organizational area.
If, however, an organization is operating within a dynamic and continuously changing business environment (no matter at what pace), then evolving towards modern practices for IT Operations is of great importance and should be thoroughly considered. Such modern practices mandate automation as part of their strategic vision and automation within IT Operations is an investment, an effort to yield results in the longer term.
The time for such effort is now. Within MITA Service Management, IT Operations is also heading towards the evolution by embracing wider cloud skills and embarking on the software mentality – given the transformation of infrastructure from hardware to more software-based. This is positively disrupting the Agency’s front-line areas of monitoring and event management, desktop-related infrastructure and tools, email and areas who support other functions through the delivery of underpinning systems. The need for more collaboration (elimination of silos) and other skills across various dimensions beyond technology, also form part of the journey. This ensures a positive user experience starting from the Agency’s first lines of contact where the typical day-to-day issues are handled, administered, and managed.
The aim is to pursue more proactivity, with automation playing a critical part also in incident management, Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) and more.
Our belief is that setting a target for improving IT Operations should not be the end state but simply a stage in a never-ending iterative journey. Retaining skills for existing monolithic services should be balanced with investment in innovation thus ensuring Government services within this fourth industrial revolution are covered with round the clock visibility complemented with underlying automation to trigger the required reaction, anticipating situations, provisioning of resources, and so on.
Automation combined with the software-nature of infrastructure gives us additional eyes and ears to watch over the ecosystem while also allowing the development of mechanisms to predict and better react to arising issues.
This is a critical vision. The client business, be it private, or public, changes in an ongoing and exponential manner. This was evident during the first quarter of 2020 with the COVID-19 emergency when many organizations had to quickly adapt to the overnight changing needs of the business.
Therefore, our mindset is that IT Operations should continually grow, be more agile and always refine to fit in the current context as it evolves. We need to make sure that IT Operations are prepared for the needs of tomorrow. This is the plan to execute while continuously seeking business feedback, and hence ensuring value not only to Government but to the entire nation. This is also accomplished through critical contribution from the organizational IT operations and its front lines which we aim to enforce and continually evolve, with support from automation.