IT automation is the creation and implementation of automated processes and software in place of time-consuming manual activities. It is increasingly becoming a core component of any modern organization’s IT systems strategy.
IT automation is often part of a digital transformation initiative. It typically involves using software and other technologies to automate manual IT processes. IT automation alleviates pressure on IT professionals as client expectations increase.
Businesses increasingly demand new and enhanced product features as well as reduced downtime. As IT automation takes on more manual labor, teams can prioritize these higher-value tasks for their customers more effectively.
As organizations of all sizes adopt automation technology, business leaders must decide how to best leverage it to either supplement or enhance the work that their employees do. Organizations are focusing their automation efforts to manage IT tasks to enable companies to increase their speed-to-market, accelerate their customer response time, and mitigate any threats and risks.
Organizations that automate more of their processes enhance their offerings in several ways, including the ability to launch new solutions thanks to improved efficiency and meet increased demand due to enhanced scalability.
In addition, those using automated technology that responds to both internal and external events are better equipped to respond to challenges. They also can more quickly identify new opportunities through scripts and analysis of real-time data.
IT automation allows workers to focus on upskilling and higher-level problems. For example, increased bandwidth provides individuals with the ability to focus on the impact of new technologies such as generative AI and quantum computing. It can also allow them to spend more time on strategic planning and relationship building. Finally, the removal of repetitive, low-impact tasks from employee workloads aids in keeping employees engaged and happy.
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Having an automation strategy is a critical component of any organization that wants to streamline its operations, drive efficiency, cut costs and deliver unparalleled services to its customers.
Automated systems have always been a key component of technology, and computers have always provided automated replacement of manual tasks. Over the years, organizations have automated various tasks and IT services, such as data backups, network configuration, user provisioning and patch management.
As such, organizations must decide which tasks they want to automate and which ones they want their employees to handle. By leaning into IT automation, organizations can accelerate processes and scale environments, driving operational efficiency.
Automation tools run the gamut, falling into categories such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence and machine learning, and low-code/no-code software development. All of these technologies provide different ways for organizations to scale more quickly
Modern organizations that are looking to deploy IT automation tools to drive innovation have several powerful options to choose from. Organizations optimize IT operations through AI-powered DevOps as this can address enterprise observability, automated operations and incident management. AIOps also powers DevSecOps, which is a shift-left practice of embedding security at the front of the development process, enabling developers to ship more secure code faster and more cost-effectively.
As organizations’ digital resources increase, so do the size and complexity of their services. Simply put, many organizations’ infrastructures have become too complex for manual management and intervention. Automating infrastructure management simplifies tasks such as configuration management, deployment and provisioning.
It is especially helpful for resource provisioning, whereby organizations use automation to optimize the use of specific tools and technologies to identify the right approach for a particular situation. Some examples include server provisioning, which involves bringing new servers online and connected to integral components; cloud provisioning, which involves setting up the resources within the cloud; network provisioning, which involves setting up the routers and switches required for connecting to the network; and more.
Resource selection that can be automated includes virtual machines, containers, cloud providers, operating systems and other software and hardware.
Many companies have moved or are moving to the multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environment, which integrates private and public cloud services and on-premises infrastructure. Doing so often promises superior orchestration, management and application portability.
Maximizing the value of the hybrid cloud requires automation to choose the optimal cloud computing environment for each workload. This includes real-time shifting of workloads between cloud environments depending on circumstances. Hybrid-cloud automation reduces costs, saves energy, eliminates waste and, ultimately, increases ROI (link resides outside of ibm.com)1.
This uses automation to replace repetitive tasks usually handled by human workers with technology. RPA use cases are varied, from appending data and completing forms to processing claims to fraud detection. RPA often uses APIs and scripts to integrate and perform routine tasks between enterprise and productivity applications. Using rules-based software, many RPA use cases can produce autonomous execution without any human intervention.
BPA involves a bit more complexity than RPA, as it focuses on resource orchestration of people, applications and systems. It often involves processes with multiple steps across multiple systems or users.
This automates the delivery of applications to selected infrastructure environments. By automating the delivery of code (e.g., updates, bug fixes and new features) to different environments (e.g., development, testing and production environments), IT departments improve the safety and speed of their updates.
IT automation provides several significant benefits to organizations of all sizes due to the efficiency it provides.
Eliminates human error: All employees are prone to human error; organizations can mitigate this risk through IT automation. Automation software can create batch processing for straightforward tasks that do not require human intervention. Some examples include ensuring that invoices are sent in a timely fashion; security threats are proactively managed; and the data is managed effectively across disparate data repositories.
Free up humans to perform higher-level tasks: Rules-based software can perform business process activities at a high volume, freeing up human resources to prioritize more complex tasks. RPA enables CIOs and other decision-makers to accelerate their digital transformation efforts and generate a higher return on investment (ROI) from their staff.
Improved employee morale: By moving repetitive, high-volume workloads from your employees’ workloads to automated processes, your teams can focus on more thoughtful and strategic decision-making like identifying new products, spending more time managing employees and spending more meaningful time with key partners and customers. This shift in work has a positive effect on employee happiness. One study found that 88% of business leaders2 (link resides outside of ibm.com) felt automating work would make them both happier and more engaged at work.
Increased sustainability: By automating many processes, especially when using the cloud, organizations can consume less power3 (link resides outside of ibm.com) as the technology will only be used when needed. In times when many stakeholders are concerned about the environmental footprint of and carbon emissions from data centers, IT automation can help organizations meet their ESG goals.
A holistic view of IT operations: Over time, the introduction of new technologies creates “tool sprawl,” where redundant or outdated technologies remain in IT environments, subsequently bogging down processes. Tools, like AIOps, help organizations to pinpoint tech waste across their entire toolchain, eliminating unnecessary resources and fostering greater collaboration and efficiency.
While IT automation ultimately helps organizations solve key issues like deploying solutions quicker, smarter resource allocation, and employee satisfaction, there are some initial challenges that an organization should consider when pursuing its own IT automation strategy.
Upfront costs: IT automation through digital transformation will require some upfront costs to modernize the tech stack and code some of the automation that will power an organization’s business going forward. Oftentimes, companies can release cost savings by using an automation platform like IBM Instana, which offers affordable pricing.
Hiring or upskilling workers: Companies without IT automation may not have the ideal IT team to execute a digital transformation and understand how to interact with an increasing amount of automated technology. The good news is that the most sought-after IT professionals will increasingly only want to work at organizations that prioritize IT automation, so it will become easier to recruit exemplary employees by demonstrating an organization’s commitment to automation.
Scalability and maintenance: As automated systems increase, they become more complex, requiring more thought into managing them. That is why the right IT automation platforms are built with scale in mind.
IT automation can help business units throughout the organization better streamline their processes and reap significant benefits, such as cost savings, increased efficiency, and the minimization of errors. Here are some business functions that especially benefit:
HR and accounting: Sending invoices, registering payment information and adding employees to the payroll are all examples of manual tasks that automated software can excel at. By automating these repetitive tasks and producing workflow automation, financial services and HR employees can focus on higher-level problems, like identifying new vendors and spending more face time with employees.
Customer service: Customer service is the ideal activity for task automation. Organizations can use automated sentiment analysis to identify customer issues on social media or through forums and use a chatbot/virtual assistant like Watson Assistant to automate responses to their questions. Doing so helps companies reduce the costs of managing their customer service and improve customer satisfaction, which eliminates costly turnover.
Marketing and sales: Marketing automation has transformed this discipline, creating the ability to personalize marketing messages and micro-target audiences within ad campaigns. This allows companies to connect more meaningfully with their prospects and existing customers, optimizing return on ad spend (ROAS) by reducing time to conversion.
Healthcare: Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals spend a lot of time doing administrative paperwork like taking notes, entering information in a patient records database and other paperwork. IT automation can increasingly handle many components of these tasks improving productivity and efficiency. Automating these manual tasks frees them up to deliver the best possible care and spend time on research and education on emerging health issues and care trends.
Security: The number of vulnerabilities in the modern computing environment has increased dramatically in recent years due to the rise of malicious actors and the high-stakes opportunities of cyberterrorism and hacking. An organization’s security posture cannot depend on manual workers updating network security and responding to threats on an ad hoc basis. Automating everything from data backup to cybersecurity and endpoint protection management will avoid costly business interruptions.
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Robotic process automation (RPA), also known as software robotics, uses intelligent automation technologies to perform repetitive office tasks of human workers.
AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, such as natural language processing and machine learning models, to automate and streamline operational workflows.
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1Unlocking business acceleration in a hybrid cloud world (link resides outside of ibm.com), McKinsey, 5 August 2019
2 Intelligent Automation Empowers Employees (link resides outside of ibm.com), BluePrism
3 How AI and automation make data centers greener and more sustainable (link resides outside of ibm.com), Ernst and Young, 1 Dec 2022