Automation: 5 issues for IT teams to watch in 2022
If you’re adopting IT automation at any scale, planning is essential.
However, some leaders and teams operate without a well-defined automation strategy. We can blame some of the blame for ad hoc approaches to automation on the term: it suggests that everything will go perfectly as planned, even when there is no real plan.
Sounds pretty promising at first, but ask anyone who’s tried to automate a flawed process – or anyone who’s ditched new automation tools on a team that was already worried about their job security – how this story plays out. ended. (Spoiler alert: not great.)
A lack of planning portends other lacks, such as understanding (of existing processes and workflows), empathy, or emotional intelligence (ignoring or dismissing people’s concerns about the impact of automation on their work), resources (whether financial, time, technology, skills, or a combination) and awareness (of various issues inside and outside the organization that can determine the success or failure).
5 IT automation issues to watch this year
This is the last thing we focus on here – use this article to educate yourself on five important issues that can impact automation results.
1. Automation culture must be at the same level as automation technology
IT automation creates a myriad of business opportunities. As such, there’s a lot of natural focus on the technologies that fuel this potential.
“While precise definitions vary, most IT managers define IT automation and management as something along the lines of ‘the use of software to perform tasks to improve the efficiency, security and management of platform while reducing cost, complexity, and errors,” says Gordon Haff, Technology Evangelist, Red Hat.
According to this definition, which IT or business manager would not embrace automation? It seems like a no-brainer, which explains (at least in part) the heavy investments that many organizations have made in automation.
Successful automation, however, requires a lot of brains. Haff notes that while many automation projects have accelerated in the past year, many others have encountered roadblocks, often because they’re too technology-focused and not people-focused enough.
“For these stalled projects in particular, IT leaders will often have to either develop new skills internally or hire externally to get back on track,” Haff says. “Lack of training can also make those implementing automation fear it will take their jobs away.”
[ Want more ideas for your automation playbook? Read also: Automation strategy: 6 key elements. ]
Culture is as crucial as technology to automation success. Neglected culture issues are a common cause of automation initiatives falling short of their goals or failing altogether. They often straddle other cracks in the foundation, such as lean budgets and unrealistic deadlines.
“The barriers to automation are often best viewed from a people and culture perspective and not exclusively from a technology perspective – and therefore management has an important role to play both in terms of presentation of the correct framework and context for automation and its financing,” says Haf.
Culture is as crucial as technology to automation success.
More and more organizations seem to be taking this seriously, with “technical skills training” and “people and process skills training” becoming Red Hat’s top non-IT funding priorities. Global Technology Outlook 2022.
2. Project sponsors need to align on the “what” and “why” of automation
IT automation rarely involves IT alone. Virtually any initiative beyond the experimentation or proof-of-concept phase will involve at least two – and likely multiple – areas of the business. The more ambitious the goals, the more this becomes true. Good luck to IT managers tackling “improve customer satisfaction ratings by X” or “reduce call wait times by Y” without involving marketing, customer service/customer experience and other teams, for example.
In fact, automation initiatives are best served by aligning different stakeholders early on – before specific goals (and metrics to gauge progress toward those goals) are set.
“It’s really important to identify the key benefits you want to achieve and get all stakeholders on the same page,” says Mike Mason, global chief technology officer at Thought works.
It involves more than just endorsing your path to a consensus that automation will benefit the business. Stakeholders need to agree on why they want to automate certain processes or workflows, what the impacts will be (including potential downsides), and what success actually looks like. Assuming alignment on any of these issues can put the entire project at risk.
[ Learn how leaders are embracing enterprise-wide IT automation: Taking the lead on IT Automation ]
“Automation can help with efficiency, customer satisfaction, or time to market, but if project sponsors had different ideas about what they wanted to accomplish, the effort might be seen as a disappointment by some,” Mason said.
3. The “80% trap” can challenge momentum and measurement
Think of it as the automation version of the 80-20 principle. Some use cases have steeper hills to climb than others.
“One of the big problems with automation is falling into the ‘80% trap’ – you can quickly and easily solve 80% of your use cases, but implementing the other 20% may require majority of the overall effort,” says Mason. “That last 20% isn’t so easily solved.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. The important thing is to recognize the general reality described by Mason and make sure you take this into account in your planning. Failure to do so can create unreasonable expectations (see #2), among other pitfalls. The “trap” also kicks in if your organization’s most important priorities are all stuck in the 20% of unfinished business.
[ More on this topic: Automation strategy: 5 questions CIOs should ask. ]
Incremental approaches to automation are acceptable, even recommended. It can be a good idea to target the proverbial challenges at hand early and the more complex ones later, but that’s not the only approach. We’ve covered a framework for prioritizing and/or balancing automation work in our related article, IT Security Automation: 3 Ways to Get Started. Consider multiple criteria, not just the relative simplicity or complexity of the task or process at hand.
Variables such as time (how long it takes people to complete manually) or money (the costs associated with a particular process) can guide your planning, as can holistic impacts, such as “automation X will allow us to improve Yes and Z.”
4. More non-IT people will need IT skills
As Haff noted above, IT automation projects stuck at this stage can often be attributed to a lack of necessary skills or resources – often coupled with inattention to broader culture issues – within the organization itself. computing.
This problem is spreading throughout the organization. People in a wide variety of departments and roles increasingly need IT skills to succeed in highly digital and automated environments. It is already visible today; this will become paramount in the future.
“Basic digital skills such as safely ejecting a USB drive or adding data to an Excel spreadsheet are table stakes,” says Karl Chan, president of laserfiche. “Today’s jobs require more advanced computer, programming, and data analysis skills.”
This stems in part from customer expectations, which in turn should inform how companies approach professional development within their own organizations.
“Customers expect seamless digital communications and high technical knowledge from the organizations that serve them, from food delivery people to real estate agents to their GP,” says Chan. “For organizations to meet the expectations of their external customers or constituents, they must also serve their internal customers – their employees – by prioritizing and rewarding the kind of cross-platform digital literacy that is required in workers today.
Simply expecting people to adapt is not a sound leadership strategy. IT managers and their C-Suite colleagues have an outsized role to play in ensuring that non-IT people can learn the skills they need to thrive in increasingly automated environments.
5. One-size-fits-all solutions don’t really exist
Beware of any automation technology that presents itself as a magic bullet for every situation – like the werewolf, it’s probably a work of fiction.
“Organizations need to be acutely aware that there is no silver bullet to completely solve complex automation problems,” says Mason.
Overly bold claims about AI/ML capabilities should sizzle your radar, for example.
“This year you’ll see many tools that claim to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their platform, magically solving previously unsolvable problems or reducing efforts to find a solution,” Mason says. “While ML and AI can be remarkable in narrowly defined problem spaces, you should remain skeptical of grandiose claims.”
There’s no perfect substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands on the tech. What can he actually do? How would this work in your unique organization? What are the limits (which are, in fact, just as important as the capacities)?
If you don’t answer these kinds of questions, you might be looking for ambitious automation – which magically solves all problems – when you should be focusing on practical automation – which actually delivers results.
“Build a proof-of-concept solution quickly to really understand what the tool can and can’t do,” Mason says.
[Where is your team’s digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What’s slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]