Tuesday, April 23, 2013

VMware Cloud Ops Blog: IT Automation Roles Depend on Service Delivery Strategy


Tuesday, April 23, 2013 12:46 PMVMware Cloud Ops Blog: IT Automation Roles Depend on Service Delivery StrategyVMware Blogs

Many of the agility and cost reduction benefits realized by deploying standardized and virtualized infrastructure (compute, network and storage) come from automating management processes.

But those benefits don't come (forgive the pun) automatically. Automation is an approach to achieve a goal. And your reasons for deploying automation greatly influence both the strategies you follow, and its impact the people, their roles, and skills required to function in a more automated environment.

Strategy impact on the Automation Manager

I recently spoke with the IT Director of a large multinational bank. As a leader in the IT Operations organization, his job naturally, is to help the bank's staff do more, higher-quality work in less time. And that's led him to create a new 'Automation Manager' function.

Until last year, he'd been working to get key bank ITIL processes to level 3 or in some cases level 4 maturity, and he'd achieved a state of advanced operations which benchmarked well against peers. As part of that effort, he'd been deploying a group of ITSM process owners in a matrix organization structure with central process owners working part-time placed in various business units. That approach worked well.

Now, though, his focus has shifted from process maturity to process automation. Yes, the department had a foundation of mature and consistent process, created by expert staff. But to get to next level of efficiency, he told me, they needed to increase automation. To help with that, the director created a new role: the Automation Manager.

This wasn't the first time that I'd heard about such a job. This particular conversation, however, highlighted several key variables that are shaping the new role:

1) What is the scope of automation? How he defines 'automation' obviously impacts the job he is expecting an Automation Manager to do. There are different types of automation: powershell script, cron job, workflow tool, policy based orchestration, configuration automation. There are the different activities you can automate: provisioning, maintenance, scaling resources, proactive incident response. And there are different degrees of automation: automating just a few actions, specific workflows, or going end-to-end.

2) What are the roles and responsibilities? Automation has a lifecycle. What part of it does an Automation Manger own? We need guidelines for lifecycle processes relate to automation: intake, classification, resources, version control, tracking benefits.

3) Where does the role fit in the organization?  An Automation champion ideally owns overall program, but is also someone to whom others can turn for advice, consulting etc.. The IT Director's idea is to create a central role. But where? The ITSM process group? The technology team?

All of these questions had me stepping back and thinking at a higher level. How you answer them depends more on the strategic goals that you're looking to automation to enable, and less on the tactics of the role. Given that, I think two primary automation strategies should frame our decisions about the Automation Manager role. Either we:

1) Automate current work and processes. Here, we're defining automation as way to do existing work more, faster, better. The same people continue doing pretty much the same admin jobs they did before. The new automation manager becomes an overlay function that helps each admin use new tools to turbo boost their existing work.


2) Automate as part of a bigger shift in IT service delivery strategy. Moving from a technology or infrastructure focus to a service orientation requires more standardization and automation. But it's not about automating an existing process, or about making existing roles better. It's about automating new processes that didn't exist before. In many cases, automation enables workflow that wasn't even possible in a manual process approach. And in many cases, the automation capabilities support admin roles that may be largely new, or may be a combination of previously separate roles.

The Automation Tradeoff

One way to think about this is revisiting the basic tradeoff between speed and efficiency, versus customization.

Take the analogy of the clothing business. If your customers want affordable clothes delivered quickly, you offer them clothes off the rack in standard sizes. If they don't mind paying more and waiting longer, you can offer them something custom-made. They're simply different value propositions.

In the clothing business, there are uses for automation that help tailors deliver custom work faster, with fewer errors. But automation can also be deployed as part of a strategy to create "off the rack" goods in standard sizes on a massive scale.

Similarly, IT can deploy automation to help execute existing jobs faster, better, and with less effort. But for fast and cheap and at scale, they have to give up the custom infrastructure behind applications.

Automation, again, is a means to an end. That end may be current services delivered faster, better, cheaper – but still largely not agile. Or the end may be standardized, automated services that scale – a much more agile approach.

Either way, if you're clear about the strategy, the details of the Automation Manager role will come into focus. If you're clear about what automation means, you'll know what you want your new Automation Managers to do. Do both, and it's now obvious where they fit in the structure of your organization.

What can IT admins do to better position themselves for their new responsibilities in the cloud era? Find out by joining a live Twitter#CloudOpsChat, on "The Changing Role of the IT Admin" – Thursday, April 25th at 11am PT.

We'll address questions such as:

  1. How does increasing automation change the IT admin job? #CloudOpsChat
  2. Is increasing automation and virtualization good or bad for your career? #CloudOpsChat
  3. Do abstraction and better tools decrease the need for deep expertise? #CloudOpsChat
  4. Does a cloud admin need programming skills? #CloudOpsChat
  5. What skills are needed for scripting vs. automation and orchestration? #CloudOpsChat
  6. What specific automation skills do IT admins need today in order to meet the demand for virtualization and cloud technologies? #CloudOpsChat

Follow us on Twitter at @VMwareCloudOps for future updates, and join the conversation using the #CloudOps and #SDDC hashtags.

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