Are autonomous IT operations a reality, or is autonomous IT just wishful thinking?
In this post, we’ll discover the answer to that question, learn where automation can be applied in IT operations, where it shouldn’t be applied, and what its biggest advantages are.
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Automation: An Unstoppable Growth Curve
Automation has been a part of the work world since man first picked up tools.
Mechanical and industrial technology assisted with the automation of many menial labor tasks.
Farm equipment, for instance, significantly improved productivity in agriculture. Construction equipment, such as cranes and bulldozers, vastly improved productivity in the construction industry. And machines in factories automated many repetitive tasks on the factory floor.
Today, digitization and digitalization are having the same impact in the office.
- Financial software has taken over many common tasks in accounting and finance departments
- Software has automated and disintermediated many job tasks and functions, from media buying to tax preparation to product recommendation to employee training
- Newer advancements in digital technology, such as AI, continues to automate tasks that require more cognitive and physical autonomy, such as textual analysis, semantic analysis, writing, and IT tasks
When it comes to IT operations, AI may not yet be able to perform the most critical IT operations functions, but there are a number of areas that technology can take over partially, if not completely.
Examples of Automation in IT
Here are a few instances where automation is scaling up within IT fields:
- Cybersecurity. AI can be used to perform many repetitive and menial tasks associated with cybersecurity, including incident detection, hardware configuration, traffic analysis, data analysis, anomaly detection, and so forth.
- Autonomic computing. Autonomic computing is a concept introduced by IBM. The intention behind their proposal was to develop computing systems that can manage themselves, which will reduce the complexity inherent in large computing environments, systems, and applications. Autonomic computing providers offer solutions such as self-managing ITSM solutions or “virtual engineers” that handle many of the tasks associated with IT operations.
- Workflow automation. Task automation refers to the use of automation platforms to perform repetitive workflows. The proliferation of no-code platforms, such as digital adoption platforms (DAPs), further democratizes this capability, allowing non-technical personnel to automate tasks and even create their own mini-apps. Among other things, this capability frees up IT staff’s time by reducing employees’ dependence on IT change management teams, ITOps teams, and technical support teams.
- Database automation. As database technology becomes more complex, the need for humans to perform tedious configuration tasks is declining. Autonomous databases perform many of the core tasks associated with database management, including infrastructure management, database optimization, and monitoring.
All of these examples demonstrate that automation is already well underway in IT and, as we’ll see next, there are major benefits to investing in automated IT solutions.
Advantages of Autonomous IT Operations
There are several clear benefits to automation, regardless of how or where it is being applied.
A few include:
- Improved efficiency. Automation platforms and technologies can perform tasks in a fraction the time it takes a human to do the same job – and at a fraction of the cost. This increase in efficiency translates into greater profit margins for the company, as well as greater agility.
- Lower risk of human errors. Humans make mistakes, and while mistakes may or may not be common, the wrong mistake can be costly. In cybersecurity, for instance, a single mistake can create a devastating breach that can result in massive losses for customers, employees, and all stakeholders.
- Improved organizational performance. Ultimately, the productivity gains from automation stack up and can improve an organization’s overall performance. By applying automation to customer care and technical support, for instance, IT teams can engage in activities that add more value to the organization’s bottom line, such as improving products or driving digital transformation projects.
Ultimately, automation can generate many of the same advantages we saw during the industrial revolution – namely, machines can take over menial tasks and free up human time for more value-added activities.
That being said, automation does have downsides when it is not applied with care.
The Drawbacks of Automating IT
All technology has both positive applications and negative applications.
For example, the overuse of marketing automation can create interactions that feel robotic, disingenuous, and disconnected.
The same holds true in other areas of business, such as customer service – overusing robots to interact with customers can create a poor customer experience, which can, in turn, decrease engagement and negatively affect the bottom line.
In IT, the risks differ, but they do exist.
- Automating processes that should be performed by humans can result in oversights, errors, or inefficiencies – often the very things automation is designed to solve
- Resistance to change can be a problem if employees feel threatened by automation
- If the automation technology is too immature, businesses can spend more time and energy automating a process than they would actually performing the process manually
- Humans are required to build and maintain automation systems, and, given today’s digital talent shortage, this can be a challenge
When automation tools become mainstream, they can deliver major advantages that, in some cases, result in an unfair competitive advantage. That being said, it is important to use these tools wisely and appropriately in order to mitigate any undesirable side effects.