What you need to think about before introducing automation

26 May 2020

Alessandro Perilli. Image: Red Hat

There’s a lot of discussion around the benefits of implementing automation, but Red Hat’s Alessandro Perilli highlights what companies need to think about first.

Automation has been heralded as a solution for many companies, especially with the rapid development of tech and the current situation with Covid-19 accelerating many decisions around digital transformation.

But automation isn’t something that can simply be purchased and plugged into a company. There are many things to consider before automating elements of your business and even when faced with a situation such as coronavirus, where operations need to change quickly, companies should still take stock before hitting the ground running.

This is according to Alessandro Perilli, the general manager of management strategy at Red Hat. In his role, Perilli helps to chart long-term strategy in various areas, including enterprise management, automation, cybersecurity and AI.

‘Often you won’t achieve a timely return on investment if you focus on one large process’

He said the first thing companies need to think about when considering automated solutions relates to the initiative itself.

“What do they want to achieve with automation? Cost reduction or operational scalability? This really makes a difference because these considerations change the approach and success metrics of the automation initiative. They also trigger very different dynamics for the people involved in the project,” he said.

“The second thing companies should think about before introducing automation is related to the solution they are going to adopt. How difficult is it to implement, integrate, master, maintain and secure over time? These are factors that companies should evaluate for every software they decide to implement, but with automation these questions are even more important.”

Take it one step at a time

According to Perilli, one of the biggest traps companies can fall into is to think big and plan for an end result, working towards that as opposed to taking it step by step.

“Don’t try and put all your resources towards tackling one large, complex process from the outset. Instead, start off by automating as many small tasks as possible,” he said.

“Often you won’t achieve a timely return on investment if you focus on one large process, which involves many complex sub-processes that have never been standardised or automated before. In the current climate, achievable progress and faster ROI is more important than ever.”

The key for automation, Perilli said, is to start small and standardise the environment and give your workforce the opportunity to grow in confidence in skillset. “By the time those elements are in place, you should be at a point where you fully appreciate the value of automation and that justifies a standardisation effort,” he added.

A strong marketplace is key

When a company is introducing automation, it will need the support of a strong marketplace. Perilli said the automation layer can be integrated with virtually every other platform and service within the IT environment, provided it has that support.

“Marketplace communities are valuable, with a wide range of professionals and partners to help you implement, teach, support and protect your automation solution. Ansible, for example, is one of the top 10 most contributed projects in GitHub, with more than 100m projects. There’s an enormous community, ready to help any organisation that wants to adopt it.”

He added that it’s also important to have an internal chief automation architect. “Without someone intimately familiar with the many processes that govern an organisation, it will lack the oversight necessary to progress from implementing automation as a tactical tool to using it as a strategic approach to scale operations.”

Perilli said a good example of an organisation that has used automation well is the British army. “This is an organisation that already served more than 100,000 regular and reserve personnel in 2017, including 19,000 personnel deployed across 27 countries. It depends on a very efficient and disciplined approach to information technology.

“The organisation’s Information Application Services (IAS) branch, based in the UK, delivers software applications, hosting and web services to the whole British army. IAS uses Ansible to ensure that all the army’s IT environments, including development, test, pre-production and production, remain consistent,” he said.

“It’s a great example of how automation can be used to scale up operations.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic