Thinking about automating your IT processes to boost efficiency in your firm?
Don’t get off to a false start. Here, tmgroup’s Infrastructure Lead, James Canfer, shares his experience of automating key IT processes in the business and saving time.
Working in IT Operations, one challenge my team constantly faces is how to do more and how to know more, with the same resources. A real focus for us over the past couple of years has been the increased automation of our operations and the experience has drawn some interesting conclusions.
Benefits of Automation
As a team we’re always striving to deliver a better service to our customers, to reduce the burden of mind numbing tasks on the staff and to operate as efficient an operation as we can. Automation ticks all of those boxes, but in particular, it can free staff up to focus on projects that deliver business value and reduce the number of interruptions when focusing on complex work.
The useful working time lost in a member of staff switching focus from complex work, to deal with a “quick” problem should not be underestimated.
Where to start?
The temptation for us was to buy in tooling to automate the work for us. Big mistake! Almost every tool we demoed require specialist skills and experience just to gain some modest benefit. In addition, you are spending money upfront before understanding the problem you’re trying to solve.
Back to Basics
So we started with analysis – sorry, it’s nothing more exciting! What tasks were the team doing on a repetitive basis, once a week, once a day or several times a day? These could be anything from reactive tasks to planned BAU tasks.
Next we looked at the time each task was taking, what the main steps involved were and estimating the effort involved in automating the task. In some cases the estimate was a great big question mark, because of the complexity involved.
When it came to prioritising which tasks to tackle, the simplest tasks that were the quickest to automate went to the top of the list. Followed by those that occurred most frequently. Everything else went on the backlog.
…And Buy Some Tools?
Actually, no! You may or may not have heard of a scripting language called PowerShell, which is a component part of Microsoft Windows.
Believe it or not, my team has been able to leverage PowerShell to automate months of previously manual work without spending any money on tooling. Instead, as a team we’ve invested time in learning how best to leverage PowerShell and in building our own tools.
The challenge and the experience of learning a new skill together as a team and the near immediate benefits have all been huge morale boosters. Surprisingly in a very short space of time, we found ourselves automating tasks that are far more complex. Armed with this new skill, tasks that are more complex are approached as a challenge and as an opportunity to enhance our skills further.
Unexpected Benefits and No Catches
By leveraging PowerShell, we have realised all of the benefits mentioned earlier in this article, but also some really useful and unexpected ones too. These include requiring much simpler documentation, or in some cases none at all; greater configuration control and built in roll back plans because we’re codifying more and more of our operations; and we’ve found ourselves adopting more and more DevOps principles almost as a by-product of moving to this way of working.
And the catches? Like anything in IT, automation requires maintenance. To be fair this is a very light burden to shoulder. Beyond that automating with PowerShell has been entirely positive!