Asset Automation Brings Harmonious Orchestration

Bob Janssen, CTO, RES Software "IT must look at better ways of managing IT through innovative approaches to automation and orchestration"

RES Software chief technology offer Bob Janssen says that IT management is being pushed in different directions, so how can we steady stage and make sure we’re all singing from the same song-sheet?

The facts are simple, businesses want more information for decision-making and insight into customers, while individual users are accessing applications and working on more devices from smartphones and tablets to laptops and the traditional desktop. At the same time, IT has to provide better services to users across all these devices, which means new challenges and more platforms to support with the same level of resources.

It’s a cacophony of service management sound

To keep up with the demands of users and support business objectives, IT must look at better ways of managing IT through innovative approaches to automation and orchestration.

How do we speed up the IT production line?

For the IT team, there is the constant challenge of completing new projects, like migrating to Windows 7 or rolling out new applications to the business, all against the backdrop of tightening budgets and shrinking staffs. The natural response to this is to cut down on manual intervention wherever possible by automating IT management.

From an IT service management (ITSM) perspective, automation can deliver more benefits to the business. Responses to typical IT problems like application upgrades or operating system migrations can be automated, so users can get the best experience without demanding direct intervention from the IT team.

For companies looking at IT automation, the main benefit is that they can improve internal processes and reduce the manual effort required of common, recurring tasks. Their emphasis (in a perfect world) should be on making everything run properly the first time around and cutting the time spent on tasks in the future.

The end result should be:

  • less time spent delivering patches,
  • less time spent updating desktops,
  • less time spent migrating operating systems,
  • less time needed for other day-to-day tasks.

There are other benefits too: automated processes can be done uniformly across all machines, reducing potential for error and improving reliability. Plus, time saved through automation can help keep costs lower, while maintaining service quality.

After automation comes service orchestration

The next step after automation is to take a fresh look at service orchestration. At first glance, this may seem similar to IT automation: it is aimed at making the mechanics of a process run smoothly, with minimal human intervention. In fact, service orchestration is something bigger: it looks at how IT-related processes interact with the other business functions and assets engaged with the same processes. This means that a project undertaken by IT may actually enable IT to deliver value to the larger organization – not just to IT.

The aim of service orchestration is to apply the potential of IT automation to common business tasks. Again, the end result should be a smoother process for end-users, and more efficient results for the business. Plus it will involve interaction with those business units in order to be successful. Orchestration also goes further into aligning IT with business activities, ensuring that IT continues to deliver better service and support to the organisation as a whole.

Organising onboarding

A prime example of service orchestration is around onboarding: new users entering an organisation.

Certainly new employees must be provided with the right level of access to IT resources, applications and data; but how this is achieved can tell you a lot about how the organisation approaches IT management – and ITSM in particular.

Here’s a typical scenario:

The new employee is provided with a desktop or laptop to work on, and the necessary applications are either installed on that machine or delivered to that machine as a service. Finally, the user is set up in Active Directory and granted role-based access rights and permissions, as well as access to printers and shared drives.

In most environments, these interactions are manual: the IT staff adds the employee to the right domains, provides the appropriate permissions, installs applications, and sources the desktop or laptop. Documenting the employee’s resource requirements, securing the necessary approvals, and implementing those resources can take at least many hours – and quite often days. But service orchestration can drastically reduce this time by automating the process. Also, the new employee’s business unit – which is already specifying the employee’s unique resource and access requirements – can be given more control over delivering the employee’s new technology.

Instead of relying on the traditional “heavy lifting” approach of person-to-person interaction between IT staff and the rest of the business, an IT service can be set up to automate this interaction. For example, an HR application can be used to define each new employee’s application and data access privileges based on his or her job description and seniority level.

A task that can take hours and engage multiple staff resources is reduced to minutes, with little to no “hands on” interaction. Investing the time up-front to set up this capability can save enormous amounts of time longer term, as the new IT services can then be applied to every new employee at every level. It also reduces human interaction, and the possibility of time consuming error.

The service orchestration score

Service orchestration provides more opportunities for improving service delivery throughout an employee’s lifecycle within the business through service catalogues and self-service portals. Based on ITIL guidance, building up a service catalogue makes it easier for IT to provide a list of relevant IT services in one place for users to access.

But service orchestration can take this one stage further, by automating deployment of business processes. Approval processes and permissions can be built into the service orchestration process to ensure that managers within the organisation maintain proper levels of control.

A working example:

For example, password resets and printer access tasks – which often make up the bulk of service desk calls – can be automated. Doing so not only makes life easier for the IT team, it helps employees return to productivity more rapidly as well.

What does the future hold for IT?

At the heart of automation and service orchestration is the recognition that human time and effort is an expensive approach to managing IT. By automating IT management where possible, it frees up time that would otherwise be spent on low-value tasks that “keep the lights on”, and instead let IT concentrate on how those assets are used to create value for individuals and for the business as a whole.

For those in charge of IT, whether they are responsible for overall budget spend or for keeping desktops running day-to-day, this change represents a big shift. Instead of being solely a back-office function, IT has to step into the limelight and be part of wider business projects from the start.

It also links into changing how companies think about their IT assets from the start: rather than being static assets that remain the same for years, these applications and services can change rapidly depending on what endpoint a user is on, whether they are mobile or office-based, and how their job differs depending on circumstances. All of these criteria can be changing at once for each user, so the ITAM function has to respond to this. Doing it manually represents a huge potential time-sink, so automation is the only way that it can be achieved cost-effectively.

Automation and orchestration is therefore a necessary investment for the future of IT management. As internal IT professionals, this level of control provides greater opportunities to improve service delivery, while it also offers more time to concentrate on where value can be created and delivered.

Bob Janssen is CTO for RES Software. He has spent over ten years establishing and growing RES Software in its mission to help customers with their desktop and IT management requirements.