If Catherine Maras would have one rallying cry for her information technology group, it would no doubt be \u201cRemember Bexar County!\u201d\u00a0\nThat would make perfect sense, as Bexar County, Texas, has as its county seat the city of San Antonio, home of The Alamo. But Maras doesn\u2019t want the region to be just known for its prominent place in history. She wants her staff to think of it as a true center of innovation in digital government, and aiding in the process is the county\u2019s use of IT automation.\u00a0\n\u201cIT automation is very important in local governments, especially counties with many elected officials responsible for pieces of an overall process,\u201d explains Maras, CIO for the county. \u201cDue to local government set-up or framework, IT automation is needed for citizen transparency and internal sustainability.\u201d\u00a0\nThe key word here is \u201ctransparency.\u201d Citizen access and government transparency are among the core IT missions of the Bexar County Information Technology (BCIT) group, which provides IT and communication technology for all county elected officials and departments.\nLike everything else in Texas, Bexar County is big \u2013 some 1,300 square miles, and home to more than 1.5 million residents. But if any IT leader is up to the task of overseeing such a large piece of tech real estate it is no doubt Maras. In her previous job, she served as CIO at Cook County, Ill., the second largest county in the country, with over 5 million residents and 129 municipalities, including the City of Chicago.\u00a0\nIT automation: what is it, exactly?\u00a0\nIn fairness, not all IT leaders are avid supporters of IT automation, which is the linking of disparate systems and software in ways that they become self-acting or self-regulating. IT automation is a large category, and can cover anything from the simple automatic routing of forms or PDF files to intended recipients, to something more complex such as the automated provisioning of backup and recovery systems. But an IT automation system is not to be confused with an intelligent system. They can make errors, and they\u2019re not insightful enough to know when they do.\u00a0\nStill, as its name implies, IT automation can save an organization \u2013 or county government \u2013 countless dollars or significant resources by simplifying workflow processes and procedures, especially when systems and users can be far removed from each other. That was the experience of Maras and the IT team at Cook County, Ill. when it implemented the first Information Technology Strategic Plan. That plan identified opportunities within the county\u2019s 90 departments to enhance processes and advance service levels through the use of automation, integration, standardization, and the development of enterprise applications.\u00a0\nBexar County officials obviously liked what they saw in her work at Cook County, and gave Maras a similar mission in Texas. Specifically, the BCIT has the following mission statement:\u00a0\n\u201cOur objectives are the structured, systematic processes for assessing our IT infrastructure and application platform across capabilities in order to provide an optimization roadmap toward a Dynamic IT.\u201d\u00a0\n\nCustomers first. \u201cSupport our customers with self-service offerings via the Web. Be an effective information provider and broker, from community and tourist information to emergency services notifications.\u201d\u00a0\n\n\nGreen IT. \u201cSupport environmental awareness, reduces costs, and builds our green credentials through the adoption of green principles in our IT operations and procurements.\u201d\u00a0\n\n\nWorkforce effectiveness and efficiencies. \u201cProvide an IT environment that supports the Mission of the County through automation, collaboration, data sharing and Predictive Analytics, building the workplace of the future to promote the County\u2019s image as an innovative leader.\u201d\u00a0\n\n\nAnytime, anywhere access. \u201cEnables mobility and provides anytime\/anywhere access to information and services whether in an office, out in the field or on the road.\u201d\u00a0\n\n\nInnovation\/transformation. \u201cDeliver innovative technology solutions that will transform the County into the future.\u201d\u00a0\n\n\nTransparency. \u201cRemoving barriers and improving access to County Government operations and information.\u201d\u00a0\n\nCritical to the success of these tasks is IT automation, Maras says.\n\u201cWhen Bexar County implemented an Enterprise Resource Planning System, the workflow functionality of the ERP software allowed all Bexar County Offices to be standardized on multiple financial processes, such as Purchasing, AR, and Capital Projects,\u201d Maras says.\u00a0\u201cDue to these standardized financial processes, many local government purchasing and accounting procedures were transparent in the workflow process.\u201d\n\u201cThese workflows have saved Bexar County millions annually in processing costs, and new users do not have to be retrained, because the software has been implemented to allow for each transaction to flow through all county departments in a standardized fashion,\u201d Maras says.\n\u201cIntegrated Justice is another example where the due process of individuals crosses many departments and elected officials,\u201d Maras says. \u201cBecause of this, IT automation is needed so that information about an individual is entered once, and with the right security, users can view and add to the information, but only see the information pertinent to his\/her position.\u201d\nMaras does issue one word of caution. Though IT automation is a technology initiative, it should be a business \u2013not technology \u2013 strategy.\n\u201cThis is needed for the business and should not be an IT driven strategy,\u201d Maras stresses.\u00a0\u201cThe business should promote this, and the IT department enables it for the business with a standard way of performing the function through service oriented architecture.\u201d\nDevOps + IT automation, FTW\u00a0\nAlso sold on the value of IT automation is Angela Yochem, global chief information officer at BDP International in Philadelphia.\u00a0\n\u201cIn late 2014, BDP deployed a robust DevOps capability in which we automate build, test and deployment for the custom applications we deliver for international BDP users as well as for external clients,\u201d Yochem explains.\u00a0\n\u201cThe automation angle is key to rapid delivery, and it lends a high level of quality and predictability to our development process and products,\u201d Yochem says.\u00a0\nInterestingly, Yochem describes IT automation as an IT-driven strategy, the opposite of the view expressed by Maras.\u00a0\n\u201cThis is an IT-driven strategy, with the desired outcome being to deliver differentiating, high quality products to our clients. We are fortune at BDP in that our broader business community understands the value of business and IT automation, and have been supportive as we\u2019ve adopted DevOps practices as part of our broader Agile methodology for product delivery,\u201d Yochem concludes.\nOther areas that can benefit from IT automation\u00a0\nAnother area in which organizations are using IT automation is with data analytics and business intelligence. Several recent studies have revealed that the largest share of new IT spending in 2016 is expected to go toward data analytics. But as has also been widely reported, there is a shortage of skilled data scientists and data analysts to work on data initiatives and make sense of all the data piling up. This is fueling increased interest in IT automation tied to data management.\u00a0\n\u201cThe amount of data that is coming in and that organizations have access to is greater than ever before, and continuing to grow with no end in sight,\u201d notes Benjamin Rosenberg, president at\u00a0Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. \u201cHowever, despite this availability of data, businesses are struggling with ways to manage the dependencies between data and derive meaningful insight from various sources.\u201d\u00a0\nAs more and more data becomes available for analysis, the challenge now is how to hold back the flood gates and distribute data in a way that\u2019s easy to understand for improved performance, Rosenberg explains.\u00a0\nExisting problems include, but are not limited to the following:\u00a0\n\nDecluttering data complexity\nIssues identifying\/detecting problems and troubleshooting\nLack of visibility into data sources and dependencies\u00a0\n\n\u201cAutomation helps organizations improve data insight with intelligent analytics and reporting designed to easily identify, monitor, and manage workflows and systems for faster, more reliable workload performance\u00a0\u2013\u00a0therefore, allowing them to adapt to agile environments,\u201d Rosenberg says.\u00a0\nThe benefits of automation solutions include, but are not limited to the following:\n\nImproved reporting and business intelligence\nEase of use in workflow monitoring\nVisibility into workload and system performance\nReduce time to issue resolution\/improve troubleshooting\n\nThe firm\u2019sActiveBatch is their IT Automation solution that helps with these issues.