by Stephen Elliot

Process Makes Perfect: How to Turn IT Process Automation into Business Growth

Mar 11, 20096 mins
Data Center

Many automation projects measure success on basic ROI metrics: That's not enough. The smartest CIOs are measuring the business impact of these projects, says CA's Stephen Elliot. Here's his advice on how to do that, bring your team together and lay a foundation for business growth.

Stephen Elliot, VP of strategy for CA’s Infrastructure Management and Data Center Automation business units, is speaking at this week’s AFCOM Data Center World conference on data center efficiency. He shared this advice on the topic for readers.

2009 will likely go down in history as a tough year for the global economy, and a tougher year for most IT organizations. CIOs are being asked to further reduce budgets and increase staff efficiencies, while maintaining and often increasing the quality and number of IT services. However, as Albert Einstein once said, “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”; IT is full of them.

The rise of virtualization, policy-based networking, process standardization, automation, and SOA has positioned IT at a critical inflection point in achieving business efficiency and effectiveness. As IT and business leaders, we must seize these opportunities. To “get more out of less,” CIOs are prioritizing investments into technologies that offer business impact and continuous cost containment. One of these areas is IT process automation technologies, whereby solutions ensure the automated workflow of a series of tasks, potentially triggering an action based on a series of inputs. Often, many of these projects start with a change or configuration process while success is measured on basic ROI metrics. What’s interesting is that ROI is not enough. Measuring the business impact of IT process automation is where savvy CIOs are investing time and resources, using ROI as a baseline for time to value.

Recent customer conversations show this to be true:

  • A large financial service firm is working towards delivering business process impact by integrating their virtual and physical management solutions into a service view, while mapping the service and application topology to the key customers’ groups and utilizing chargeback for the services.
  • A large insurance company is linking the number of agents to the number of policies created per day. The availability of this system is paramount, as is the data accuracy and capture.
  • A retailer is linking their pricing and POS systems to the ability to execute workload automation. This helps to maintain accurate price points and ensure a balance between profitability and inventory management.
  • A large service provider is managing SOA-based applications to high levels of availability and service levels, based on in-depth root cause analytics of application performance solutions.
  • A large bank is looking to compress change and configuration costs and fragmented processes by standardizing process workflows across separate IT groups.

The common theme for all of these examples is efficient use of technology, notably IT process automation, to drive the business outcome. As a stand-alone solution, IT process automation has limited value. But when paired with solutions such as service desk or data center automation, they become an integral part of the foundation for business growth and IT’s ability to directly measure and generate it.

However, technology alone does not generate these business returns. In about 55% or so of our customer conversations, the IT organization has adopted multiple IT processes, often based on ITIL or CoBit. The most common ones include problem, change, incident, and configuration management. More recently, CIOs have asked us to map solutions to support financial and release management. In a few cases, some aggressive CIOs are evaluating ITILv3. In all cases, the notion of managing a “service,” upon which ITILv 3 is espoused, is prevalent.

Getting Started

CIOs should consider the following recommendations to drive success in IT process automation and consider that the trifecta of IT staff, process standardization, and technology are required to create a sustainable competitive advantage and successful business outcomes. To achieve this, CIOs should:

  • Purchase an IT process automation solution: Consider the workflow engine the most important purchase criteria; integration across a vendor’s portfolio and with third party solutions is a close second.
  • Integrate the tool with a data center automation strategy: The ability to automate workflows will be a paramount requirement for on-going cost savings and efficient IT operations.
  • Utilize virtualization: Effective use of process automation will take place in both physical and virtual infrastructure; integration into a seamless, singular workflow is the goal.
  • Adopt ITIL process standardization: Go beyond the foundational processes and adopt financial management and release management; automate the processes.
  • Get small “wins” first: Automating IT change and configuration management processes are a great way to reduce costs; start within an IT silo and build out across teams.
  • Add process automation to data center consolidation projects: Automation must be a key requirement of any data center project to fully realize on-going cost and efficiency benefits.

CIOs should recognize that IT process automation is more than just deploying a purpose-built tool. It requires IT staff buy-in and CIO leadership to drive automation and standardization of process workflows with specific business objectives. Example of objectives include the reduction in the number of trouble tickets, an improvement in IT service availability, or key business process outcomes such as those outlined in the examples above.

ROI as a Success Factor: Don’t Sell Yourself Short

It’s easy in this economic environment to rely solely on ROI, and in fact ROI is a great starting point. But, increasingly we are working with clients to establish business cases that are for “continuous cost containment.” For example, while IT process automation can drive much efficiency, the real value is getting multiple teams to understand their role in the process as it becomes automated, and to measure the impact of this automation. As process standardization takes hold, the behavior and time allocation to certain tasks for IT changes. CIOs must work with IT staff to identify the key stakeholders, create buy -in for the new processes, and measure their success. Communicating these key factors to the staff is imperative. IT process automation is but one initiative that should be considered in tough times. However, CIOs should use this as a stepping stone to larger efficiency measures that bring teams together, improve efficiencies, and establish a foundation for business growth.

Stephen Elliot is vice president of strategy for CA’s Infrastructure Management and Data Center Automation business unit. In this role, he is focused on key areas such as business unit technology, strategy creation, analyst relations, market positioning, partner development, and customer deals. Prior to CA, Mr. Elliot was a noted software industry analyst at IDC, Hurwitz Group, Gartner, Instat, and Forrester.