6 tips to avoid automation disaster

If your automated DevOps pipeline or robotic process automation is flawed, it can spawn endless headaches, as these hard-learned real-world lessons attest.

6 tips to avoid automation disaster
mazimusnd / Getty Images / Bill Oxford; Modified by IDG Comm

In 2015, senior software engineer Benjamin Willenbring was excited when his employer, Autodesk, introduced automated software testing. That excitement didn't last long. The small automation team didn't communicate much with his division. And when the tests reached production, they weren't what anyone hoped for.

"My teammates were talking about tests failing non-deterministically, and not really having a lot of confidence in the test," Willenbring says. He found that "to get to actually run the test was very, very difficult. It wasn't documented. You had to talk to someone. And there were an enormous amount of files and I didn't really understand why."

Automation was supposed to make Willenbring's work easier. Instead, the problems it created came to dominate much of his energy for the next several years.

Willenbring’s experience isn’t uncommon. And with automation rapidly spreading through IT, cautionary tales provide valuable lessons.

From the automated workflows of DevOps to robotic process automation (RPA), automated processes aim to reduce scut work and free skilled employees for higher-level tasks. But flawed premises or botched rollouts can turn the dream of automation into a nightmare. We spoke to several IT pros about automation horror stories they've heard about or endured, and distilled out six commandments to help your automation initiatives avoid such fates.

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