IT Focus Area: infrastructure operations
April 10, 2014
Enabling Services Through Effective Process Automation
The pressure continues to mount for IT management to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and deliver services that enable and support the business. IT management should now conjure up better ways to deliver and support these IT services. Options include utilizing converged or private clouds; centralizing and integrating service catalogs; and adopting agile orchestration techniques to meet faster delivery expectations.
This article outlines a framework that organizations can use to enable IT services through process automation. By using this framework, companies can save time and ensure success by standardizing on common conventions, highlighting common issues, and bringing improvements in a methodical and results-driven manner.
There are three key areas where automate can play a key role within the cloud. They are:
1. Operations automation
Service desk—resetting passwords
Incident and change management—self-healing, rebooting servers
Configuration management—updating configuration management system
2. Service automation
Self-service portal—requesting laptops, application software, tablets, cell phones
IT—requesting servers, pre-production environments for projects
Human resources/facilities—on-boarding new employees, obtaining access
3. Fabric automation
Provisioning computing, operating system (OS) and application resources
Virtual machines (VMs —moving hosts between clusters
Automated cloud bursting—scaling based upon dynamic demand
The following five steps are important in establishing a process automation framework.
Step 1: Establish a governance structure
A good governance structure describes the company’s leadership's perspective on decision making and compliance. Establishing this governance structure reduces the risk introduced by automation and helps ensure business value is derived from implementing new technologies. Clearly defined policies, standards, processes, and procedures help increase accountability and promote ownership, buy-in and acceptance. IT leadership should be sure to publish their standards and work with IT staff to reinforce what governance means to the service automation effort.
Companies who have seen success with service enablement through process automation may utilize their governance team in a number of ways, including:
Influencing organizational alignment, application sizing, and application placement
Establishment of infrastructure, application and service standards
Ensuring accountability for service level performance
Step 2: Service definition and catalog creation
The IT service catalog aligns IT with the business through service definition and delivery. Many IT organizations only think about systems and technology without ever completely considering the business services they enable and support. When defining services and creating your catalog, start by providing a clear description of the core services offered.
Include details about each service such as:
Which customers are able to use the service?
How they order the service?
Who they should contact for support?
What is the expected service's business?
What are the support hours offered?
Remember that services can be defined for infrastructure, applications and business services so establishing standards is an essential first step to enhance the service catalog experience.
Creating standard builds for infrastructure and applications can streamline service design, build, test, and support. Furthermore, IT can gain advantages with effective and efficient provisioning of services through automation. This can be accomplished through the creation of a service request catalog that is closely integrated with the IT service catalog. Additionally a service catalog provides the foundation for defining and establishing service level agreements. Without a creating a service catalog, customer satisfaction becomes a moving target.
Step 3: Define service levels
Defined service levels facilitate communications and understanding between the business expectations and the service capabilities enabled by IT. These service level agreements then enable the business to assess the value of the company’s IT spend. To that end, for each service offered in the service catalog, define a series of service level requirements.
Common requirements include:
Service enablement (ordering and provision time)
Availability (percentage availability per month excluding planned outages)
Reliability (mean time between incidents, Mean time between failures)
Capacity (storage, transactions, load, performance)
Maintainability (mean time to restore service)
Backup and restore (backup frequency, restoration time)
Continuity (recovery time objective and recovery point objective)
Remember, without defined, measured and managed service levels, service performance is subject to perception and emotions. To maximize success, start defining service levels at the beginning of the design effort. By using this strategy, organizations have found that measuring service level performance during user acceptance testing can be a good indicator of future performance.
Step 4: Establish measurement framework
A measurement framework drives continual improvement by ensuring that the organization is able to achieve measurable results. Developing a Service Measurement Framework involves a variety of different metrics and measurements.
Individual operational metrics (OMs) feed the end-to-end service measurement. OMs then can be combined to support confirming key performance indicators (KPIs). And lastly OMs/KPIs can be used as the basis for critical success factors.
Companies should focus on generating meaningful measures that can be applied consistently, if possible, utilizing past baselines (where baselines exist). In some instances, it might be beneficial to collect measurement data for a period of 30 to 90 days before drawing conclusions. If no baseline data exists, start the collection data as soon as possible. It is challenging to determining trends without supporting facts and findings.
Step 5: Define process automation requirements
When defining process automation requirements it is critical to understand the functional and non-functional requirements, as well as the difference between them (i.e. updating the configuration management database is a functional requirement, configuration management itself is a non-functional requirement). Your automation requirements should integrate tools, people and processes through clearly defined workflow. Ascertain which manual processes and procedures are currently being used to enable services. This will help ensure that the process automation is effective, while providing an understanding of where efficiencies can be gained.
A general rule is to start with a well understood service. As an example, if you were trying to automate an employee onboarding process, first start with defining the high-level workflow.
Once the high level workflow is designed, the next step is to define the secondary workflow. For example, "Provision badge /facilities access" may be designed to look something like this:
Once all secondary workflows are designed, you are ready to design the high level inputs and associated tasks. Example inputs and tasks may look something like this:
Three Things Also to Consider
The net effect of implementing the framework described above will get you started on your journey to enabling services through process automation; however there are other things you should consider.
One way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of automation is through the use of orchestration. Orchestration allows organizations to take a number of automated tasks and arrange them in a sequence that accelerates service enablement at scale, thereby reducing risk.
2. Configuration Management Database (CMDB)
CMDBs provide organizations with a comprehensive view of their infrastructure. It is very difficult to manage services if you don't know what is in your network. Additionally, CMDBs can provide a vehicle for modeling services, tracking upstream and downstream dependencies, and minimizing the risk from drift.
3. Change Management
Managing change is never easy and when compliance requirements and/or a CMDB is involved, it becomes paramount to keeping data accurate and fresh. Change management plays a key role in successfully enabling services through automation.
Save Time and Ensure Success
A framework to enable IT services through process automation is important. By using this framework, organizations can save time and ensure success by standardizing on commonality in a systematic and results-oriented manner.