IT Reality Check: Bracing for Impact in 2009

Four reasons you should consider an investment in IT process automation

By Chris Pick

It is no secret that the economic realities of 2008 and 2009 do not bode well for enterprise IT organizations. With budget cuts looming, IT executives are scrutinizing every decision to determine just how much they can reduce spending without “breaking” day-to-day operations. Moreover, they worry about how they will effectively manage what the new year brings -- the need for new services, the desire for new technologies, and other unforeseen demands as their businesses evolve.

As the head of a global product organization, I have the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of customers around the world -- from IT Operations to Security to C-level management. This quarter, every customer I have spoken with has their own version of these challenges and concerns. The stark reality we discuss at length is that IT is going to have to do more with less. IT is going to have to leverage what it has and do a much better job of making sure their current investments produce services that tangibly benefit the business.

The good news is that many customers are seeking insight into HOW to do more with less. They ask me: What practical steps can be taken, and how do we get past just paying lip service to the concept and actually do more with fewer resources and a smaller budget in 2009?

In every instance, my reply to these customers has been to integrate and automate IT management.

By applying IT process automation technology smartly, IT can achieve a level of visibility and control it has always needed, along with the ability to expand capacity and reduce the costs of IT service delivery.

I’ll grant you, I’m prejudiced. I work for a company with an IT automation product. Nevertheless, no matter what vendor tool you select, I believe there are solid benefits to the technology. In fact, I believe IT process automation could be the “killer application” of 2009.

Here are the top four reasons why you should consider IT process automation as a primary investment.

To eliminate labor inefficiencies. Labor costs are probably the single greatest expense of your IT department. For every mundane, routine task that a highly skilled administrator performs, the less time that individual has for more strategic projects, or the less time they have to actually dig in to the current assets you own to take full advantage of their functionality.

Repetitive and low-skilled tasks are perfect candidates for IT process automation. By establishing a process that can control IT management tools, you can remove the constant need for human intervention. For example, complex server reboots can be safely initiated, automated, and monitored by low-skilled employees, freeing server or application administrators to work on enabling new services. By automatically documenting process execution, you maintain an audit trail, and eliminate the time burden of manual documentation (such as updating tickets). This ensures repeatability even if administrators move on.

To reduce license costs by identifying and replacing underperforming assets. Most IT managers admit that they only use a fraction of the capabilities of their existing management tools. It’s the 80/20 rule -- they use 20 percent of the functionality and leave 80 percent in the box. Worse, they admit that they have many instances of investments with overlapping features. To be successful in 2009, you need to take inventory of what you have and fully understand how those tools contribute to the business services you deliver. You need to be thinking: How can I swap out investments to deliver greater return in less than 12 months?

If you can identify “questionable” assets, you can justifiably replace them with an investment in IT process automation at an equal or smaller cost of current maintenance. Because IT process automation is fundamentally a technology that integrates a broad range of IT management tools and includes pre-existing knowledge of how those tools work, it can maximize performing investments. By swapping out marginal investments, you will be able to architect richer business services, eliminate overlapping products, and (best of all) drive down management and maintenance costs.

To replace point automation tools. Many customers I meet with indicate that they see the benefit of automation, and have even purchased specific tools to increase automation in support of a business service. Job scheduling tools are a great example. Although they automate batch transaction execution and support critical legacy applications, they only address a small percentage of the overall IT process. They cannot provide labor and time savings across the process.

IT process automation can replace point automation tools to support both packaged and custom legacy applications to better integrate technologies through the context of process. It can perform the same roles that niche automation tools provide, and deliver much greater value to the IT organization and business overall. Rather than endure expensive annual maintenance bills, technologies such as IT process automation can provide a broader application of automation, a cost structure that decreases, and documented labor and time savings with each IT process automated.

To realize the discipline of ITIL without the cost. Although the concepts ITIL puts forward are attractive -- IT discipline, greater standardization for improved service delivery, and cost reductions -- many organizations I speak with ultimately put these projects on hold because those benefits come at a cost: people. With ITIL, these customers had to invest in hiring process managers, a cost their budget could not support long term.

Because of the integration and automation capabilities IT process automation provides, ITIL adoption can be achieved by taking a much more targeted and practical approach because it eliminates the “process” managers altogether. First, determine which ITIL processes can provide your organization the most value (incident management, event management, and change and configuration management are good starting points), the greatest productivity, and the best alignment with business objectives. Then, use the ability to model, orchestrate, and automate the micro-processes that pertain to these ITIL disciplines to radically reduce the manual burden associated with ongoing ITIL adoption and documentation.

As I continue to speak with customers and prospects next quarter, I expect that many of the conversations will revolve around how can IT do more with less? And the answer will still be to integrate and automate IT management. The basic “killer applications” for IT process automation will make a demonstrable impact on how IT organizations meet the current (and future) service demands with limited budget and resources in 2009. It can help maximize the investments you have, better align those investments to the business services you deliver, and automate a significant chunk of the IT management burden you face daily. If you haven’t yet considered IT process automation, there is no better time than the present as you brace yourself for all that 2009 will bring.

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Chris Pick is the chief marketing officer and vice president of products at NetIQ. You can contact the author at