Thought Leadership Series: Fostering a Cultural Adoption of IT Automation

8 months ago

Jamie Vernon, Senior Vice President, IT Infrastructure and Operations, ResultsCX

Laying the groundwork required for your IT Team to adopt automation as part of its culture is not easy; it requires a sincere effort to build enthusiasm and momentum, both in the executive leadership who decides to invest in it and in the IT engineers who will be asked to help launch and support it.

Be Clear about the Motivation for IT Automation

To begin the process, you first need to understand why you want to automate—whether to solve a business problem, uncomplicate department operations, or promote staff retention by moving valuable staff to higher value and more engaging professional tasks. There is also the issue that automation is where much of the IT world is headed, so it could be good for you and your team and the rest of their careers. Telling the story and sharing your motivations, passion, and enthusiasm is necessary, as is being genuine and authentic about the reasons for automation and selling it to all your stakeholders.

Contrasting Expectations: Executives vs. IT Team Members

Your CFO and direct leadership are going to be extremely interested in data-driven solutions to business and doing things better, as well as in cost and risk reductions, business success, profitability, and ROI. Your IT team will have quite different reservations about needing to build new skill sets and handing over the daily things that they do to an automation platform. Be prepared to speak to both.

Executives Will Want Metrics

For your executive leadership, you are going to want to meet their focus on metrics by capturing data around attempts, script successes, and outcome effectiveness. You are also going to want to keep track of changes in who kicked off a script.

Did a senior resource do by hand before what a junior resource can now initiate confidently and automatically? If your automation platform will launch based on information fed into your system, you want to track how long it takes to execute. What took a person 30 minutes could occur in five minutes or much less, saving people's time and getting the business back up to normal quicker.

Compare the time it took a person to kick off a process against how long it took for the system to kick it off. Instead of analysis paralysis, IT automation creates a bias for action that will be well received by senior leaders. Measure successes and failures to drive towards a higher proportion of issue resolution. That way you really get automation dialed in from the business perspective. This is going to be what your senior leadership will want to see, and by providing that insight, you will create sustainable support from your company’s leadership.

People are Naturally Averse to Change

Your engineering team will be harder to satisfy. They will ask whether this is where you need to spend time and money. They will claim they do not have time for this or that automation has a long runway before it provides genuine business value. Alternatives will be suggested like technical training, hiring more people, or upgrading your systems or tools or whatever. What it all really comes down to is that change is hard. Your staff is telling you that their path is comfortable and that now you are asking them to stretch and grow.

A Different Way to Approach Their Concerns

What you must do is change your approach. Do not talk about what you are going to do, but why you are looking to do it. Help them find ways to come together and get past the emotional inertia. At ResultsCX, we did not sell automation—we offered them help. Instead of automation, we hired RITA: 'RITA’ being ResultsCX IT automation, personified as a junior employee. This junior employee is eager and willing to learn, will never complain, and will take on the most junior tasks in the world. By addressing their concerns by framing it in a more familiar manner, you are building consensus with them, a far easier task than confronting resistance.

Deciding Where IT Process Automation Makes the Most Sense

To decide what work to give automation, we assessed tasks in three dimensions:

• Execution time

• Overall complexity

• Risk

Relatively low measures for all three variables indicated an opportunity for automation. We went for tasks that were short so we could evaluate them very quickly for adjustment and tuning needs. As Rita demonstrated value and we became comfortable, automation became more complex. We started with low-risk tasks like clearing temp files off a server or starting services and applications again, basic health checks, etc. It is worth noting: these automation candidacy questions and tests are the same ones that you would use for training a junior employee. Are these tasks with predictable outcomes? Minimal opportunity for things to get out of hand? Minimal opportunity for massive impact if they should, in fact, get out of hand?

Turn Automation into a Junior Employee

Creating the team mindset of RITA is remarkably like hiring, and then training, a person. But RITA never gets sick, never goes on vacation, and does not mind imaging all the PCs on a Friday evening or rebuilding databases indexes in the middle of the night. Automation also helps you get process clarity—now that you have something established in a script for how things get done, you are going to have standard building blocks. These items will impose standard questions leading to valuable information capture for you and your team as you talk about what you do for the business, including these inputs into your automation platform. At the same time, your team can give an increased focus to refining their own skill sets, whether network architecture, security, hybrid cloud or other areas of professional interest..

Focus on IT Automation’s Business Benefit

With automation in play, incidents like outages will have reduced service impacts back to the business, whether internal or external stakeholders. And those service impacts will not be as long because we are going to have tools to help accelerate the discovery, identification, and resolution of any issues. Because the team is no longer involved in drudgery, they can be more strategic, as well as more client- and business-focused. What they are doing will create more value and help accelerate the business at large. Because an IT team is commonly seen as a cost center, this is huge.

Going forward we are involving Rita in multi-dimensional solutions involving a sequence of tasks across multiple areas, using the building blocks of configuration items, servers, networks, whatever it might be, to build blocks of scripts, build some VMs, build networks, and reach out to the cloud solutions to do these things. Our reliance on the automation platform as an engineering team has now become normal and habitual.

My hope is that other organizations can do something similar, to similarly drive the cultural adoption of automation, and help your staff work to their highest potential, creating the best possible experiences for customers, internal or external, and achieving resolution to customer problems as quickly as possible.

About the Author

Jamie Vernon, Senior Vice President, IT Infrastructure and Operations, ResultsCX

Jamie has been in IT for many years, in a wide range of roles - developer, DBA, datacenter, automation, partner consulting, and now IT leadership. He has been automating various aspects of his job - mostly the boring ones - for 17 years and is now focused on helping his teams do the same. His commitment to service delivery and stability led to fourteen straight quarters of 99.999+% IT uptime in a previous role; he is now on a mission to deliver the same at ResultsCX.

This blog post is based on Jamie’s presentation at the PagerDuty Summit.