Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, February 20, 2020
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Four Principles for Building a Culture of Automation 

It’s estimated that 75 percent of an IT professional’s time is spent “keeping the lights on” with the remaining 25 percent focused on innovation that moves their businesses forward. Everyone should want to flip those percentages. After all, both executives and developers want the same thing: to drive innovation that helps improve the bottom line.

Given this, it’s no wonder there’s been a lot of talk about automation and agility in the enterprise and how organizations can expedite their processes and improve workflows. In fact, individuals and teams may be pretty good at automating their own everyday processes, such as common scripting tasks. But the challenge continues to be applying a culture of automation across the entire enterprise so that the organization can drive towards the common goal of developing applications faster and more efficiently.

To overcome this challenge, companies must expand organizational awareness of the benefits of automation. They must break down the silos that exist between business units and encourage information sharing about automation best practices. Once they’ve done this, they can leverage AI to take things even further and develop a foundation for streamlining processes, accelerating application production and deployment, and allowing everyone to learn from each other.

Here are four principles to help your organization get started on creating that foundation and establish a culture fueled by automation.

  1. Stand up an automation community of practice

The work that we do at Red Hat revolves around the concept of community. Open source development requires a sharing of ideas and concepts amongst various groups of people; that’s how progress is made and innovation happens.

The same could be said about automation within the enterprise. Individual teams can use automation to become more productive, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the organization as a whole unless those teams are willing to share their best practices with others.

Establishing an automation community of practice is a good starting point for establishing a culture of automation within your company. Here, developers on different teams can impart knowledge across the organization to help their peers adopt proven processes. They can educate each other on the unique benefits of different tools or development methodologies, or ask questions and seek help. These people now have a platform that provides access to valuable insights that can help them remove repeatable processes and free up their time.

Communities of practice can also be used to recognize the work of individuals throughout the organization. Good work and ideas can be applauded and rewarded, resulting in a virtuous payoff that boosts morale and encourages more participation.

  1. A common repository for automation code

Teams shouldn’t just share information, however; they should also be encouraged to share code. Creating a common, centralized location where automation scripts are co-located and can be easily accessed throughout the organization can make it easier for users to leverage the work that has been done by other teams.

This can be particularly helpful for teams that are working on similar projects. For example, a unit interested in streamlining their application deployment pipeline may discover that another team has already used a particular script to successfully reduce their production time. They could dip into the common repository and employ that same script without having to start from scratch. If necessary, they can then turn to the aforementioned community to ask further questions about how to use the script, how to mimic the work that was done successfully, and more.

  1. Treat automation as a product, not a project

Automation should not be considered just another tool or project. Rather, it should be approached in the same way as any other flagship product critical to the success of your organization. Once launched and put into practice, review your automation processes, iterate upon them, and update and improve them.

You should also continue to encourage adoption of automation practices. Teams should freely share information about their projects through the community and insert code into the repository. New employees should be brought up to speed on your automation practices from day one so they can hit the ground running and be in lock-step with your automated culture.

  1. Incorporate AI to continue improving your processes

The more you automate, the more time your team will have to focus on more high-value initiatives. This can be particularly true if you’re capturing data throughout your processes and feeding that information into an AI engine.

Think of automation as the “doer” and AI as the “thinker.” AI in itself is not truly intelligent, it’s simply an inference engine that needs information to learn and make recommendations. Therefore, the more automated processes you perform, and the more data that is collected, the more intelligence you can gain to help you improve those processes.

In some cases, the AI can actually be used to automatically trigger the next steps in your processes, with minimal to no human intervention. This could be considered automation utopia; automation, feeding the AI to help you improve automation, which then becomes a continuous loop which constantly improves and streamlines processes over time.

As those processes improve, your team can spend less time working on essential yet time-consuming tasks and focus more on driving value for your customers. For example, they may be able to spin up development environments more quickly and expedite application deployments. Faster delivery of applications can result in improved or new products, services, and features that can be brought to market more quickly.

If you look closely enough, you’ll undoubtedly find pockets of automation happening throughout your organization. The trick is to expand those efforts and make them part of a larger scale effort.

Incorporating these four principles -- which combine aspects of human know-how, business practices, and cutting edge technology -- can put you on the right path toward making automation an inherent component of your entire operation.

Nick Hopman is VP, Global Professional Services Practices, Solutions and Offerings, Red Hat.

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