As organizations continue embracing digital transformation, it is more important than ever to leverage a strategic approach that manages diverse enterprise automation tools and solutions more holistically. Optimizing and orchestrating IT automation across a complex, diverse infrastructure requires the right vision—and the right partner—to centralize your workflows and support your critical business processes.
In other words, it takes a provider that offers an all-embracing approach to automation—as a cohesive whole rather than a collection of isolated technologies. A philosophy that focuses on the big picture and enables companies to see both the forest and the trees—understanding how they work together to increase efficiencies and boost productivity across your entire enterprise.
At Fortra, we provide enterprise IT automation, empowering companies to drive strategies and initiatives from the server level to the individual desktop—and everything in between. Whether you want to start small at the single user level or go big at the enterprise level, we can help your people and your teams eliminate repetitive, tedious tasks, so they can add value in more strategic areas.
We offer a full spectrum of software that you can use across your organization—from employee-driven automation to tackle manual tasks for personal productivity gains to scalable business process automation across people, processes, and departments to high-capacity, server-level automation for a diverse set of platforms and applications.
And while our automation solutions are considered best-of-breed, we realize that to each business, it’s not just about software. It’s about activating the right combination of tools, in lock step with a holistic approach, that gets you where you want to go. It’s about boosting your productivity with cost-effective, easy-to-use automation that transforms virtually any business or IT process—and brings together the platforms and applications that keep your organization running.
Since we began, we have focused on being the relentless ally for companies on their automation journey. With this vision in mind, we’d like to share with you the holistic approach that we embrace for enterprise IT automation by exploring key principles, highlighting critical cornerstones, and ultimately, revealing how you can bring together diverse technologies to solve your unique automation challenges.
Enterprise IT Automation: A Discipline, Not a Product
Enterprise IT automation is not a singular product or function within the business. It is a discipline—similar to agile or total quality management (TQM), which guides the automation philosophy and approach for the organization. Sure, there are quick wins and numerous tools available to automate repetitive tasks. But in order to achieve long-lasting return from IT automation, you need to see every process through the lens of the business.
You could automate virtually any critical business process using only the computer in front of you and a few free tools. It might lighten your workload in the short-term, but it likely does not create a long-term, valuable asset for your business. Think of it like this—if you have ever been asked to troubleshoot a macro authored by someone with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, you know what we’re talking about. Modest gains are made in the short term and then several cleanup projects must happen down the line. Cycles like this do not help businesses grow.
What does empower the organization to grow is a vision for automation that solves the big challenges your organization faces. At the end of the day, it is about augmenting the capabilities of your workforce, decreasing complexity and inefficiencies, and deploying technology that empowers you to work smarter.
Taking Inventory of Common Automation Challenges
No matter where your organization is on its automation journey, there are several key challenges to overcome before you mature in your automation approach. Below are universal roadblocks that nearly every organization encounters as they introduce automation and optimize processes across their business:
- No standard framework exists across automation approaches or tools
- Automated processes are often siloed in one department when greater value can be achieved by leveraging similar automation across departments
- Automation relies on applications with competing priorities and varying levels of accessibility
- Interruptions in automation often have little or nothing to do with the processes themselves
- The responsibility to fix broken automation often falls to people who have limited knowledge of the task being automated
While this list is not exhaustive of all challenges, it does represent many of the difficult situations organizations find themselves in. Without a playbook or standard center of excellence framework, many companies are on their own for how they approach their automation initiatives. While this can be frustrating, it also means that there is no one right way to automate across the enterprise and provide limitless opportunity for automating across the business.
Similarly, the division or silos that exist between departmental automation has created a great chasm for teams to go beyond automating specific processes. Companies embracing larger digital transformation efforts must ensure that they leverage a holistic, scalable approach for the future that makes use of complementary strategies. In addition, competing priorities may come into play and create an unnatural divide within the business.
Further, many organizations find that when something breaks in an automation process, they are often left on their own to determine how and why, and then attempt to remedy the situation—despite limited knowledge to do so. Again, these challenges may cause friction that slows down the maturity of automation efforts and hampers the ability to tackle larger business challenges.
Enterprise IT automation is a fundamental building block of modern business. Disciplined automation forces organizations to rethink the entirety of critical processes—from initial definition to last execution.
Seven Principles of Enterprise IT Automation
Almost every organization automates at the most basic level. For example, IT teams typically create email inbox rules, schedule nightly backups, and run batch jobs. But very few organizations apply the same rigor to automation as they do to their accounting processes. In many ways, automation as a standard business practice is in its formative years.
Enterprise IT automation as a discipline tends to be an afterthought, and applied reactively when organizations believe they have reached the limits of what they can reasonably accomplish during the business day with existing resources. But despite the high volume of automation tools available today, there are seven fundamental attributes that distinguish enterprise IT automation:
Enterprise IT automation is a fundamental building block of modern business. Disciplined automation forces organizations to rethink the entirety of critical processes—from initial definition to last execution. It encourages them to plan for more exceptions, use resources to their fullest, and formalize tasks into assets that can be used again and again to grow the business.
On the flip side, there are many things enterprise IT automation does not do. It does not open up the organization to new risks just to get a task done faster, and it does not bind its functionality into blocks of code that can only be understood by a select few. Now that we’ve provided some additional thinking, let’s dive into the seven specific fundamentals of IT automation:
When organizations empower their employees with automation tools, they create opportunities to increase productivity. But they often simultaneously introduce security loopholes. The classic example of this is allowing a user indirect access to an administrative login to accomplish a step in the automated process. Other security challenges can include:
- Storing processes in places that are accessible to more users that should edit them
- Not establishing strong separation of duties (SoD) practices between people who can edit processes and people who can schedule processes
- Failing to close connections after processes are complete
- Not enforcing strong password management policies or role-based access control
- Not recognizing that bot workers should be governed just as human workers
Enterprise IT automation layers all of these security standards on top of processes built. These standards tend not to be top of mind when users—business or IT—are creating a task. Yet without them, the value of the automation process is often negated by the security risks.
Remember, if your ROI calculation for IT automation looks like this, you’re not getting anywhere: (Benefits of Automation) – (Security Risks Generated) = 0
In order to generate significant return, automation must be able to scale. An automated process may need to run thousands of times per day, or execute on hundreds of servers, or provision additional resources. Low-level automation tools often do not account for these requirements. Their scalability is usually limited to the resources of their host machine, so when a workflow consumes too much memory, or can’t access additional power, it just stops working. Enterprise automation is designed to leverage a much broader set of resources to execute workloads. It is only limited by the number of resources it can securely access.
Look at the scripts in most organizations and you’ll often find the same steps being written over and over again—sometimes consistently and sometimes with seemingly no consistency. Take a set of steps to log on to a system. That initial set of steps may be repeated across hundreds of tasks. Then, one day, the password changes and each of those tasks must be edited in order for them to execute successfully. Enterprise IT automation enables organizations to create reusable building blocks, such as logon scripts and queries, so that steps common to many workflows can be changed in one place and then cascaded to all the processes that rely on them.
All IT processes are subject to some degree of interruption from power failures, network connectivity, database locks, and resources. Most amount to small nuisances, but when a critical task fails, it doesn’t matter. You must still act. With low-level automation tools, it’s up to you to react. Enterprise IT automation, however, takes into account many of the common interruptions IT teams encounter, and enables them to globally apply as many what-if scenarios to workflows, so that they only need to respond to the most serious issues.
Most process failures can be resolved by retrying—running a recovery task or skipping a less essential step. These rebounds are best done programmatically, so as not to take time away from higher priority projects. Enterprise IT automation provides numerous ancillary processes to keep tasks and workflows running in spite of modest infrastructure issues.
Automated tasks require that you trust all the tools being used to run them. When automation is managed with multiple lowlevel tools, you put that trust to the test. Not knowing the status of every task in an environment puts IT teams in a very reactive position; they must trust that tasks are executing properly until things go wrong. Enterprise IT automation provides a centralized view of the status of every task or workflow running on every node, so that there are no surprises. Even the most elegantly designed automation schemes encounter some variability.
Even though organizations automate to get more done, it doesn’t mean that the work is being performed by some actor that has no accountability. Those automated tasks were created by real users, modified by real users, and scheduled by real users. As anyone in a regulated business knows, organizations have a responsibility to log all the actions users take with these important automated processes. Automated tasks also often contribute to service-level agreements (SLAs). If an SLA is missed, it is essential to be able to break a workflow down into its individual steps so that you can see what executed, where it executed, and who modified it last.
Enterprise IT automation provides logging and auditing functionality that formalizes every process within it. Similar to the way software code provides source control, every change and every action within enterprise automation is recorded. Audit records both validate the actions of everyone who touches the master schedule and provide a complete history of how tasks have executed. As companies automate more, the execution history increases in value—highlighting bottlenecks and identifying resources that are reaching their limits.
Scheduling a certain task to happen on a regular basis and actually ensuring that it executes are two very different things. This guarantee is one of the factors that distinguishes enterprise IT automation from low-level automation. While it is easy to determine whether a process was successful on a small scale, reliability is a critical factor when multiplied across thousands of processes an organization may automate. Enterprise IT automation helps increase resiliency, ensures that automated processes finish, and reduces manual intervention and human touchpoints. If a workflow does fail, automated alerts can be triggered as well as conditional logic to resolve any errors automatically.
Examining Critical Cornerstones in Enterprise IT Automation: Back-End and Front-End Automation
Automation rarely fits neatly into a bucket. In fact, to say that one automation solution or tool could solve all the business challenges within an organization would oversimplify and undermine the serious efforts to build more efficient, more flexible, and more sustainable IT automation systems. Similarly, assuming that an outside consultant knows your organization better than you could be a flawed approach. Instead, it takes the right combination of automation solutions to match your unique processes, empower you to solve big challenges, and augment the capabilities of your workforce. Let’s now take a look at two cornerstones that are foundational when applying the principles of automation in your organization.
Exploring Back-End Automation
One approach to automation is back-end or unattended automation. Back-end automation is commonly known as workload automation or sometimes referred to as API automation because it leverages application programming interfaces for specifically-defined, high-capacity transactions, like database processing or file movement. This type of automation technology has also been referred to as service orchestration and automation platforms (SOAPs) or job scheduling. It helps ensure your organization’s jobs are executing reliably and securely throughout your entire environment. IT teams need powerful automation capabilities to run, manage, and monitor critical batch processes that typically consume a costly mix of resources to run across separate environments.
The benefits of back-end automation are numerous, and include stable and quicker execution based on direct access to data, higher performance than front of screen, and the ability to not be affected by changes to the user interface. However, with back-end automation, users must know where and how the data is stored, they may need to be familiar with web services, and they may need some programming skills.
The best candidates for back-end automation include unattended processes like file movement, database processing, scripts, and API driven applications. Automating these types of processes enable organizations to define, streamline, manage, and monitor critical back-end functions, while reducing overhead and optimizing resources across the business.
From managing big data jobs and improving SLAs to enforcing enterprise security and analyzing performance metrics, it is essential to centralize this automation across your entire IT infrastructure. This automation technology also brings together jobs running on-premise, in the cloud, and even in multi-step workflows that integrate disparate systems and applications. And it helps your team streamline workflows across new and existing applications and platforms to free up time, save money, reduce risks, and stay compliant.
It takes the right combination of automation solutions to match your unique processes, empower you to solve big challenges, and augment the capabilities of your workforce.
Examining Front-End Automation
One of the most common forms of automation is front-end automation. Front-end automation is a way to characterize automation that streamlines tasks focused on interactivity, websites, and attended processes. For example, robotic process automation, or RPA, is considered automation on the front end, or from the user-interface (UI) level.
There are benefits and challenges associated with front-end automation that are worth considering. Benefits of front-end automation include quick task building with no programming knowledge, no required changes to existing programs or applications, and those individuals who know the keystrokes can easily build the automation task. Conversely, sometimes front-end automation is not stable because screens and application user interfaces can change, and screen resolution and even remote environments can affect performance.
So what processes make the most sense for front-end automation? Typically, the best front-end candidates include fully or partially attended processes like website data extraction, interactive application report generation, data entry into websites or a Windows client application, user application monitoring, and web page testing. Front-end automation ensures these tasks are performed quickly and accurately, enhances the customer experience, and provides a frictionless process of interaction between an organization and its customers.
This type of automation technology relies on a scalable, digital workforce to streamline manual processes and reduce the burden on employees by giving repetitive tasks that can be performed more efficiently and more accurately to software bots. Bots communicate with business systems and applications, following the same steps in a process that human workers perform, even interfacing with multiple applications in the same workflow. Opportunities for front-end automation exist virtually anywhere throughout the business because it is scalable, flexible, and integrates workflows efficiently across the entire enterprise.
The types of processes that can be automated through front-end automation include high-volume data transfers, mortgage and loan processing, syncing of patient records, and insurance claims processes. It can also manage web browser automation, data extraction and scraping, Microsoft automation, report generation and distribution, and a wide range of other automation tasks.
Chances are you have heard of one or both of these approaches to enterprise IT automation. But it is important to understand that these are complementary approaches that enable you to centralize and automate critical business processes. Together, back-end and front-end automation empower you to complete more work in less time, enable employees to automate manual tasks, and centralize management and monitoring for your IT team.
Finally, it is crucial to recognize that each enterprise IT automation journey is unique and that sometimes it is best to start small, then scale later. Ultimately, your organization’s automation journey is up to you. But knowing and understanding the transformative role that automation has played and will continue to play in the future—and finding robust solutions that grow with you—is vital for how you plan to move forward.
Supporting Enterprise IT Automation on Different Platforms
With virtually unlimited processes that can be automated, it is important to leverage enterprise IT automation that spans any combination of systems, applications, and platforms. Remember, the right domain expertise enables you to automate everything from OS-level to network-level to task-level processes.
Platforms for Enterprise IT Automation
Batch jobs, connections, VM management, resource checks, logging
Importing/exporting, reports, job runs
RBAC, IAM, IAG, Data Classification, Data Loss Prevention
Traffic control, port control
Desktop tasks, web page tasks
Leveraging the Tools That Came Before: Briefly Examining the Role of Migrations
No doubt you have made a significant investment as you embrace digital transformation within your organization. Fortra greatly respects the efforts that customers have made to automate IT processes, and is committed to preserving as much value as possible from those efforts—even those efforts on competing products.
We believe automated processes are assets of the company, and that organizations should be able to keep the essence of those assets to convert them into more modern tools. No organization is locked into a legacy automation system. To aid customers in their transitions, we have made significant investments in migration services, conversion utilities, object mappings, and refactoring programs that can help make migration seamless for every business.
With the right mix of automation tools—and the right outlook—your business can increase productivity, reduce operational costs, improve accuracy, and maximize efficiencies across your IT and business processes.
Start Embracing and Evaluating Holistic Enterprise IT Automation
Determining where to start in automating processes in your organization depends on your unique needs, challenges, and requirements. Some organizations like to start small in their automation efforts, then scale later. Other companies like to tackle larger enterprise IT automation challenges that target a diverse set of platforms and applications.
With the right mix of automation tools—and the right outlook—your business can increase productivity, reduce operational costs, improve accuracy, and maximize efficiencies across your IT and business processes. Many organizations have realized that bringing together front-end and back-end automation affords true end-to-end automation. And many companies have recognized their need for a more complete vision of automation—one that recognizes the relationship between automation solutions. Remember, it’s important not to be held back by your automation—but to look for enterprise IT automation solutions that offer a full spectrum of automation capabilities and allow for more robust automation deployments.
At Fortra, we provide top-rated enterprise IT automation solutions—from the desktop to the server. With the right automation tools, and our ongoing commitment to your organizational success, your business can increase productivity, reduce operational costs, improve accuracy, and maximize efficiencies across your IT and business processes. Stop relying on manual processes or custom scripts. Take back control and embrace a holistic approach to automation—from the back office to the front office. It’s possible with our enterprise IT automation solutions.
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