Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seven Things to Improve ITPA implementation

Written by Travis Greene

What are you doing to prepare for the next big thing in IT management? Alright, that question is a bit unfair. You likely have all you can handle, dealing with projects and ongoing operations, and making it hard to focus on the next big thing.

And what is this next big thing anyway? Sounds like vendor hype. While a debate about the next big thing could certainly include topics as diverse as how to manage IT services deployed in the cloud to heterogeneous virtualization management, it would seem appropriate to include the growing movement towards IT Process Automation (ITPA).

ITPA is gaining attention because it simultaneously reduces costs and improves IT service quality across a broad range of IT disciplines. In general, automation brings about a reduction in manual labor (the highest cost element in IT management), and reduces the potential for human error (with an associated improvement in service quality and availability). While introducing process manually can boost efficiency, it also has a tendency to increase costs when factoring in the documentation overhead that is required. Whether there is a need to automate simple, discrete tasks or broader cross-discipline processes, ITPA is one of those rare technologies that offers compelling value for both.

Real needs that drive ITPA implementations

With any new technology, it helps to have examples of real value that has been obtained by organizations implementing it. In preparing this article, the following organizations contributed ideas. Listed are the needs that initially drove them to adopt ITPA.

  • Management Service Provider – Improve efficiency, measured by the ratio of servers to operations personnel, and quality of service delivery for customer-specific processes by automatically handling complex application problems, reducing the chance for human error.
  • Energy Utility – Perform job scheduling tasks to ensure on-time and consistent execution, as well as reduce the manual labor associated with starting and monitoring jobs.
  • Financial Services Company – Create user self-service processes to reduce calls and workload at the help desk.
  • Healthcare Organization – Correlate events from monitoring tools and automate event response to reduce the cost of event management and minimize downtime.
  • Large US Government Agency – Provision and manage virtual machines to ensure proper authorization and reduce virtual machine sprawl.

Seven lessons that will improve your ITPA implementation

Early adopters can reap big benefits (such as the attention of vendors seeking to incubate the technology) but will also make mistakes that prudent organizations will seek to learn and avoid. Fortunately, as ITPA approaches mainstream adoption, these lessons are available from those who have gone before. Here are seven lessons learned from the organizations profiled above.

1. Get started with three to five processes that result in quick wins

Why three to five? Some may not work out like you planned, or take longer to implement than originally anticipated. Moreover, demonstrating ROI on the ITPA investment will, in most cases, take more than one process. But trying to implement too many processes in the early days of implementation can dilute resources, resulting in delays as well.

The ideal processes that qualify as “quick wins” are focused on resolving widely-recognized pains, yet do not require buy-in or integration across multiple groups or tools in the IT organization. Deploying a new technology can expose political fractures in the organization. For all of the organizations listed above, their first processes did not require approvals or use outside of a specific group; yet because they targeted highly visible problem areas, they were able to justify the implementation costs and offer irrefutable evidence (real business justification) for continued deployment of IT Process Automation.

2. Identify the follow-on processes to automate before you start

While the first three to five processes are critical, it’s a good idea to consider what will be the second act for your ITPA implementation, even before beginning the first. This allows momentum to be maintained, because as the details of implementation consume your attention, the focus will be there rather than on what is ahead, and at some point you will run out of processes ready to be implemented. A better approach is to stimulate demand by showing off the early results and generate a queue of processes to be automated.

The risk of not taking this step is that the deployment will stall and ROI will be limited. With ITPA technologies you can generate positive ROI from the first few processes that you automate, however, significant additional ROI can be generated from each new process that is automated, especially once the infrastructure and expertise is already in place. This advice may seem obvious, but almost all of the organizations listed above have fallen into the trap of losing momentum after the initial deployment, which could have been avoided with advanced planning.

3. Consider integration requirements, now and in the future

ITPA technologies work by controlling and providing data to multiple other tools and technologies. Therefore, the best ITPA tools make the task of integration easy, either through purpose-built adapters or customizable APIs. Obviously, the less customized the better, but consider where the ITPA vendor’s roadmap is going as well. Even if coverage is sufficient today, if you decide to introduce tools from different vendors later, will they be supported?

4. Pick the tool that matches both short and long-term requirements

Besides the integration requirements listed in lesson #3, the ITPA technology options should be weighed with a long and short-term perspective. For example, some ITPA tools are better at provisioning or configuration management; others are better at handling events as process triggers. While meeting the initial requirements is important, consider which tool will provide the broadest capabilities for future requirements as well, to ensure that additional ROI is continuously achievable.

5. Get buy-in from the right stakeholders

One challenge commonly seen when selecting an ITPA technology is paralysis through analysis. This is often due to the fact that too broad of a consensus is needed to select a solution. Because ITPA technology is new, there is confusion in the marketplace over how to interpret the difference between vendor products. There is also confusion as to how this new technology can replace legacy investments such as job scheduling tools, to provide IT with greater value and functionality. Early adopters proved that the resulting overly-cautious approach ultimately delayed the ROI that ITPA offers.

What may not be as intuitive is the need to obtain buy-in from administrators, who will perceive ITPA as a threat to their jobs and can sabotage efforts to document processes. Involve these stakeholders in the decision process and reassure them that the time they save through automation will be put to better use for the business.

6. Dedicate resources to ensure success

Personnel are expensive and one of the critical measures of the ROI potential in ITPA is how much manual labor is saved. So it would seem counter-intuitive to promote dedicated resources to building and maintaining automation on an ongoing basis. Yet, without the expertise to building good processes, the ROI potential will diminish.

Some organizations have dedicated 20 to 40 percent of a full time employee (one or two days per week) towards working on automating processes, to get started. Once the value has been established, dedicating additional time has proven to be relatively easy to justify.

7. Calculate the return on investment with each new process automated

Much has been made of ROI in the lessons listed above. In today’s macro-economic environment, a new technology purchase must have demonstrable ROI to be considered. ROI is generally easy to prove with ITPA, which is driving much of the interest. To calculate it, you need data to support the time it takes to manually perform tasks and the cost of that labor time. Then you need to compare that to the percentage of that time that can be saved through automation. Note that very few processes can be 100 percent automated, but there can still be significant value in automating even as little as 50 percent of a process. Perform the ROI analysis on every single process you automate. Each one has its own potential, and collectively, over time, can produce startling results.

Proceed with confidence

Although it may be new to you, ITPA has been around for years and has reached a level of maturity that is sufficient for most organizations that would normally be risk adverse and unable to invest in leading edge technologies. Taking these lessons (and learning new ones in online communities) is one way to improve your chances for success. Now is the time to enjoy the return on investment that ITPA can offer.

About the Author: Travis Greene is Chief Service Management Strategist for NetIQ. As NetIQ’s Chief Service Management Strategist, Travis Greene works directly with customers, industry analysts, partners and others to define service management solutions based on the NetIQ product and service base. After a 10-year career as a US Naval Officer, Greene started in IT as a systems engineer for an application development and hosting firm. He rose rapidly into management and was eventually promoted to the National Director of Data Center Operations, managing four data centers nationwide. In early 2002, a Service Provider hired him to begin experimenting with the ITIL framework to improve service quality. Greene was a key member of the implementation and continuous improvement team, funneling customer feedback into service improvements. Through this experience and formal training, he earned his Manager's Certification in IT Service Management. Having delivered a level of ITIL maturity, Greene had a desire to bring his experience to a broader market and founded a consulting firm, ITSM Navigators, where his team specialized in ITIL implementation consulting for financial corporations. Greene possesses a unique blend of IT operations experience, process design, organizational leadership and technical skills. He fully understands the challenges IT faces in becoming more productive while improving the value of IT services to the business. He is an active member of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) and is a regular speaker at Local Interest Groups and national conferences. Greene is Manager Certified in ITIL and holds a BS in Computer Science from the US Naval Academy.


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