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How Automation and Orchestration can help IT go from “Good to Great” in 2015


good to great.pngYou will probably find Good to Great by Jim Collins on many modern professionals’ lists of must-read books. No matter what industry you work in, it’s an illuminating read about what it really takes to succeed.

When I recently pored through its pages, I came away with fresh insights about how his findings can apply to IT process automation and orchestration. (Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a topic that occupies a lot of my day-to-day thinking!)

Allow me to share a few ideas that have stuck with me.


The Premise of the Book

Good to Great is based on Jim Collins’ study of what it takes for a company to “defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity into long-term superiority.” Essentially, what are the key determinants of greatness in business? Why do some companies and their employees break through to sustained levels of exemplary success in their industries?

To explain his findings, he introduces several concepts. Let’s take a look at how they apply to IT process automation and orchestration.


The Hedgehog Concept

Let’s not get into why Collins calls this the Hedgehog concept, but it describes how to simplify a complex situation. It is about seeing what is essential and ignoring the rest. According to Collins, it comes down to the intersection of three circles:

  1. Passion — What lights your fire?
  2. Talent — What are you good at, perhaps even better than others?
  3. Economics — What will get you paid well or deliver economic value?

By understanding where these three circles overlap, a company or department (or even an individual) can define its guiding purpose.

I think this framework can be incredibly helpful for IT Operations. It’s pretty clear to many observers that how IT defines its purpose is changing. IT is undergoing a shift from managing servers to delivering services. Your core competency needs to stay focused on delivering services that enable the business to meet its goals.

But with the increasing scale and complexity of modern IT, it is easy to become mired in a reactive state, constantly dealing with incidents, service requests or disaster recovery — essentially, spending most of your resources on keeping the lights on.

I think the Hedgehog Concept can help shift into a more strategic mindset:

  1. Passion — How is a project, process or task aligned to the corporate mission?
  2. Talent — Can you Automate the tasks and orchestrate the processes?
  3. Economics — What will be the ROI, savings or business value delivered by orchestrating this project, process or task?

With this approach to thinking about IT Operations, you can make strategic decisions and overcome dilemmas.

Of course, you can’t do everything at once, and that’s where discipline comes in.


A Culture of Discipline

All companies have a culture, some have discipline, but very few have what Collins’ says is a “culture of discipline”. He defines this as disciplined people having disciplined thoughts and take disciplined actions. As Collins notes, discipline is important for how you identify the right opportunities. Collins argues that a company is more likely to die from ingesting too much opportunity than they will starve from too little.

What does this mean for IT Operations? Once IT Operations makes the strategic decision to pursue automation of tasks and orchestration of processes to harness its potential for efficiency gains and improved service, it will require a disciplined approach to first identifying where it can be applied, and then prioritizing those opportunities.

When a process challenge is identified, evaluate it by asking, “Can automation and orchestration solve this?” and use the Hedgehog Concept as your guide.

You must be not only consistent in your evaluation, but ruthless. To some degree, any process in a datacenter could be automated. But don’t boil the ocean. For example, in the case of incident management, we recommend that organizations first select a group of three to five high-volume incident management processes to automate and orchestrate, and then repeat your success with another group.

Depending on your priorities you can start with service requests fulfilment, disaster recovery (DR), DevOps, change management, dynamic power reduction, etc., with dramatic ROI (see Figure 1 below).


reduction in time.PNG

Fig. 1: Reduction in time required to complete common tasks using IT Process Automation and Orchestration  


Technology Accelerators

Collins asserts that good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology. In his analysis:

  • Technology is never the primary cause of greatness
  • Technology is never the primary means for a good-to-great transformation
  • Harness technology to accelerate momentum, but it’s still a matter of crawl, walk, and then run
  • Technology should support the Hedgehog concept, not the other way around


Yes, IT process automation and orchestration solutions can have a transformational impact on IT Operations, but you don’t do it for its own sake. The Hedgehog Concept helps you identify the best areas of focus, whether its infrastructure monitoring, or faster throughput of service requests, or DR — and then automation and orchestration can support it.


The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

“…Good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond.”

In other words, every drop fills the bucket!

Adopting IT process automation and orchestration is similar in that it is not a one-time technology implementation; it is a journey that will require you to repeat the cycle. Only then can you use automation and orchestration to achieve transformational greatness.

It is a matter of building momentum. You will want to gradually expand the use cases for automation and orchestration initiatives, and its footprint within your environments.

When applied in the right areas and with the right approach, IT process automation and orchestration technologies can help propel a company to higher levels of success.


Your turn

What do you think? If you’ve read Good to Great (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it), what takeaways do you have as they apply to automating and orchestrating IT processes at your company?

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About the Author


Nimish Shelat is currently focused on Datacenter Automation and IT Process Automation solutions. Shelat strives to help customers, traditional IT and Cloud based IT, transform to Service Centric model. The scope of these solutions spans across server, network, database and middleware infrastructure. The solutions are optimized for tasks like provisioning, patching, compliance, remediation and processes like Self-healing Incidence Remediation and Rapid Service Fulfilment, Change Management and Disaster Recovery. Shelat has 23 years of experience in IT, 20 of these have been at HP spanning across networking, printing , storage and enterprise software businesses. Prior to his current role as a Manager of Product Marketing and Technical Marketing, Shelat has held positions as Software Sales Specialist, Product Manager, Business Strategist, Project Manager and Programmer Analyst. Shelat has a B.S in Computer Science. He has earned his MBA from University of California, Davis with a focus on Marketing and Finance.

Anthony WILSON

My experience is that there is no shift in IT in respect of delivering services rather than only managing servers. IT has always been about delivering technology solutions to meet business goals, whether the technology is a mainframe platform, server-based or cloud-enabled. Anything less is the tail wagging the dog!

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