What IT Pros Need to Know About ITOM and Automation

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By Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds

For IT pros, there are countless ways to lose precious time. The number of menial IT operations management (ITOM) tasks in the day-to-day of an IT pro ranges from the tens to the hundreds, as ITOM covers whatever's needed to support the network infrastructure delivering IT services. These could be anything from hardware including switches, servers, and firewalls in the data centre, to enterprise network and the tools needed to make sure everything runs optimally.

Tasked with the maintenance and upkeep of many different moving parts, IT pros can quite easily find themselves spending more time keeping things ticking over than in proactively optimizing their environments—something that would drive even greater value to their organizations. So, how can IT pros clear their plates of these tasks to focus on the greater good? The answer is automation, which can free up valuable time to allow IT pros to put their brain power to better use. 

The value of automation solutions won't come as much of a surprise to IT pros, with the de facto role of “network automation engineers” growing in prominence and illustrating how important this will be for the future of businesses. Its use in relation to ITOM is still far from ubiquitous and should change, as soon as possible. 

First Things First

So, what are the types of tasks IT pros should first look to automate? There's no right or wrong answer, though the following steps would help save the most time in the early stages. First, automate complex tasks with multiple steps involved. Then, tackle repetitive routine tasks or tasks triggered by a reoccurring event. Finally, look to automate any task where you sift through a great deal of data for specific, predefined criteria. 

With these guidelines, you'll be able to identify which tasks are arguably most menial and time-consuming, with automation helping to shift resources away from these and towards projects requiring human intellect or creativity. Automating these tasks will reduce processing time and the possibility of human error—a vital consideration for IT pros. 

Now, it's time to look to ITOM, and how automation can ease this burden. The first step should be to consider the most relevant ITOM tools—if you're looking to optimize a large government network, look for products designed to scale. Then, ensure the vendor and product are approved for use on government networks. So, what tools would match this project? In this case, the answer may be performance monitoring, configuration management, security and intrusion detection and prevention, and troubleshooting.

Next, ask yourself: what specific processes would benefit from automation? It may be automating network configurations, which can help IT pros more effectively meet compliance requirements, enable them to implement configuration changes quickly and efficiently, and, importantly, reduce downtime caused by failed devices.

Network configuration automation, however, is just one example—and while its benefits are clear, it's the tip of the iceberg in terms of the automation opportunity. Automating workflows, for example, can have a significant effect on freeing up IT pros' valuable time. Additionally, consider automating mobile device-initiated tasks for further efficiencies. 

A New Role

A knock-on effect of IT pros embracing automation is in the need to develop a new, broader skill set—learning the ropes of an as-a-service approach. As more tasks are automated, the more IT pros must become automation monitors, instead of performers of tasks. 

While IT pros would once need to understand the intricacies of every piece of hardware to ensure if something broke, they could fix it, automation will require IT pros to now shift their focus to how software and applications work, and how they interact with each other in particular. It's vital to upskill to understand application programming interfaces (APIs), getting to grips with how they can dictate things like policies, rules, and user access.

This, however, shouldn't put IT pros off using automation with ITOM. While the transition will require time, with IT pros having to ensure every task, process, and accompanying skill set is approached with logic and patience, the rewards are simply too great to ignore and can see IT pros free up the most valuable of commodities: time.