2023: The Year to Minimize Toil
Last year was a tough one for many IT operations teams. The pace of digital change did not diminished, and the complex infrastructure that underpins increasingly business-critical services was beginning to creak.
Teams were under pressure and often understaffed. And there’s likely to be no reprieve in 2023 with increasing persistent staffing challenges and mounting incident volumes. That’s in addition to the ongoing demand for even more digital transformation to keep pace with the demands of an increasingly tech-savvy customer base.
As the pandemic recedes further from view and is replaced with a new period of recession, automation will become more important than ever as businesses strive to do more with less. Without it, repetitive manual tasks will lead to burnout and reduced productivity. This increases recruitment and maintenance costs for organizations, while increasing the risk of errors that result in outages, data loss and other problems.
Automation is the key to reducing human error, improving reliability, minimizing manual toil and optimizing stretched ITOps teams.
ITOps Under Pressure
We don’t know how hard a possible economic downturn will hit, or how long it might last. But it will certainly sharpen the need for more efficient use of resources, both human and technical. The Great Resignation has already imperiled ITOps teams, with rising stress levels forcing many to quit, subjecting those left behind to even more pressure.
Research from this year reveals that 42% of digital Ops professionals worked more hours in 2021 than 2020, with at least a third forced to respond to alerts outside of work hours several times a week or daily. It’s unlikely that these work practices have improved. In fact, financial constraints could make things even worse in 2023 if hiring freezes become the norm.
This is where automation can support teams. If applied in areas like software testing, environment provisioning, or incident response and resolution, it can reduce toil on repetitive day-to-day tasks and optimize the productivity of subject-matter experts (SMEs). When it comes to incident response, it’s about fixing problems faster and without having to call in the experts every time.
Yet nearly a fifth (14%) of organizations still class themselves as “manual” or “reactive” on the digital maturity curve. Just 8% claim to be proactive in using automated, machine learning-powered workflows to pre-emptively find and remediate issues and eliminate unnecessary escalations.
This will start to change in 2023 as we see three trends emerge:
1) Automation Becomes Ubiquitous
Automation is beginning to take hold in many ITOps functions. But it’s often only in isolated pockets. This is self-defeating in many cases, such as incident response, where often only a few SMEs have access to the right set of streamlined tools. It means that first responders have to manually escalate even recurring issues to these experts, as they don’t have to process automation capabilities to resolve them there and then.
Given the rapid pace of tech adoption over the past two years, there’s plenty of opportunities to enhance efficiency in organizations today — and they will turn to ITOps automation to help them do so. Cloud migration is a good example. Too many IT teams are manually jumping between on-premises and public cloud systems, which is time-consuming and inefficient. Automation will help to streamline their work and turn toil into engineering time to optimize productivity.
Another source of demand for these capabilities will be regulatory compliance, such as Financial Conduct Authority’s PS21/3, the policy statement on the requirements for building operational resilience in financial services, where operational processes must be completed exactly the same way each time in line with best practices. Automation eliminates the human error that can sometimes cause compliance headaches while managing systems at scale.
2) Automation-as-a-Service Goes Mainstream
Automation can help to optimize IT operations in an organization of any size. But its potential impact in larger enterprises can be many times greater. That’s because larger companies tend to have more complex IT systems and a more urgent need to streamline bigger, more distributed teams. Automation can help to manage standardization, efficiency and compliance — saving time and money and creating better experiences for both employees and customers.
For example, a retailer had engineers taking more than 15 minutes per incident to gather logs, processes and other diagnostic information, and it would change based on who responded. By shifting to an automated diagnostic capability, they standardized response and reduced the time to 13 seconds for diagnostics and removed toil from engineers.
This does not mean that adopting automation is any easier in large organizations. In fact, it can be extremely challenging, which is why service-based offerings will increasingly play an outsized role in 2023 and beyond.
Just as software-as-a-service helped to democratize access to software via the cloud, automation-as-a-service will help large organizations to accelerate digital efficiencies by making a library of reusable automation models available to software delivery teams. Some may have a dedicated team to run and manage this, while others may adopt a more ad-hoc stance, especially if budgets are frozen or reduced in 2023. But all will look to embrace self-service as they enhance IT automation.
3) AIOps Becomes a Force Multiplier
While self-service is an aspiration for those looking to embrace automation to improve ITOps outcomes, there are limits. The “NoOps” model gained favor among some CIOs keen to super-charge IT efficiency by eliminating humans almost entirely from operational processes, 24/7/365. However, it’s now regarded by many as a step too far and, in some ways, self-defeating. An increasingly popular alternative is AIOps, leveraging an event-driven architecture to amplify the productivity of human teams by bringing machine-driven recommendations and context to their work.
In 2023, we’ll see the model adopted more widely, with AIOps becoming a de facto “recommendations engine” to help enhance data-driven decision making in an increasingly complex IT environment. By shifting to event-driven as opposed to just human or schedule-initiated automation, AIOps allows automation to create better context to address issues in real-time — are SLOs or SLAs affected, blast radius of customer impacted, criticality of immediate remediation vs. debug, available failover resources, frequency of occurrence — that will drive differentiated automated and person-led decisions.
AIOps will become a force multiplier to help these businesses remove toil and allow their teams to build and enhance systems rather than focus on fires.
Making Automation a Reality
To turn these predictions from theoretical trends into reality, global organizations will need to break down projects into more manageable chunks. That means first working on joining those islands of automation in their IT function. The best way to do so will be to consolidate onto a single centralized platform, traversing data silos and making life easier for ITOps personnel.
This will have the added benefit of helping to break down silos between individual teams, such as customer service, DevOps, and engineering. That’s a pathway not only to enhanced IT operational efficiencies, but also improved knowledge sharing and IT agility.