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Thanks to the convergence of different trends and changes in different markets and industries, automation is becoming a critical factor in the success of companies and products. Advances in artificial intelligence, in parallel with the accelerating digitization of all aspects of business, are creating ample opportunities to automate operations, reduce waste and increase efficiency.
From managing your IT bill to finding bottlenecks in your business processes and taking control of your own network operations, here are three areas where businesses can benefit from using automation.
1. IT automation
Almost every large organization has IT. Even small businesses that don’t have in-house IT staff can pay for another company to do it for them. The growing demand for IT can put additional pressure on professionals dealing with the ever-expanding and changing landscape of application and computing platforms.
“I’ve never met an IT person or CIO who said they have so much time and budget that they can do anything the business asks for and more. There is always a shortage of capacity to drive projects through IT,” said Bill Lobig, vice president of IBM Automation Product Management.
The talent shortage highlights the need to provide IT staff with automation tools so they can manage application uptime and keep IT operations stable.
Fortunately, advancements in artificial intelligence are helping companies move toward smart automation by collecting and processing all kinds of structured and unstructured data.
“We’re seeing companies become more confident in applying AI to a broader set of data, including logs and statistics and information coming from the systems running in your company (databases, app servers, Kubernetes, VMs),” says Lobig .
Previously, IT experts might have optimized their infrastructure through informed assessments and over-provisioning of their resources. Now they can take the guesswork out of their decisions by using AI to analyze IT infrastructure data, find patterns, estimate usage and optimize their resources.
For example, JB Hunt, a logistics and transportation company, uses IBM Turbonomic software to automate the scaling of its cloud and on-premise resources. For their on-premises environment, JB Hunt automates all non-disruptive actions 24×7 and scales non-production actions during a nightly maintenance window.
“Workloads scale and peak – it’s not static. No matter how much performance testing and capacity you put into sizing an application deployment, it’s a gamble, albeit an educated guess. You don’t really know how your clients’ workloads will vary over time,” says Lobig.
In their public cloud environment, the JB Hunt team uses a combination of recommendations and automated actions to manage their resources. Over the course of 12 months, Turbonomic performed nearly 2,000 resizing actions, which – assuming manual intervention is required for 20 minutes per action – freed up more than 650 hours of the team’s time to focus on strategic initiatives.
2. Business Processes
Business processes are another area that can benefit from advances in AI and automation. The previous wave of automation in business processes was largely driven by Robotic Process Automation (RPA). While RPA has had a huge effect on productivity, like other solutions it also has limits.
RPA only tackles tasks that you think should be automated. It can automate a poorly designed process, but not optimize it. It also cannot handle tasks that cannot be defined by deterministic rules. This is where “process and task mining” comes into the picture. According to Lobig:
RPA runs scripts to automate what you tell it to do. It is very deterministic and rigid in what it can do, automating highly repeatable tasks. Process and task mining find inefficiencies you can’t see.
Process and task mining can answer questions such as: is your business really running the way you think it is? Does everyone go through processes in the same way? What should you optimize first? It helps you get past the low-hanging fruit and find the hidden inefficiencies of your business that can also be addressed with automation.
In the past, networking was a specialized hardware-based discipline largely controlled by major telecommunications companies. Today, the network ecosystem is more complex, as enterprises now require ubiquitous application distribution in a hybrid multi-cloud environment, from customer prem to edge, to private and public clouds.
The challenge is to deploy and connect all application endpoints at scale. Networks must be agile and dynamic to maintain application performance, availability, security and user experience. However, today’s networks face unprecedented challenges that make them unresponsive and unable to adapt to change. Enterprise and service providers can meet these needs by delivering tailored enterprise network value with self-service enterprise control.
Organizations can now own and manage their network functions and end-to-end connectivity without being experts in switches, routers, radio access networks and other hardware.
“Networking has simply become part of the supply chain of applications (such as databases, VMs and containers) that companies already use. Why not make your network part of your entire IT landscape so you can apply AI to optimize it?” says Lobig.
Take, for example, a large multinational bank that gives its customers access to their accounts abroad via ATMs. The company previously outsourced network connectivity to a large telco. When the telco suffered an outage in a country where the bank provided service, customers could not access their money. While the bank had no control over the network service, it was fined for the outage.
Thanks to software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) and automation and orchestration tools such as IBM’s AIOps solutions and IBM SevOne Network Performance Management, the bank can now take control of its own software-defined network, rather than such a major responsibility for another company. New application-oriented network connectivity can enhance these capabilities. This can provide enhanced security, intelligent observation and service assurance while providing a common way to manage networks across the diversity of infrastructure, tools and security constructs.
Another area of networking that will open up new opportunities for automation is 5G.
“Many people view 5G as a faster network technology. But 5G is going to transform and disrupt B2B use cases. It can really bring edge computing to the forefront,” says Lobig.
There is an opportunity for organizations to use software-defined networking and 5G to unlock new business models where high bandwidth, low latency and local connectivity are critical.
One example is DISH Wireless, a company partnering with IBM to automate the first greenfield cloud-native 5G network in the US. using DISH Wireless IBM’s network orchestration software and services to bring 5G network orchestration to its business and operational platforms. An application they are working on will enable logistics companies to track parcel locations down to the centimeter, thanks to edge connectivity, RFID tags and network management software.
“We help them do this with our telco and network computing automation, edge computing automation, and enable them to establish state-of-the-art orchestration for their customers. These unexpected industries can use 5G to truly transform the way business is done in several areas,” says Lobig.
Where is the industry going?
Automation is evolving rapidly and we will undoubtedly see many new applications in the coming months and years. For companies that are at the beginning of their automation journey, Lobig has a few tips.
In the business automation space, look at process and task mining. Do you really know where time is spent in your company? Do you know how the work is done? Using this technology, you can identify the patterns and sequence of events that lead to good results and those that lead to bad results. Armed with these insights, you can redesign and automate the processes that have the greatest impact on your business.
Lobig also believes that IT automation will be a bigger theme in 2023 as the world faces an energy crisis and electricity costs may become an escalating issue. IT automation can help organizations leverage the capacity they need, which can translate into savings.
IT automation can also be important in tackling the climate change crisis.
“Nowadays you can tell if your organization’s data center or workload is running on a renewable energy source,” says Lobig. “With that data, IT automation has the potential to automatically move workloads from the cloud to on-prem and back and between hyperscalers to optimize for cost and efficiency.”
Looking ahead, Lobig believes that low-code/no-code application platforms will play an important role in automation by enabling more employees to build automations that can increase productivity.