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A Map of “Automation” Tools

The terms “tool” and “automation” do not go well together. Taking a look at other more mature sectors a tool is an item used by either a human or a machine and automation in this context it means that work is done by a machine rather than by a human.

Still the IT industry is lively talking about automation tools and a great many to start with. For a long time I could not get a grip on what all these tools were good for and why so many categories are around. This is why you find a map of the classes of tools around. I chose two dimensions to lay out the map of tools. Since we are talking about a map of tools naturally the users of these tools are the first dimension. The second dimension is the part of IT the tool in question is focused upon.

The user dimension starts at actual IT administrator, continues with business users and ends at managers. The IT dimension starts at the facility level going on to infrastructure, network, systems, services, applications and ending in business processes. You will find this map in the figure included below.

Automation Tool Map

Automation Tool Map

Looking at this map, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. NSM covers the smallest piece of the map while being the oldest toolset around. When NSM tools came out they were supposed to be used by everyone and save the world. Becoming a mature setup of tools they have clearly found their niche and will definitely stay and important piece in the big IT puzzle. Not much revolution is to be expected here, but some continuous refinement can still bring big steps in effectiveness of these tools.

2. BSM on the contrary covers the biggest part of the map and surely is one of the newer approaches. I think BSM is a great idea but it has to go though some iterations of focusing in order to be applicable to an average IT and business landscape. Introducing BSM not – the way in should be – means turning everything inside out and even though the economic crises does put a lot of pressure on companies businesses have more important things to focus on that having themselves turned inside out by a changing IT.

3. BTM is a practical approach to achieve some of the goals – especially in the accounts of visualization and quality management – set by BSM without having to turn over every stone in our IT.

4. I really do not understand the hype around DCA and Run Book Automation. While DCA seems a logical step (is not IT centralization itself, so its management should be centralized) Run Book Automation actually solves the “problem of missing documentation” – maybe. Other industries would never start their processes without having a clear set of procedures in place how to handle foreseeable situations. Imagine what we would tell an energy provider running a nuclear power planed if they came up and says “sure, we develop best practices how to react to glitches in the systems we go”. No way Hose! So the big buzzword of Run Book Automation is just a fancy way to get the sometimes anarchic IT guys to document what they are doing…

5. All these tools claim to be focused on automation and most of them may carry some minor seeds of automation in them, but they are in the end clearly focused to be tools. They want to be used by someone (or something) to perform their tasks and they do not act by themselves. So in this map of software used in IT delivery or IT operations the actual automation engine is still missing.

003366;">Part of the latter conclusion makes me happy, because this means we are one of the few people who actually have a machine that operates It by itself and does it automatically at that part. On the other hand this give me the creeps, because this means a lot of people and companies are not ready yet to have IT delivery run in large part autonomously. Looking at al other industries this is the way they have gone and I do think it is about time we get the noting in the IT world.. Let´s get rid of all the boring tasks and let them be handled by the machines. Yes this means giving some control to an engine but on the other hand it means your business is much more in control because reaction becomes predictable and is documented, as well as IT jobs become more interesting since the everyday stuff is nothing IT gurus have to deal with.

For those of you not quite so familiar with IT delivery buzzword bingo here is the elaboration of the abbreviations: NSM = Network and Systems Management – tools aimed at facilitating tasks performed by network and system administrators. ITSM = IT Service Management – tools aimed at supporting the ITIL Service management processes from a delivery point of view. RBA = Run Book Automation – tools aimed at giving staff the proper procedure for handling a given situation. DCA = Data Center Automation – tools used to perform tasks from a central point of administration rather than having to connect to all servers or services involved. ITPM = IT Process Management – tools used to track and escalate processes and communication between the silos of It delivery and also business users. WLA = Work Load Automation – a much spoken set of tools to automatically provision IT resources and distributing workload across these systems as required. BPM = Business Process Management – tools used to improve IT´s alignment with business processes though modeling It from a business point of view. BSM = Business Service Management – a set of tools used to manage IT services from a pure business point of view. BTM = Business transaction Management – a quite new approach to tools created to manage IT with business transaction as the controlling parameter. This seems to be a practical approach to narrow down the too broad view of BSM as you can read at Doug McClure´s blog.

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