It’s Wise to Modernize. Strategies for IT Automation

A sizable portion of enterprise software deployed today was architected at a time when modern concepts of agile, devops and cloud did not yet exist. Enterprises are facing digitally led challenges such as supporting multi-channel interfaces, integration with online ecosystems, and ongoing business process improvements because software is increasingly never “done.” Consequently, many organizations today are due for an upgrade/update and are focused on implementing legacy modernization programs to address these issues. Additionally, factors such as lack of availability of skills in core technologies, unacceptable risk due to end-of-life software components, inability to leverage public cloud computing services or technologies simply no longer being fit for the business purpose for which they were created can impact an organization’s modernization efforts.

Simply put, modernization efforts must embrace IT automation or risk failing to achieve the intended benefits of the modernization project.

Why modernize?

First, it is helpful to understand the business drivers behind IT modernization. While technologists advocate keeping pace with new technological advances, enterprises tend to only invest in significant re-engineering efforts when there is a significant business risk not to do so.

There are several important reasons why enterprises feel it is worth the investment to modernize their technology platforms:

  • Increased business complexity
    • The business environment is constantly changing, and multi-year or even multi-month implementation cycles are impractical due to the increasing difficulty of forecasting business needs that far in advance.
    • For example, the COVID pandemic caused many organizations to change their business priorities with very short notice and adjust for a new normal involving much more digitized engagement with customers.
  • Brownfield technology environments
    • Enterprises have accumulated a surplus of technology and any change effort needs to maximize existing technology capabilities while minimizing accumulation of technical debt.
    • Understanding which technologies to modernize to enable value delivery is key, as very few enterprise systems operate in isolation from other systems.
  • High rate of technology innovation
    • New technologies are rapidly becoming available, which can significantly benefit business value propositions if they can be leveraged quickly and effectively.
    • For example, cloud service providers are constantly innovating on their platforms, which can translate directly to improved margins and/or new revenue opportunities.
  • Customer and user expectations of continuous improvement
    • With more emerging technology being directly introduced to customers and internal users than ever before, user experiences are critical to maintaining customer loyalty and retaining staff.
    • Enterprises face a constant onslaught of customer experience improvements in competing products and services that they are obliged to either keep pace with or exceed.
    • Customer-facing software services are never “done.”

What is IT automation?

While technology modernization is principally focused on the adoption of more modern technologies (usually more open technologies with a deep pool of talent), this is not sufficient to achieve the business goals of technology modernization.

This is because the processes through which modern software is developed and deployed matter as much as the underlying technology. With more software being developed and deployed more quickly than ever before, it is imperative that IT processes are as automated as possible to avoid technology teams becoming excessively burdened with supporting lights-on activities, and consequently being unable to support business change initiatives.

Traditionally, technology projects planned around waterfall methodologies were designed to deliver change only within a managed project. Once these projects were completed, change was discouraged. Project teams were not incentivized to invest in automating activities which only happened a few times throughout the life of the project. Instead, any automation was left to operations teams, usually to handle business-as-usual changes dealing with security, compliance and minor business change requests.

The DevOps movement revolutionized the collaboration model between development teams and operations teams by breaking down cultural silos, encouraging operations teams to adopt engineering practices and disciplines, and engineering teams to adopt an operations mindset in relation to software quality and resilience.

IT automation, therefore, seeks to eliminate friction and improve the flow of work from the time an application developer completes their work (i.e., checks in their code) to the time that code is successfully deployed into a production environment (i.e., is delivering business value).

With modern technologies, almost all IT activities are defined through software. For example, using cloud technologies, all infrastructure provisioning can be fully automated. This, in turn, enables the automation of mandatory validation processes such as quality control testing, architectural fitness testing, security testing and policy or compliance validation.

IT automation benefits

In addition to reducing friction in the software development lifecycle, IT automation aims to reduce the cognitive load of development teams so that engineers can change software and know with confidence that the change can be deployed to production if it passes automated validations.

This has benefits that contribute directly to technology modernization goals, including:

  1. Reduced need to plan for resources from QA, security, architecture or other teams
  2. Reduced need to plan for integrated test environments
  3. No need for change approval board approval of proposed changes
  4. The potential to deploy features changes multiple times per week or even per day
  5. The time it takes for new engineers to be productive in the code base is significantly reduced

IT automation challenges

There is a proverb, adopted by the IT community, that states “the cobbler’s children go barefoot.” It recognizes that IT itself does not invest sufficiently in automating its own processes – often to the detriment of the business processes it supports.

A technology modernization initiative must recognize that business benefits can only be accrued if IT automates its own processes to the same extent its business stakeholders are seeking to automate theirs. Otherwise, technology modernization efforts will only succeed in reproducing yesterday’s technology challenges in today’s technology.

Often, the extent to which IT processes should be automated is business context-specific: there may be diminishing business returns to automate certain processes, particularly as each new capability is an opportunity to introduce new technical debt if not managed effectively.

The challenge is to identify the appropriate business contexts. Usually, this must occur through the adoption of a digital product portfolio that aims to efficiently manage business technology solutions and ensure business technology alignment of applications including related IT automation through the entire lifecycle of the product.

Technology modernization and transformation cannot succeed without including a formal plan and business strategy to automate IT processes relating to planning, building, delivering and running software services. The appropriate level of automation is dependent on the business context, which requires business technology leadership to adopt a product-based approach to technology delivery, as a one-size-fits-all solution is impractical to achieve in most modern enterprises.

To learn more about our technology modernization solutions, contact us.

Darragh O'Grady

Technology Strategy and Operations

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