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Conventional wisdom says that automation is one of those "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" projects that, for the lucky few who can buy in, will eventually make in-house IT obsolete. But conventional wisdom is wrong: Automation is affordable, and it's not going cost you your job.
It's easy to see why some of us worry. In manufacturing, automation translates directly into staffing cuts -- if Detroit auto assembly line workers could have nixed the robots, they sure would have. But if you're resisting IT automation because you're afraid of becoming redundant, stop. You're not only hurting your company's bottom line, you're risking just what you're trying to avoid.
The fact is, computers respond more quickly to changing conditions than people can ever hope to. And if we can detect infrastructure problems in real time, we can orchestrate a response that occurs before anyone notices. A "faster than human" action may in itself generate a concrete ROI, depending on the transactional load and value of the application in question. If a server that processes customer orders at a rate of 100 per minute, at an average value of $20 per order, is down for 15 minutes before IT notices and responds, that's a $30,000 outage. Even if 75% of users come back later to place those orders, that's still $7,500 of bottom-line revenue, plus whatever difficult-to-quantify value your CEO places on customer irritation. That outage just gave IT a black eye and may make the business look twice at an infrastructure-as-a-service provider that promises five-nines uptime and strong SLAs.
Unfortunately, I still see IT pros failing to champion automation projects. Nearly half, 43%, of respondents to our 2013 Virtualization Management Survey cited "no perceived value to decision-makers" as the major barrier to an automation project. Is this lack of perceived value real and based on an honest analysis, or is it the result of IT being shortsighted?
With automation projects, the work happens on the front end, which garners increased control and predictability on the back end. The amount of work is the same, but the value proposition is about delivering excellent service rather than hair-on-fire fixes.
The people who sign checks like to invest in concrete value propositions, so begin with a problem statement that tallies the cost and frequency of the average outage: "When this server goes down, which happened once last year, we lose an average of $30,000 in orders." Or, "Last year we had seven midnight outages that cost us an average of $5,000 each in labor." Then discuss the cost to fix: "By automating this system, we could avert 75% of those outages, saving $26,250 per year. We have a quote from a vendor that can accomplish the automation necessary for $15,000. Even with a 25% buffer for a total cost of $18,750, we're paying for the system in the first year and generating an additional savings of $60,000 over three years."
It's that kind of proactive thinking that will make the business realize the value of in-house IT pros who understand your customers, systems and processes better than any cloud provider could.