IT Process Automation Supports a Growing BusinessPosted 2012-08-20 Email Print
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IT process automation is a critical foundation for any IT organization that wants to support the business effectively.
By Karl Richards
In today's business environment, the IT organization is challenged to transform how it delivers services to the enterprise. In a growing enterprise, that challenge is even greater. Both the business and IT teams need the ability to plan more efficiently, operate faster and upgrade more quickly to meet and sustain growing demand.
At Total Administrative Services Corporation (TASC) in Madison, Wis., we've had the good fortune to grow quickly, with a multiyear record of strong business growth. As a third-party benefits administrator, we've expanded tremendously in recent years, and now serve more than 60,000 customers--from sole proprietors to Fortune 500 firms.
Situation and Initial Struggles
Our operation spans five time zones, with more than 600,000 individuals using our MyTASC self-service Web portal. As we grew, we implemented a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and many new internal and customer-facing applications. Consequently, our IT organization, including our most talented resources, were feeling increasing pressure to cover the basic, day-to-day activities and troubleshooting, even when we added staff. The core issue was a lack of coordinated IT process orchestration. Our growing organization had too many manual processes.
In these circumstances, continuing our aggressive rollout of new and upgraded products to keep our online platform fresh and compelling to customers was a challenge. With the large number of customers and employees who depend on our systems, any downtime would be very painful, and could even damage our brand and the bottom line. A lack of ability to scale could endanger top-line goals, while hiring more staff was not in the business plan. We realized that we could not meet our objectives and various service-level agreements (SLAs) if we didn't become more nimble and proactive through comprehensive automation.
Centralized IT Process Automation
It became critical to find an IT Process Automation (ITPA) platform that consolidated all our disparate scheduling tools and worked across all of our systems. Like many enterprises, we were seeking the Holy Grail -- a centralized view of our IT processes and coordination with a high degree of automation. Supporting business processes, with our increasing dynamic applications and infrastructure, became complex as we grew. The system that got us there was UC4 Software's ONE Automation.
Automation Becomes Integral
We now have automated job scheduling across all technology platforms, managed file transfer and electronic file interchange, and application processes associated with at least 10 applications. This allows us to realize several benefits, with perhaps the most powerful being the single point of visibility and orchestration for all IT processes. Before centralized ITPA, we were using a piecemeal system of scheduling tools, none of which communicated with the others; some processes were manual. The new, integrated, centralized approach has allowed us to operate more efficiently and to achieve our goal of 24/7 systems and network monitoring.
Accelerating Service Innovation
We're also using the platform for streamlined application build and deployment processes. For example, we've automated new-release deployment of our MyTASC Web applications throughout our development, test and production environments. This has increased the speed of releases and eliminated a tremendous amount of manual work associated with every new release, especially with production updates to our large Web application server farm.
We've also seen improved systems resiliency and increased ability to meet SLAs, some of which carry monetary penalties if missed. Toward that end, we have been able to achieve an impressive 99.98 percent on-time completion of production batch jobs, which keeps our business service delivery timely and reliable.
Moving forward, we realize that we're working with a product that integrates well into a virtualized environment and is currently helping us build a bridge to a cloud environment. Obviously, preintegration across platforms is a must with a centralized ITPA approach and solution. Additionally, we're avoiding costs of additional headcount and are able to utilize our existing resources for more strategic purposes, rather than troubleshooting and manual tasks.
ITPA Drives Transformation of Business Service Delivery
What's really fascinating about this experience is that we had intended to purchase a job-scheduling tool and ended up getting a full IT process-automation solution that actually transformed the way we deliver services to the business. We've realized benefits well beyond initial expectations by embracing a strategic view of what was possible.
I think the key takeaway for other IT organizations here is that process automation is a truly critical foundation for any IT organization that wants to support the business effectively. That said, selling an automation solution to your business' leadership team can be challenging. It isn't exactly sexy, and the budget team rarely wants to spend money on "infrastructure." But, with a reliable and automated foundation, the business is much more stable, and your team will have more time for innovation, new products and new services--the critical aspects of growth. ITPA is the path to DevOps, IT as a service, data analytics and the cloud. The upside is simply too big not to act.
Karl Richards is Executive Vice President of Business Technology Services of Total Administrative Services Corporation (TASC), the nation's largest privately held third-party benefits administrator.