What Is IT Automation?

IT automation, sometimes called infrastructure automation, involves using software and systems to replace routine processes that are repetitive, time consuming, and error-prone, and reduce manual intervention. It is used to improve efficiency, minimize errors, and save money. By automating repetitive tasks, IT automation frees up IT managers for higher-level, more value-added work, like building new software or developing new strategies.

IT automation can refer to the automation of a single discrete task, or processes based on user actions or event triggers, or of entire autonomous IT deployments, such as rolling out new instances of software services to meet spikes in demand.

The use of IT automation is growing. A 2022 State of IT survey from Spiceworks Ziff Davis found that 50% of surveyed organizations had already implemented an IT automation strategy, while another 20% plan to deploy IT automation solutions within two years. Among companies of 500+ employees, that combined figure rose to 86%.

Why Do Organizations Adopt IT Automation?

There is an enormous amount of repeatable work that can be automated in IT. As cloud services proliferated, IT managers learned that automating processes produces efficiency and savings while improving reliability. When organizations need to scale up services or capacity quickly, for example, to provision virtual machines or even thousands of servers within a short period of time, IT automation makes it practical.

As organizations undergo digital transformation — the use of technology to fundamentally change how they do business — IT managers understand that it is essential to automate workflows, applications, and the provisioning of IT infrastructures that enable the business processes they wish to transform.

In some cases, IT automation also helps IT staff overcome the challenges caused by using tools and software that are not compatible across environments. IT automation can address this incompatibility by allowing IT staff to automate end-to-end workflows across siloed environments.

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How Does IT Automation Work?

IT staff use tools and software to create code to execute specific, repeatable instructions that are triggered by events or times — for instance, “Every Friday at midnight, run a CRM sales report.”

Complex IT automation may involve combining multiple scripts of instructions — for example, to configure applications and provision infrastructure.

IT managers can further automate tasks based on insights gained by analyzing reports and querying their value among business managers.

For Which Processes Do IT Managers Use IT Automation?

IT managers use IT automation widely, from application development and configuration management, to network automation, cloud provisioning, and more. IT staff use IT automation for:

  • Cloud automation: Cloud automation can refer to data center operations or hosting websites and applications at scale in the cloud. IT automation speeds the delivery of infrastructure resources upon business or user demand. In data center operations, IT can automate policies, provisioning, and other operations. For hosting and scaling applications, automation can perform load balancing and ensure capacity to serve web and mobile apps that may receive thousands or millions of requests per day. IT automation can support elastic web server solutions for applications that scale dramatically. It oversees the replication of databases and other repeatable software components as they are needed to accommodate network traffic.
  • Resource provisioning: Resources come in a variety of forms, from bare metal to private, hybrid and public clouds. Data center hardware infrastructure today is largely virtualized. Because of this, it has become easier for software defined networks to scale according to need. IT automation creates and uses templates that can quickly be rolled out. Instead of people working to provision networks and storage, automated sets of instructions scale existing infrastructure to create capacity when it’s needed.
  • Application development: The evolution of agile development methods and DevOps has made CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery/deployment) a core strategy of modern software engineering. DevOps encourages the use of automation tools, especially in testing, to ensure that development-ready code is always available. IT automation improves the efficiency of moving software from commit and build, to testing, to a state where it can confidently be deployed and configured. It provides a unified approach that all staff can see, understand, and use.
  • Configuration management: IT automation replaces ad-hoc work with defined software standards. It’s a way to codify best practices into automated, unified processes that operate across disparate machines and environments.
  • Orchestration: IT automation is a component of orchestration. Whereas IT automation automates a process, orchestration is the management of many processes at once that together constitute a larger workflow. Orchestration may involve tracking many moving parts over systems, middleware, and services that span different environments.
  • IT migrations: For data, app, OS, or cloud migrations, IT automation adds speed and certainty. It can standardize requirements, and ensure manual processes are replaced with error-free automated ones.
  • Network management: This includes managing, configuring, and provisioning the network. IT automation discovers devices and tracks components, including holding detailed information such as IP addresses and numbers of ports. With this information, IT staff can create configurations and templates, implement workflows, and automate network operations. IT automation can improve reliability and efficiency while reducing operating costs and errors.
  • Security automation: Security automation involves automating policies for security, risk management, and compliance. With standardized processes, organizations can enforce policies consistently and provide clear procedures and documentation for compliance and auditing. At the same time, incident response and mitigation are streamlined.

What Are the Benefits of IT Automation?

  • Saving money: IT automation reduces the amount of labor required to complete repetitive tasks. In addition, once IT automation processes are developed, they can mitigate the impact of costly human errors.
  • Saving time: By automating manual tasks, organizations free up IT staff to perform higher-level work and improve the speed of delivery. IT automation can perform tasks like network performance analysis, reporting, and data security management automatically, leaving IT staff more time to evaluate system performance and proactively strategize approaches to technology challenges on the horizon.
  • Reducing errors and improving reliability and availability: Automated processes do not suffer fatigue or make unforced errors as humans can. This helps maximize system uptime and speed up recovery in the event of downtime.
  • Improved security: IT teams can employ IT automation to proactively define policies and enforce security. By enforcing standardization for processes such as incident monitoring and responses, organizations can achieve better consistency. Automation can speed the response to incidents, reducing the time and the effort required to remediate issues, restoring service faster, reducing the costs of issues, and protecting brand equity. Finally, fewer people involved in security means fewer eyes on sensitive data. By standardizing processes and workflows and building steps into the processes, the organization is better positioned for compliance, risk management, and auditing.

What Technologies Will Shape the Future of IT Automation?

Intelligent process automation (IPA) tools — consisting of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) — are driving more of today’s IT automation systems. Artificial intelligence uses algorithms to process statistics and find patterns in enormous amounts of data. The goal of machine learning is to gather enough intelligence to then improve models and make better decisions, as well as to enhance automated systems and processes.

IPA tools can use AI to process semi-structured and unstructured data using natural language processing and other cognitive capabilities. With this power, IPA tools can be used to create complex workflows for chatbots or for other automated customer interactions. AI, engaged with machine learning, can manage, modernize, and optimize IT environments. In time, systems gather enough data to act in unpredictable situations and to improve task performance.

Another powerful technology that has gained some market traction is robotic process automation (RPA). By 2030, the global market for RPA is estimated to grow to $45 billion, up from $2 billion in 2020. With RPA, organizations can instruct software robots (bots) to perform tasks that humans currently complete. IT managers can create rules to automate processes or parts of processes in various functions. In areas such as manufacturing, finance, HR, sales and support, bots can process invoices, manage inventory, support customers, and help onboard new staff.

Moving Faster and More Efficiently with IT Automation

As companies demand new ways to accelerate their IT processes, the OutSystems low-code application development platform is here to help. Complement your existing scripts and programs with custom applications to both automate and orchestrate your automated IT processes. Learn more about how you can quickly modernize your IT environment — visit our Process Automation page.