Monday, 29th November 2021

How much are you spending on outdated automation?

By Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff, Redwood Software.

Workload automation (WLA) and scheduling are the pillars of digital business. However, the WLA landscape at many organisations has been developed over a long period of time in disengaged silos and layers. Recent analyst research has shown that less than a tenth (8%) of IT leaders believe they have a unified approach and toolset for automation.

The majority of enterprises core IT processes that support the business are automated using a mix of various legacy WLA and scheduling tools can often be over 20 years old. This mix of unequal legacy tools often work in disconnected silos of technology or business, which poses issues in the rapidly changing world of business IT.

Most organisations manage these issues by connecting standalone islands of automation through manual hand-offs and effort. What may appear to be a fully automated enterprise, in fact could have many hidden gaps that are filled by costly and risky manual human effort. This is also not ideal as the aim of automating tasks is to relieve people of manual work. In this instance, the automation tools themselves actually create more work and complexity for people who must watch and shepherd tasks.

This approach not only renders an automation tool ineffective at completing the task at hand, it also drives cost up as resources, such as employee time and effort is required to correct these siloes. It is essential to find the root cause of automation woes and solve it.

Paradigm Shift

Recent changes in the business landscape have brought about a few tough realisations.

Firstly, with the increasing shift to digital transactions and business, transformative digital investments are required to thrive and grow, and are key to remaining competitive.

Secondly, people can no longer be expected to operate as a link in the transactional chain – their skills and time are too valuable. In fact, this practice not only holds an organisation back from reaping the benefits of keeping their automation tools up to date, such mundane tasks also prevent staff from being their best selves.

Process resilience and operational capability must be improved while reducing costs. The best modern WLA solutions support all of these points by eliminating individual employee effort that was once required to set up, manage and complete tasks when they were operating in silos.

Understanding the impact of running outdated systems

The need for up-to-date systems is also amplified when people have to step in and bridge the gap between automated tasks at all hours of the night and day. Often these people create and use checklists and spreadsheets to help them manually move processes through the business. They also add in workarounds in the form of layers of code combined with more manual steps.

Recent events have made it clear that this kind of manual effort does not work in times of stress. And direct human intervention cannot be the single fail-safe for the core automation that powers the entire business. This is risky because people cannot scale at the speed of the dynamic modern IT development. Manual effort is also very expensive.

IT and business leaders generally prioritise improvements in IT based on calculated return on investment (ROI). How much will the organisation save from top-line expenses and add to their bottom line by deploying new technologies? And how does this projection measure up to the up-front cost?

An accurate ROI from automation requires a thorough analysis of the gap between the potential state and how the system operates currently. It requires an accurate and full understanding of what business and IT leaders want to achieve as well as an unfiltered view of exactly how things work at the moment.

Calculating the cost of the automation gap, and closing it

The cost of the automation gap is not always obvious. Outdated WLA delivers results, but too often with significant and recurring operational costs. Moreover, running and maintaining these outdated systems also tampers with opportunity costs. Time and resources that could be invested in delivering up-to-date systems to serve the business are instead consumed by the effort to host and operate them.

Companies need to account for the following when calculating the cost of this gap:

1. Physical hardware

2. Software

3. People involved

These are all recurring costs and are likely to drive IT expenditure up quickly. For instance, hardware occupies physical space, and needs power and cooling systems. It requires redundancies in the form of spare parts, Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID arrays), additional servers for failover and availability. Additionally, all of the hardware has a lifecycle and will eventually need replacement as it ages out of reliability or its performance is outgrown.

Likewise, the IT professionals responsible for bridging WLA gaps require salary and benefits, as well as training or certifications for the hardware and software they’re involved with. Is this team doing work that only “keeps the lights on” or are they doing work that delivers value to the business?

While companies may avoid conducting a full rip-and-replace of their automation tools for fear of driving their costs up in the form of downtime, cost of the new tools and retraining their IT teams, deploying up-to-date systems is key to helping the bottom-line in the long run. This not only allows businesses to remain competitive by avoiding silos, it also opens new doors for the company by allowing their staff to focus on developing their skills with the time saved from connecting disjointed processes.

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