How to adopt workload automation and service orchestration

How to adopt workload automation and service orchestration

Independent Journalist Pat Brans and Ignites Technical Director Martin Hulbert.

Much is written about the value of automation, but very little is said about how to make it an integral part of your work culture.

Creating resilient, reliable processes is crucial to any organisation. To achieve a sturdy network of interacting applications and data streams, automation tools can be used to ensure processes are executed on time and precisely as planned. We’ll take a closer look at how to bring these tools into an organisation. But first let’s go over some basic definitions and dispel some common misconceptions.

What are workload automation and service orchestration?

Workload automation takes a set of tasks or schedules and runs them through an automation engine. You can build in intelligent schedules that allow for down time during planned maintenance—and you can create workflows that include alarms and automatic steps for remediation.

Service orchestration builds on this concept, taking a business service and making it self-directing with the help of a workload automation engine. Take for example employee onboarding, a service that involves multiple tasks and systems. When a new person starts work, HR systems are invoked to reflect the new hire. Training systems may also run a set of processes to schedule new-hire training; and payroll systems will be used to activate salary payments. Service orchestration in this case involves creating a set of automated workflows for the processes that make up employee onboarding and coordinating those workflows.

Workload automation and service orchestration are not new. The concepts started back in the days of mainframe task schedulers. But simple task schedulers have their limit—they don’t operate across several systems, and they tend to be schedule driven. Workload automation takes these notions to the next level, getting multiple systems to work in lock step, incorporating more sophisticated concepts—for example, adding event driven schedules, or automatically working around planned maintenance.

One of the biggest misconceptions businesses have when considering automation is that their organisation is too complicated. Very few people have an overall picture of all the different actions that make up any cross-organisational business process, because most people spend most of their time focused on activities within their own departments. While it may be hard to find, there is always a cross-organisational logic that can be followed, given the right tools and techniques to discover the logic.

A second common misconception is that workload automation and service orchestration are not worth the effort. Once again, because most people don’t easily see what’s happening in different parts of the company, they can’t count potential gains outside their own department. Moreover, many people are not aware of what tools are needed for automation and how those tools can be used to build an overall solution. But those who dig deeper into the cross organisational advantages and the sophistication of tools available on the market quickly realise that there is a lot to gain in time, money, and reliability.

And finally, a third misconception is that workload automation and service orchestration replace people. Automation doesn’t remove the people—it just frees them from tedium and allows them to focus on strategic tasks. It reduces the need for humans to intervene in reactive mode and it eliminates the errors that result when people are asked to perform boring and repetitive tasks at odd hours.

What’s the best way to phase in workload automation and service orchestration?

The first thing to do when implementing workload automation is to define the scope. Decide what tasks you want to automate and organise your project into phases, starting small and gradually bringing in bigger systems.

Start with a few critical processes where you get the best value for your time and money. Choose processes that you know very well, so you can complete your first automation quickly and with ease. Then move on to more complicated workloads and services.

Any repeatable digital task or process can be automated. Maybe somebody is manually uploading a file that’s part of a data pipeline—for example, a file containing records from a data warehouse. This happens a lot when SAP and other ERP systems are included in a service. To generate bills, utility companies need to gather smart meter readings—or create financial regulatory reports, banks need to take data from different transactions. Very often these are in individual files that somebody uploads manually.

Another place to look for quick wins is if you have APIs that are unreliable and require action each time something goes wrong. You can configure your automation tool to find out when the API hasn’t worked and then run a series of remedial actions that you set it up to run. Suddenly, you have taken out 6 hours of downtime—the time it took for somebody to realise the API field and then to fix the problem. Moreover, you have created a much more resilient, streamlined process.

It’s best to use a phased approach, rather than try to go big bang. Start by orchestrating key areas and build from there. At each step, you free up time to tackle more complex parts of the puzzle. For example, building an API that evokes actions from a supply chain partner might take more effort because that’s not within your control, so it’s better to start with processes that occur within your organisation.

As you start to automate more processes, you’ll find yourself becoming better at it. It’s quite common for people to decide later to automate workloads or orchestrate services they hadn’t targeted in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan to include more complex workloads and services as you get better at automation.

This article was prepared following an interview between Independent Journalist Pat Brans and Ignites Technical Director Martin Hulbert.

The interview forms part of Ignites Insights Series. You can attend the first Webinar in our series entitled Building Operational Resilience: Harnessing Automation for Business Success, by clicking the banner below.

By Austen Moore

Marketing Manager

Responsible for managing Ignite Technology’s marketing initiatives, Austen uses market research and analysis to direct marketing strategy and planning. He oversees the production of all promotional materials and marketing campaigns. With over 20 years of experience managing a range of companies, Austen’s expertise centres around commercial management, enterprise content management, marketing, sales, project management and team leadership.