What is Automation? Defined, Explained, and Trends
Chief Technology Evangelist
March 3, 2022
The dream of automation has played at the edges of the technology world since before Robbie the Robot entertained us in the '50s hit television show, Forbidden Planet. Today, automation allows businesses and industries to take routine tasks and automate them, removing or reducing human intervention. As a result, many sectors have used the technology to streamline processes, increase productivity, and reduce costs—including things like manufacturing processes, industrial processes, and countless other day-to-day business processes. Automating processes relies on several key technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), robotics, and intelligent workflow engines. We've teamed up with Arrow to help you better understand the landscape and leverage the automation opportunities in front of you.
What types of automation tools and technologies are there?
Increased adoption of automation technologies has multiplied opportunities for players in the space. Areas seeing growth are:
Cybersecurity automation significantly reduces the overload on security teams and prevents false positives. Cybersecurity threats substantially increase in volume year over year. In 2021, Checkpoint researchers identified a 50% increase in overall corporate cyber-attacks compared to 2020. Attack types such as ransomware have surged with an attack every 11 seconds during 2021. Cybersecurity automation uses technologies such as machine learning to identify and mitigate cyber-attacks. The automation of cybersecurity technologies prevents the overload of data generated by cybersecurity events. Automated cybersecurity tools include Network Intrusion Detection Systems (NIDS), Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Tools, and Vulnerability Management tools.
Data has grown exponentially over the last decade. As a result, monitoring, processing, and troubleshooting processes have become onerous and prone to inaccuracies. Data center automation uses software solutions to centralize access to data center resources. Automation is then applied to data storage, servers, configuration settings, and so on. This ensures that IT operations staff are not inundated by repetitive, time-consuming tasks so that they can work on core business-IT goals.
Data intelligence automation
Data enters the enterprise from a large variety of sources that are often unstructured such as social media, emails, etc. Data intelligence is used to classify, qualify, and quantify data. The discipline uses intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep mining, and machine learning to analyze this data; these technologies are used to identify patterns and trends used to deliver business insights. Automation can provide tools to automate these smart technologies to discover, classify, and optimize data hygiene to make the most of structured and unstructured distributed data.
DevOps (development + operations) is a series of methodologies, akin to agile, to deliver high-quality products into production by bringing development and operations teams together. DevOps uses workflows to deliver iterative updates into production, quickly and accurately. Automation of DevOps is a natural progression of the discipline that uses automation technologies to streamline and improve the efficiency of many repetitive tasks associated with the DevOps pipeline. Automation technologies can be applied throughout the DevOps pipeline from design and development to monitoring and release.
IT operations automation
The task of IT operations is complex and time-consuming. Managing disparate IT systems, vast amounts of distributed data, and remote working conditions creates a heavy overhead on IT staff; add this to the requirements of modern rapid change environments, cybersecurity threats, and compliance landscape changes—it’s a daunting task for the IT department. Any help that IT staff can get in terms of automating repetitive tasks is welcomed. IT Operations Automation offers efficiency, reliability, and consistency in many IT Operation tasks. The areas that automation improves are automated provisioning and de-provisioning of virtual machines, high-volume data transfers, simultaneous workloads processing, and root cause analysis automation for fault finding.
Business Process Automation and Robotic Process Automation:
There are two classes of workflow automation, Business Process Management (BPM) and robotic process (RPA) workflows. This type of automation uses either business rules to trigger a task or AI to automate task decisions. Workflow automation is used across various use cases to improve user journeys, automate marketing, and improve CRM (customer relationship management). Most industries can find a place for workflow automation in their business or IT processes. Workflow automation software tools are often UI-based, drag-and-drop, low-code systems that make them easy to use for companies. BPM is used to automate manual business tasks. RPA uses robots or bots to automate tasks such as help desk and customer interactions.
Automation technology trends and disruptions
As an empowering technology, automation is providing opportunities for innovative vendors.
What are current automation trends?
Human labor and the skills shortage
Skills in certain areas are hampering the adoption of associated technologies. For example, an ISSA survey of 500 information security professionals found that 95% said the skills shortage in cybersecurity had shown no improvement in recent years. Automation provides the means to shore up this skills gap. However, there is an interesting caveat. Another survey, “2021-2023 Emerging Technology Roadmap”, has found that the skills gap is also affecting the uptake of emerging technologies such as automation, creating a skills gap barrier in its own right. Vendors are beginning to fill this airgap with innovative solutions -- automating, automation.
Machine learning (ML) and AI
AI and ML are natural automation partners and will drive innovations in the field. Examples of AI-powered automation include augmented Data Management and augmented analytics. A merger of cloud technologies, RPA, and IoT, will create new vendors and opportunities in AI-enabled automation.
Hyperautomation is a top technology trend for 2022, according to Gartner, who describes it as a “business-driven approach to rapidly identify, vet, and automate as many business and IT processes as possible.” Hyperautomation involves orchestrating many types of technologies that lend themselves to creating mesh-like automation platforms. These technologies include AI/ML, RPA, BPM, and low-code/no-code tools.
Low-code & no-code
Low-code/no-code tools provide development teams with ready-to-use, out-of-the-box code, that speeds up the delivery of products. Low-code/no-code platforms can bridge the gap in teams that don’t have specialist coding skills, such as providing code for cybersecurity, digital identity, or protocol support. This facilitates the fast delivery of high-quality products.
Who is disrupting the landscape and building the automated future?
Automation helps to improve IT efficiencies and integrates closely with business goals and customer needs. Technological advances in automation technology are disrupting this space.
AI service desk
Service desk tools were designed when most people worked from a central office. Once the pandemic hit, the service desk saw significant disruption as workers moved into home offices. Aisera and Moveworks create tools that address these changes. Aisera focuses on IT services desks to help with internal staff IT support. Their system uses AI to automate help desk ticketing systems, improving productivity and the user experience. Moveworks provides an AI-enabled IT support triage service that can accurately route IT support to the right person, speeding up the process and removing IT support overhead.
AI operations (AIOps)
Artificial intelligence (AI) powers business operations and pushes into innovative areas. AI-enabled operations (AIOps) pick up data trends and patterns across the disparate enterprise, to help expand the use cases for automation. Disrupters in this space include Big Panda, which helps companies jump the automation adoption barrier. The company supplies an Open Box Machine Learning technology that focuses on automating the incident management lifecycle. Another disruptor in the AI operations space is Moogsoft, which also offers a SaaS incident management system, powered by AI. The Moogsoft service integrates with several collaboration systems, including Slack, to handle incidents and alerts.
Site reliability engineering (SRE)
SRE is an invention of Google engineer Ben Treynor Sloss, designed to improve the reliability of sites and services. SRE is used to unite development and operations that deliver business value; SRE is like DevOps, both working in symbiosis. In the SRE space, two disruptors stand out: Blameless describes itself as offering the “first complete enterprise SRE platform.” The platform is designed to provide reliability insights based on event data. Another disruptor is FireHydrant, which provides an incident management tool fully integrated with Slack to channel incidents communications. The tool is designed to handle service sprawl.
Cloud computing, the IoT, and now edge devices all add complexity to the distributed computing environments used by modern enterprises. The aptly named chaos engineering is built to handle this disparate computing universe and test it for resilience against unexpected disruptions. The space has two key disruptors, namely Gremlin and Steadybit. Gremlin is a SaaS deployment that simulates attack types on a service or API, testing the resilience of that system across the entire stack. Steadybit provides similar functionality using agents that are easy and quick to install: the agents adapt to a system and test for resilience.
Automation is driving the emergence of DevOps as an essential aspect of the modern enterprise. The accurate and reliable deployments enabled by automation provide teams with a competitive edge. Automation-based technologies disrupting the DevOps space include:
Building code, running tests, securing code, and deploying new versions of an application are critical areas of disruption in the DevOps tech stack. Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) (CI/CD) is a method that automates the delivery of apps to customers. Disruptions in this space come from companies like Harness, which provides a modern software delivery platform. The platform helps developers simplify how they build, test, and optimize code through intelligent automation and self-service capabilities. Gitlab is another disruptor that provides a DevOps platform that helps automate CI/CD pipelines with integrated security.
AI and ML are being leveraged to automate the testing of software, services, and systems. This AI-enabled process approach to testing reduces test creation time and improves coverage. The result is a more resilient set of tests that cut down maintenance and improve software releases. The disruptors in this space include Mabl and Cypress. Mabl provides a low-code test automation system to help improve engineering efforts. It focuses on end-to-end user interface and API testing in a unified platform. Cypress provides automation of scripts and debugs testing to test anything that runs in a browser.
Infrastructure as Code
This emerging area of computing focuses on using automation of computer data center management and provisioning. Within the sector, Hashicorp and Pulumi are making waves. Hashicorp provides an open-source tool that automatically provisions infrastructure by describing it as code. Hashicorp eliminates the need to configure hundreds of settings that generally require manual intervention. Pulumi works with existing software languages, allowing developers to manage infrastructure using these standard programming languages.
Automating configuration is a powerful new technology area where the drivers are simplification and synchronization of increasingly bloated and complex IT resources. Disruption from Ansible and Puppet is driving innovation in the space. Ansible is an open-source IT automation engine that automates the configuration of systems and devices such as databases, storage devices, networks, firewalls, etc. Ansible pushes the great usability of their offering. Puppet provides infrastructure automation and configuration management across hybrid and multi-cloud environments—more than 80% of the Global 5000 use Puppet.
What are the CXO priorities surrounding automation?
Digital transformation, corporate network expansion, increasing data volumes, and changing work environments that include Work from Anywhere require more efficient processes. Automation provides the necessary tools to achieve efficiency, improve customer experiences, deliver a competitive edge, and keep costs down. The CXO priorities need to reflect the availability of automation tools to deliver on digital transformation needs.
C-Level executives should be aware of are automation’s ability to:
Reduce manual errors by human workers
Human errors lead to cybersecurity attacks and system failure. A Ponemon Institute survey found that human error was responsible for 22% of unplanned data center outages. 93% of organizations are worried that human error will cause accidental data exposure in terms of cybersecurity. Automation can cut human errors by 66%.
Increase employee productivity
Automation has been used throughout history to speed up processes that can be done by a machine as well as/better than human beings. Removing manual and tedious human tasks from employees allows them to focus on more creative and innovative business activities. However, automation often works in collaboration with employees. Evidence of this was found in a study by the International Federation of Robotics that found that collaborative robots led to a 50% productivity increase without job losses.
Cost reductions from automation can be found throughout the areas of a business that apply automation tools. Hyperautomation, for example, is expected to lower operating costs by 30%, according to Gartner.
Improve IT Processes
Forrester describes automation as the “new fabric of digital business.” This fabric is achieved using automation tools such as AI/ML, low code platforms, BPM, and RPA. IT Processes Automation will ameliorate the complex mix of technologies and speed of change that enterprise IT must manage. In doing so, IT process automation will help the enterprise optimize its use of technology and achieve success in digital transformation projects.
IT process automation and integration automation are symbiotic. Integration automation uses AI to connect disparate systems and applications across multiple vendor solutions. Integration automation speeds up integration across heterogeneous systems that are typically time-consuming and require high knowledge and skill levels. Low-code/no-code solutions can help to achieve this. Integration automation also helps with regulatory compliance, security, and availability.
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