IT Operations Paradigms in the New Normal

By – Arunava Bag

(Chief Technology Officer | Digitate)

ABSTRACT

The recent pandemic situation brought fundamental changes in our ways of life. One of those changes were restrictions in movement – which in-turn brought a significant amount of change in ways of IT operations management. This paper features some of those salient changes, lists down the relevant trends emerging from those and lists some suggestions and recommendations in IT operations.

Introduction

Agile, resilient IT operations is a constant thought. We are at it for many years now – the levers/focus in it changes as the process and technology trend changes. Let us look into it through the glass of present situation.

In the last few years, Agile, DevSecops, Devsecbizops, Cloud, Automation and also AI/AIOps took the centre stage in IT Ops transformation discussions. But adoption of Cloud, Automation and AI were somewhat lukewarm, hindered by adoption lag and resistance.

The incidents of last year changed things fundamentally, it pushed us to a different kind of IT operation paradigm – a very digital one, with adoption rate of many things we mentioned above increasing significantly; necessity became the mother of adoption. It also dawned on us slowly that many of these changes are going to stay with us and we started calling it as “The New Normal”.

Prominent Shifts

When the pandemic forced us into lockdown or restricted movements, our lives had a drastic impact. Similar was the case with life in IT operations. Some salient points and situations observed were:

  • People or operators were not always available to manage the IT operations and associated incidents
  • Availability and reliability of systems and applications often became an issue – cloud options came handy here – people saw the value of it for resiliency and scaling capabilities
  • Usage patterns of systems and applications changed, e.g. times of usage, workload volume (some workload became very low – e.g. booking for travels, some became very high – e.g. online grocery shopping, streaming entertainment services)
  • People saw the benefits of automated operations where things were automated, those ran relatively smoothly as those really did not need operators to be around to function
  • People could not connect to systems and colleagues easily or quickly
  • It became necessary to work and connect remotely, wherever possible

Emerging Macro Trends in IT Operations

In summary, a few key trends emerged in IT – cloud, automation, remote working with collaboration technologies became a must have. There is good reason for that – necessity – it forced us to faster adoption of these things. It also showed that innovations are generally abundant, adoption is the key for its success.

Early adoption of these trends also showed results during this trying time. Organizations that had already adopted automation, could operate smoothly even with fewer operators around. Industries with cloud and automation leverage could manage to easily scale up and deliver good customer experience.

Granular Points and Important Considerations

Let’s list down some of the more granular trends and also try to explain what these trends really means on the ground for IT ops people and what the relevant recommendations look like.

1. Automation is super important – it is a here and now subject for all, because people’s availability to run things can change anytime. Moreover, shortage of technology talents has been there for some time now. A good portion of IT operations needs to be digitized/automated to reduce dependency on tacit knowledge.

2. Intelligent automation adoption is key. Plain automation might not scale up because sometimes decision has to be made by machines when situation changes. So consider looking into AIOps (Artificial Intelligence for IT Ops).

3. Touch free operations are preferred. Closed loop AIOps systems are important that can do a job end to end. E.g. not only triaging an IT incident but fixing it is also needed. Else the mean time to resolve (MTTR) incidents remains high.

4. Software systems should to be agile and flexible as internal and external customers’ needs and also the technologies change rapidly. Auto scaling systems, SOP (Standard operating procedure) independent systems that can handle different variations of work autonomously should be looked for.

5. Cloud journey is speeding up, so anything we do or any software system we choose should preferably be cloud ready.

6. Digital Collaboration emerging in all aspects: People to people (Digital collaboration), people to machine (Augmented AI/collaboration platforms) and machine to machine (integration points) collaboration are increasing.

7. Augmented AI is gaining momentum. Man and machine working together is super critical and becoming a need now. Machines are here not to replace humans but to work hand in hand, supporting humans to do its work faster and smarter. So, while choosing software, we should look for its capability to collaborate with human operator through various collaboration platforms.

8. Integration capability is key: AI is a combinatorial technology, involving many independent technologies. For it to be real and effective, many systems/technologies need to interact. So, any tool/product we choose should have out of the box capability to integrate with a vast amount of existing products (and also provide standard integration mechanisms, e.g. REST API, streaming, SSH, PSH). Systems would be more connected now.
9. Secure operations: In software world, cyber security has always been a very important aspect, especially in last few years it has gained more focus. With increased remote working and cloud operations (where applications and data residing outside the organization boundary) this has become an even more important consideration. In the projects undertaken and the software systems chosen, we should give this aspect due importance (e.g. security certifications for software vendors, secure connections, proper data encryption services etc.)

10. Faster time to market: People now value software systems based on the outcomes it provide and not its functionality, and they want to see it very fast. Software with large out of the box (OOTB) capabilities with easy extension capability to suit your organizations needs would be of value.

11. The common outcomes expected from digital initiatives are reduced risk, better customer experience, and improved regulatory compliance. Efficiency gain is also important but not all important.

12. Money is tight, budgets are getting shorter – Opex pricing options are preferable as no one knows when things would change.

13. Remote working is the mainstay now. This gives operational resiliency also where remote working is possible. People would do so and many would not come to a physical office weeks at a time. Distance economy is becoming a norm. Managing user experience remotely, without those devices on office network (LAN) for a prolonged period, has become a necessity.

14. AI/ML buzz: AI/ML is centre stage of many things today and is very important to IT strategy. While it is very important to leverage these technologies, options are many and we should choose wisely. Look for short term, faster time to value work, and self-funded projects and products.

15. Data is the new currency: Adoption of digital solutions produces data which is a valuable asset. We should look for adjacent business opportunities, propose new business models in adjacent areas with the data you own for better relevance to your business.

Relevant Considerations in Software Selection

So, the point is, in the broad category of automation, we need to look out for the attributes in the projects we pick up or the products we buy, e.g. automation solution that is:

  • Intelligent (leverages AI/ML, self-learning and self-adjusting),
  • Cloud ready (including hosting/SaaS options)
  • Has flexible pricing model options, including subscription based pricing
  • Have support for native cloud technologies like storage, network, native databases
  • Can adapt to new technologies
  • Support augmented AI through human intervention and collaboration
  • Is secure
  • Has scalable and resilient architecture
  • And very importantly gives a large OOTB features and also gives solid framework tools to extend/adapt/adjust

Conclusion

The pandemic situation led to isolation and restrictions in our movement. Cloud adoption, intelligent automation and remote working emerged as macro trends in IT operations. We should be aware of and take due notice of the resultant micro trends in the area of IT operations and take decisions accordingly.

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