Since I started telling my original story about being proactively prepared for the pandemic with a SASE-like, work-from-home solution for our manufacturing business, I have been sharing my lessons learned as a way to help other CIOs. My second article explained the approach we took to build a global infrastructure for remote collaboration, and my third article unpacked how the network and security were designed as one strategy. Today, I continue my story, explaining the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and the importance of automation in our solution. Here’s how we successfully integrated AI and automation capabilities across several different partners and platforms in order to deliver a greater impact on IT productivity and our digital transformation strategy.
Let me say upfront that in 2018 and 2019, much of what we were attempting to do was new, unexplored, and largely undocumented territory. Everything I had read up to this point about AI and automation was, for the most part, narrowly focused on individual case studies, highlighting AI benefits and its ability to address specific business challenges. To this day, I have found little documentation illustrating how companies have successfully integrated AI tools and capabilities across several different platforms to automate IT operations. Hence, my inspiration to continue sharing more about my own experience. Utilizing the cloud platforms of our strategic partners, like Masergy and others, we were able to leverage the unique capabilities of each one, using their AI-based analytics to automate IT management and service processes at a high level–across a wide swath of applications, systems, and technologies.
Here’s how we automated our IT operations.
We began with the simple process of identifying the AI and automation capabilities of each platform and creating a practical approach for incorporating them into our organization. Ultimately, the overall goal was to address the most time-consuming and manual IT work and tackle more of these problems at once. By automating at scale, our company would reduce costs, accelerate the time-to-value, and provide a swift ROI.
We first began by summarizing our most repeated tasks or events, mapping out each workflow and the manual steps required for each one. For example, the process for ordering a new laptop or changing employee passwords. We then focused on how we could either apply automation, or in some cases use AI to completely eliminate manual intervention entirely. To our initial surprise, we identified over 100+ processes that we viewed as quick hits–requiring low investment and yielding a high return. So, we began outlining a prioritized plan to move forward.
The approach included the integration of products like ServiceNow, SAP, and a suite of networking, unified communications, and security tools from Masergy. The integration created one cloud environment where our IT service platform, our corporate business operations platform, and our network and security platform could all work seamlessly together.
Next, we began automating small tasks and stringing them together into automated workflows. The integration also provided us visibility into all of the components of each workflow, which enabled us to modify in real time to provide better business support.
The results came faster than you might think. Within 90 days, we began automating the majority of those manual and highly redundant tasks, resulting in over 2,000 hours of productivity each month–a savings equivalent to roughly $60,000/month.
Encouraged by the speed and ease of how we were able to improve efficiency and demonstrate value at the company, our early results warranted more time and resources. After all, we were convinced that exploiting more of the opportunities we had identified up front would help us reach the breakeven point between investments and rewards.
As we continued, we began to identify where integrating capabilities within each of the different platforms would further our efforts. Instead of addressing only small IT steps, we addressed larger end-to-end processes, including the process of transitioning employees from working in the office to working from home or on the go. For example, we had an entire system of automated processes and self-help tutorials assisting employees with everything from at-home equipment and VPNs to frequently asked questions.
Through that initiative, we discovered the true value of IT automation was in integrating each vendor’s unique competencies to create a single solution that we did not realize could exist until we began down that path. In our experience, we found that focusing on what each vendor excelled in, and then determining how and where we could apply that strength to our business process, allowed us to see the big picture. Viewing things from this perspective opened up other opportunities, and we went beyond what we had believed was initially achievable.
Using Masergy as an example, we leaned heavily into Masergy’s AIOps tools. Their AI engine automatically evaluated our network and cloud application performance, giving us proactive suggestions on how to optimize our uptime. Now that more of our most frequent work was automated, the team had more time to focus on AIOps and IT service delivery–particularly during peak business hours. In the end, we eliminated application performance issues, including production issues at our manufacturing plants. The supply chain process is critically dependent on the network and cloud services, and without the capabilities and visibility that Masergy AIOps provided us, this would have never been possible.
If we have learned anything from 2020, it is that IT leaders need to continue to be open to new approaches to business challenges, which includes rethinking new and existing technologies and how they can be applied to meet those challenges. In my previous blog, I talked about one of the marquee moments as tying IT infrastructure, security, and applications together. That was key again here, as it provided a foundation for layering in AI and automation. There is so much more that AI can provide to an organization, and when you start to apply it in a small way, you gain the vision for how to make the larger impact. With the right approach, AI can quickly become an integral part of how businesses adapt and create the flexibility and agility they will need to be prepared for whatever future challenges they will face.
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