Gartner defines IT operations as the people and management processes associated with IT service management to deliver the right set of services at the right quality and competitive costs for customers.
“The coronavirus pandemic has forced IT executives to adapt their operations to address increased work-from-home scenarios and unpredictable changes to IT requirements,” said Gartner research vice president Jeffrey Hewitt.
He goes on to note that the nature of infrastructure is evolving to the point where remote I&O teams make sense to support new scenarios, use cases and technologies.
FutureCIO spoke to Raen Lim, area vice president, South Asia at Splunk, for her take on the changes occurring within IT operations team, and how they are looking to if they have not done so already, automation and artificial intelligence, to keep the lights on and maybe more.
IT Ops – I understand the benefits that automation and AI can deliver to IT. But IT Ops has been around since the days of modern mainframes. What is different about the needs of IT operations today that would make it more (a) operationally better; (b) financially better to introduce AI/automation into the provision of IT services (IT Ops)?
Raen Lim: The needs of IT operations teams have evolved rapidly since the modern mainframe days, and COVID-19 has accelerated businesses’ shift into the highly connected Data Age. The IT Ops’ function has evolved from maintaining technology infrastructure to becoming a strategic partner to the business by providing innovative IT services that meet today’s data-driven business environment.
Applications and platforms like Splunk have also adapted to meet the growing interest amongst customers for microservice architecture which focus on performing smaller tasks. These software offerings are independently deployed but can be incorporated as part of a larger system, providing greater flexibility than monolithic architecture.
Microservices architecture is easier to scale, modify and deploy for businesses, with Kubernetes being leveraged as the standard for orchestrating containerised applications. The adoption of microservices are markers of the sustained trend of IT departments shifting towards a nimble DevOps culture which encourages incremental wins.
Businesses produce a lot more data than they used to, and codes that were previously modified monthly are now being updated multiple times a day. IT Ops need to be more agile and capture these changes taking place at breakneck speeds. The importance of predictability has grown as well, with automation and AI enabling IT Ops to capture changes in code and convert data into doing, enabling the business to focus on what matters to them.
Through the effective deployment of AI and other predictive analytics tools, businesses can also enhance their customer experience online. Amidst the digital transformation expedited by COVID-19, businesses must create a seamless online experience through data analytics as a way to attract and retain customers. These factors come together to change the needs of IT Ops.
Given that we are seeing an increase in cloud use, do you think there is still value to adding AI/automation into IT Ops especially if IT outsources its IT needs to the cloud?
Raen Lim: There is value in adding AI and automation into IT Ops. While tasks are being outsourced to the cloud, responsibility isn’t. CIOs and IT managers play key roles in helping businesses improve productivity and efficiency in their business operations. Also, most companies do not have a single cloud strategy, nor do they deploy a single cloud for all their operations – they usually have pockets of data that are sitting in silos.
To harness the full potential of data, it is important to ensure that the applications in the different clouds can work together, and IT managers have a holistic view of all the data that’s being generated in each of these applications on a single platform. By applying AI and automation, businesses can enhance the user experience for customers, drive better business outcomes and improve company operations.
Concerning (2) what are prevailing misconceptions around internal IT operations among companies that have moved their compute resources needs to the cloud?
Raen Lim: Moving to the cloud does not mean that IT Ops sit idle. This indeed enables the IT team to devote their energy towards innovating and elevating themselves within the organisation to become business enablers, leading to a shift in perception towards IT Ops.
Cloud adoption has also played a role in driving the adoption of AI and automation, through which additional value can be created.
My understanding is that automating/integrating AI into IT Ops is still nascent in ASEAN. Can you tell me differently?
Raen Lim: Integrating AI into IT Ops is indeed still nascent in ASEAN. Organisations in this region are still struggling with siloed toolsets in IT monitoring and integrating newer applications with legacy architecture. Many do not have a bird’s eye view of the IT applications they own, as well as the data that’s being generated across the board. In my view, this is a sign that the region’s businesses are still in the early stages of integrating AI, and lack the solid foundation required to progress on their integration journey.
This challenge is not limited to SMEs, this is something present in larger companies in the region as well. It is crucial to ensure all legacy toolsets and architecture are interoperable early in the process to avoid a ‘watermelon’ situation. Customers have frequently shared that tools can operate independently, yet they were unable to detect where the problem is when integrated. A CIO of a local telco I spoke to recently mentioned that the application dashboards appear to be green or operating, however, the reality is that the application has gone down, without them having a clue what has gone wrong, and why.
For ASEAN companies to evolve and progress on their integration journeys, they need to develop an understanding of the interdependencies of the different applications. This is not limited to the applications themselves, but also the larger value chain they operate within, including the infrastructure, server and network, as each layer does not operate in isolation. My advice would be to assess these value chains and identify gaps so that all toolsets are compatible and able to work together.
Based on the build-up of legacy toolsets and operations over the years, it would be difficult to remove individual toolsets. Businesses would benefit from augmenting their existing systems with a layer of analytics through platforms that make sense of the data being generated. The analytics component also allows businesses to troubleshoot issues using a single data-to-everything platform. This allows businesses to move beyond working in silos, instead, integrate solutions to get a full picture.
For 2021, what can the CIO/CTO expect of IT Operations, AI and automation?
Raen Lim: In 2020, we saw workforces pivoting to teleworking models overnight and digital infrastructure being tested. I believe that IT Operations, AI and automation will continue to be at the heart of businesses and grow in importance going into 2021 and the post-pandemic world.
With the pace of business demands and marketplace disruption moving at overdrive, CIOs must stay ahead of increasingly complex customer needs, and leverage instrumentation and automation to deliver with velocity. As businesses require access to real-time data and recommendations about how to leverage data, they are being driven towards observability.
No sector of our economy is untouched by automation, with COVID-19 expediting this adoption. We have seen robots sanitizing hospitals and workplaces where human contacts are risky, and food manufacturers adopting process automation to standardise and improve safety. While automation drives innovation and efficiency, humans define the parameters for automation to handle.
Observability continues to be important for businesses in an increasingly complex IT system with minimal visibility. These tools not only identify issues but also recommendations on how to address them. While microservices enable developers to code better and scale, the underlying infrastructure rapidly changes and the interactions between the services become difficult to decipher. In a cloud environment, tools must be able to collect and process data at scale and provide advanced analytics and support for automation.
We predict that remote working will continue to be prevalent in 2021, with better collaborative tools in the pipeline to facilitate teleworking. Splunk also predicts that Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology might also make its way into digital collaboration tools, providing more immersive and interactive experiences. The deep integration of AI and machine learning
into cloud infrastructure, platform, and applications to improve efficiencies and accelerate digital delivery of services to customers will continue to be a key trend.
Finally, IT Ops should strike a balance between adopting a holistic, DevOps approach to cloud adoption and observability that co-exists alongside traditional IT systems. Rather than DevOps systems and methodology, IT Ops need to adopt the DevOps mindset.
In a year of uncertainty where business leaders have had to experiment continuously, 2021 brings more opportunities for agility and digital experimentation.