The autonomic road to innovation

Autonomics can help organisations shift their IT spend to growth-centric activities rather than managing tickets and other mundane tasks

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant,” is a quote I remember from somewhere. And indeed, over the years, it has made sense to delegate all those mundane tasks that required nothing more than raw power, mindless speed and uncompromising efficiency to computers.

Freed from the mundane, businesses could now focus on higher ideals like strategy, growth and innovation. After all, ‘computerisation’ was the first wholesale automation of manual processes in the information world; much like the industrial revolution was for hand crafting.

However, the evolution of technology and its promise of processing increasingly complex processes drove enterprises to stockpile IT. Eventually, that snowballed into underutilised storage resources, unproductive data centres, an abundance of vendors and an antiquated approach to maintenance and support.

And before you know it, many enterprise IT teams have found themselves back where they started: the tedious maintenance and troubleshooting of an intricate network of diverse IT systems. As a result, today the promise of automation is ironically contingent on manual intervention.

Regression apart, the return to a focus on manual processes severely compromises enterprises’ ability to pursue future growth imperatives. With about 60-64 per cent of enterprise IT spending going to maintain and enhance the systems to ‘run’ the business, enterprises have only the meagre leftovers to invest in innovation or emerging business transformation opportunities.

Companies in Australia will spend $75.7 billion on IT this year – with a 9.5 per cent increase on data centre system spending. Imagine the possibilities if some of that investment could be released for innovation and developing competitive advantage!

Certainly, companies can modernise infrastructure and adopt integrated, optimised sourcing strategies to restore IT systems to enterprise grade performance standards. But for a truly transformative impact on efficiency, they will have to look at multiple levers – including a powerful lever called 'autonomics'.

Autonomics is the deployment of systems, rather than humans, to perform certain tasks, creating an environment which is self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimising and self-protecting. It is inspired by the most sophisticated naturally existing autonomic system we know – our own human autonomic nervous system. Autonomic computing represents the next evolutionary level in automation; you can think of it as “automation automated.”

Take the example of batch operations on a network. These processes are generally run at night when there are no users, activated by a piece of code written for this purpose. But a human element is still needed to ensure that the code works and is initiated at the right time. With autonomics, the system itself becomes responsible for scheduling and executing the operation, with no manual intervention whatsoever and escalating or resolving any unanticipated issues that may occur on the way.

There is plenty of analyst literature that documents the precise number of hours taken up in maintenance activities. Maintenance activities are divided into various levels depending on the nature of solution involved: Level 1 support is the most basic technical support, Level 3 the most advanced. Ironically, it is those basic Level 1 activities that typically need to be supported on a 24x7 basis and put human endurance to the test.

Autonomics is based on expert systems that, unlike script-based automation tools, enable self-learning and self-healing. Over a period of time these systems can ‘learn’ an IT environment, identify and resolve issues and independently execute a range of tasks. In the context of operation and maintenance of IT systems, autonomics eliminates manual intervention in routine tasks like information gathering and troubleshooting, tasks that currently require skilled IT personnel.

What this means is that organisations will be able to actually shift their IT spend to growth-centric activities rather than managing tickets and other mundane tasks.

Over the years, IT maintenance and support capabilities have not been able to match the pace of growth and adoption of enterprise technologies. Today the lag between the two is so marked that it threatens to undermine the fundamental promise of IT. Before enterprises move to the next level of disruptive technologies, they need to disrupt the way maintenance and support services are delivered within the current technological framework. Autonomics is an important step forward on that road.

Chandrashekar Kakal is Senior Vice President and Global Head of Business IT Services (BITS), Infosys.

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