Automating Tasks With Cloud Technology
Traditionally, Information Technology service management (ITSM) has relied on suites of tools and services developed and maintained by in-house staff, or tweaked and customized from off-the-shelf components. Enterprise communications and office productivity have also drawn on specialist tools for streamlining operations and scheduling tasks, or on macros, scripts, and bespoke applications written for specific use cases.
With organizations turning in increasing numbers to the cloud for the provision of services, infrastructure and applications, an additional set of considerations has been added to the process of co-ordinating and managing business operations. Multi-tenant and hybrid architectures can mean widely separated and diverse sets of data to govern, information that’s in flux and in transmission, and a range of accounts and pricing deals to manage.
But the cloud also presents users with opportunities to make their working lives much easier, by automating many of these processes.
Benefits Of Automation
For individual workers and the organization as a whole, giving the responsibility of performing certain tasks to software and machinery has several benefits.
- Reduction in human errors and greater job clarity: Jobs requiring great precision, a lot of repetition, or intensive calculations may be handled quickly and routinely by automation software. For tasks demanding the human touch, technology can assist in quickly communicating which jobs need to be done by whom, and in what time-frame. Reminders and alerts may be easily set to keep workers informed of their outstanding duties.
- More effective communications and a reduction in paperwork: Automated and Unified Communications systems incorporating text and Instant Messaging, email, voice, or even video can streamline the processes of job assignment, collaboration, and evaluation. With work schedules and personnel listings on the one automated platform, the issuing of work orders and other bureaucratic protocols may be conducted swiftly and digitally.
- Better service delivery and customer relations: An automated task system with job assignments, project deadlines, and alerts to keep operations on track can help ensure the timely delivery of products and services, as well as maintaining high quality. Customers requiring support or making queries will benefit from enhanced communications that enable a rapid response to their needs.
- Greater Return On Investments and lower business costs: Streamlined and efficient work operations will naturally translate into a reduction in labor hours for greater results, and more value for the organization’s money.
Using the cloud for business requires a certain amount of management overhead. Even with a hosted solution, there’ll be some configuration and administration involved in allocating resources and infrastructure, optimizing the running of tasks, and making requests and account adjustments for resource allocations as business needs demand them.
Automation and centralized management assists in all of this. Consoles may be configured to streamline the processes of getting authorization and approval for the purchase of new cloud instances. And infrastructure management may be achieved automatically, with rules set for the starting, stopping, and rebooting of resources as operations require. Automation may be tied in to an organization’s preferred business practices and working methods.
The If-This-Then-That (IFTTT) Maker channel is a web-based service that allows consumer access to a library of software automation options. IFTTT makes hundreds of pre-defined templates available, which may be combined to link different applications together, based on rules that users define. Connections or “Channels” are offered for a wide range of consumer web services. A similar automation facility is offered for businesses, by third parties.
Combined with the HTTP notification functions built in to most SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) phones, a range of automated options may be added to the feature set of a phone – independent of the hosted IP-PBX or SIP server to which the phone is registered. Examples would include automatic alerts when a phone’s DND button is pushed, or when a SIP phone’s registration expires.
Within a hosted VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system, the native feature set also lends itself to task automation, with automatic forwarding of calls, automated receptionists (Auto Attendant), voicemail to email transcription, or Find and Follow tools that redirect incoming calls to a user’s designated phone number at any time of day.
Cloud-based infrastructure, data storage, collaboration platforms, and applications make it possible for businesses to automate many of the tasks that would otherwise hamper office productivity.
Backups of essential business data and “golden images” of office desktops may be regularly performed and tested, using cloud technology. These help to ensure that systems and networks remain viable and available at all times, and provide insurance against natural or operational disasters, data breaches, and other mishaps.
Automation tools can smooth out the operations of running software, which often requires sub-processes to be initiated and run in the background, as programs are executed and files are opened. Users may define rules to govern how these processes occur, and customize applications to their particular working needs.
Monitoring and reporting are essential activities at all levels – be they for operational purposes, or for maintaining the integrity and security of business systems. Data analysis and the generation of actionable reports can be easily handled by cloud-based analytics tools – especially where big data is involved. This gives analysts and policy makers the freedom to concentrate on the insights which may be gained from this information.
A cloud management platform or CMP can co-ordinate and orchestrate the automation of multiple lower-level functions, to assist the software development process, or business operations in general.
In its service management layer, users or automated processes can customize services such as the modeling of infrastructure, sandboxing of application code, or end-user catalogs in real time.
The orchestration layer of a CMP controls, governs, and co-ordinates elements of a service delivery process. And its resource management layer interfaces with physical and virtual resources of all kinds, including file servers, applications, virtual machines, and networks.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI allows businesses to set up “virtual desktops” of networking and application software which can be customized and configured specifically for an organization, and made available to all its employees (remote, mobile, and office-based) – all hosted and provided from the cloud.
Automation software and tools can help in the updating, patching, backing up and maintenance of these virtual desktops. Operations may be performed on individual systems, or over a company-wide range of desktop environments.
And IT staff don’t have to bother with creating the tools themselves. There are online libraries of automation scripts and tools which may be tweaked and customized to suit the requirements of a particular enterprise.
Some Best Practices
In general, it’s a good idea to automate tasks that are performed frequently. These may be jobs repeated as part of an ongoing set of processes, or resources that users demand on a regular basis. Automating frequently recurring tasks also gives greater value for your initial investment than the automation of single or rarely repeated ones.
If you’re using a VDI, it’s a good idea to set up groups or pools of similarly or identically configured virtual desktops, so that these may be updated or amended all at once by a single automation procedure.