Ellucian CIO: How we took a measured approach to automation

Ellucian CIO: How we took a measured approach to automation

Automation lets you turn over routine and repetitive tasks to trusted partners. Here's how to examine risks early in the process and plan wisely

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February 27, 2018

Automation will be increasingly essential to IT organizations in the coming years. At Ellucian, we are taking a thoughtful approach to automation to ensure we are positioned for success going forward.

Currently, we’re thinking about automation in two ways. First, moving to the cloud is a strategic priority for us. Over time, we are focused on transferring the responsibility for operating systems, upgrades, network access, backups, etc. to cloud providers. That means we no longer need IT folks to, for instance, run email servers. Instead, we can free up people to work with the business and figure out how we can more effectively use the wide range of solutions that are becoming available from external parties.

[ See our related story by ServiceNow CIO Chris Bedi: How automation helped my IT team make time for innovation. ]

So, for us, the first step in automation is thinking about what we can consume as a service. As we rely more and more on partners to do the low-level and routine work, we can also rely on them to automate that work for us, rather than do it ourselves.

New automation opportunities emerge

Secondly, as we shift more of these technology tasks to cloud providers, and we gain more time to work more closely with the business, we’re naturally seeing more business automation opportunities. We can see where business people are doing manual and repetitive tasks and find new ways to assist them with tools for automating processes. For instance, for developers, we can provide them with machines and test environments on demand, rather than having someone set up an environment manually.

These approaches work hand-in-hand to benefit the organization. They enable us to free up resources and redefine business processes. But it’s not all reward. There are risks involved, so automation requires a careful, thoughtful approach.

For instance, if you automate a process before you think about optimizing it, you may end up with a cumbersome process that happens to be automated. And in the case of moving to cloud, you need to be cognizant of the cost. Typically, IT organizations have gotten good at managing their on-premises costs – capital investments, managing turnover of storage and processors and so on. But it’s different in the cloud, and you need to think about it differently. (But don’t forget to consider the value of the long term flexibility provided by cloud environments.)

Address the personal concerns 

Finally, you’ll want to consider what your automation plans mean for your IT team and manage their expectations – and, in some cases, ease their concerns – as appropriate.

Suppose I am a network person, and my IT organization is busy upgrading network technology around the globe and providing mobile connectivity. I need to understand that at some point, we may not have a network anymore. Everything will simply be internet-connected. But, I may start to get worried about what this means for my job moving forward.

In this example, IT leaders need to be upfront about how the network is going to evolve, when it’s going to evolve, and frankly, how many people are going to need to run it over time. They need to ask employees, for instance, do you want to work with us to be one of the last people running the network? Do you want to work with us to get a great reputation and find a career with another company that may be on a slower technology trajectory? Or do you want to work with us to become a business consultant and a connectivity expert so you can talk to the business about mobile technology and how we might optimize our growing portfolio of applications from a performance or cost standpoint? All of those are possibilities. Standing still is not, at least in the longer term.

As you do more with automation, this is the kind of open and honest conversation you should have with anyone on your team who may be impacted. Because this is the direction IT is heading. It may not happen right away, but it will happen over time. If you’re not at least acknowledging that with your team, you are letting them down as their leader.

As we continue to turn over routine and repetitive tasks to trusted partners, thoughtful automation is essential to our strategy going forward. If you are in the same situation, I’d urge you to think about these risks and considerations early in the process and to incorporate them in your planning.

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Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics. He is responsible for Ellucian’s information technology, including enabling the business through technology services, information technology strategy, delivering next generation solutions, process improvement and advanced data and analytics. 

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