3 ways to stop automation fear in government IT

Automation doesn't need to be anxiety-inducing for federal IT workers. Instead, it can bring order out of chaos and help people achieve a more meaningful work-life balance
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One of the most unhelpful directives in the professional world is “to do more with less.” Budgets aren’t growing at the rate of customer requirements, talent is increasingly difficult to come by, and security threats loom ever larger, as attackers become more sophisticated and sprawling portfolios increase their attack surface. Not only is this true in the private sector but also in the public sector. In fact, public sector employees are retiring at an alarming rate – leaving the problems to further exacerbate.

Is automation the answer? At first blush, automation may further raise the anxiety levels of all IT professionals thinking that they will be automated out of a job. But on deeper examination, automation won’t replace IT professionals, but rather bring order out of chaos and help them achieve a more meaningful work-life balance.

Here are three ways automation can make that happen:

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free Ebook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

1. If you don't automate it, you can't (easily) repeat it

Ask any IT shop and they know of at least one legacy IT system that shouldn’t be touched, or even looked at wrong, because the person who put the system together left long ago. No one knows how to manage it or, even worse, how to recreate it from scratch in case disaster strikes.

Automation can play a critical role in preventing this from happening in the future. In particular, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) automation can do a great job defining how the system was set up and recreating it in an automated way. 

With Infrastrucutre as Code, you no longer have to worry about the institutional knowledge of an IT system living inside one employee’s head.

With IaC, you no longer have to worry about the institutional knowledge of an IT system living inside one employee’s head. IaC is both human-readable to explain how things are configured and also machine-readable for repeatable, automated redeployment, if necessary. Of course, like any other code, you’ll want the IaC automation to be managed by a version control system. Any updates to the real-world infrastructure should be mirrored in the IaC to ensure that the system, in reality, doesn’t drift from its IaC definition.

But what about legacy systems? IaC automation can be especially helpful if you can use it to capture the tribal knowledge of how the systems were put together before the people who originally developed the systems move on to other projects, or retire. The development of IaC automation for existing systems may be more tedious than net new because system changes could have been long forgotten. Regardless, the end result provides peace of mind. Risk will be lowered in case of disaster, and the recovery times will be orders of magnitude faster and less error-prone than doing it by hand.

Recreating workloads aren’t the only benefits provided by IaC automation. Other benefits include  forcing IT teams to thoughtfully declare how systems were configured. Additionally, it lets new people quickly understand how systems are deployed today while also thinking about optimizations that can be made in the future. IaC automation also helps pave the way for other efforts such as synchronizing disaster recovery sites, scaling to more systems to accommodate increased customer demand, and accelerating an organization’s move to the cloud.

Ultimately, IaC automation can help prevent and even fix the legacy technology problems that bog down your employees and your organization. 

2. Transform from drudgery to meaningful work

Most IT professionals have no shortage of things to do. Many studies have indicated that 80 percent of IT budgets are spent keeping the lights, on leaving only 20 percent for innovation. Contrast this with an ever-increasing employee need to do meaningful work. This is particularly true in government service where a sense of mission trumps other benefits like salary and free sushi for lunch.

The solution is automating away the drudgery of low-value, repeatable tasks to free up time to work on the needs of the agency’s mission.

So how can a government IT professional’s job be more meaningful? The solution is automating away the drudgery of low-value, repeatable tasks to free up time to work on the needs of the agency’s mission. At first blush, some people may fear that their jobs may be automated away, but if they’re able to contribute more business value to the agency, not only will they keep their jobs, more funding will come their way as increased business value is realized by their leadership.

[ Want to learn more about fostering innovation and open culture in an agile government? Read: A government leadership guide to cultural change. ]

Automation can also help transform an agency’s culture. In some organizations, knowledge hoarding is rewarded. By being the only one who knows how something is done, an employee becomes a single point of failure that is critical to the organization, resulting in rewards including job stability.

By automating and sharing IaC, communities are formed where the people who share the best ideas are rewarded. By being de facto leaders in an agency, their career path can be accelerated to higher aspirations of management and responsibility where the culture of collaboration further permeates their agency.

3. Attract and retain the best and brightest

As baby boomer IT professionals retire, they will be backfilled by millennials who have an increased sense of social consciousness and desire to ensure that their professional lives are just as meaningful as their personal lives. This again is where automation comes in to attract this next generation of IT professionals. By shifting the 80/20 maintenance-to-innovation ratio to 50/50 and ultimately to 20/80, Millennials will be attracted to agencies that offer jobs with meaningful work focused on the agency’s mission instead of the less meaningful drudgery often associated with government jobs.

Should government IT professionals fear automation? In a word, no, in fact, they should embrace it. Automation comes with a myriad of benefits that when embraced can be favorable for both employees and the organization.

For employees, embracing automation offers a better work-life balance while also increasing opportunities to focus on more rewarding innovation-centered work. For CIOs and IT executives, automation can help you ultimately attract and retain like-minded, collaborative team members while also building a culture of sharing. In the end, employees and IT leaders win, because automation can further align their work to their agency’s mission and deliver value to its stakeholders.

[ Want to increase the sense of urgency in your organization? Download: Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]

David Egts
David Egts is MuleSoft's first-ever Public Sector field CTO. He is the executive-level connective tissue between MuleSoft and top public sector decision makers and influencers globally.