I’m calling us all out on this. We’re Operations leaders and professionals, many of us in the SAP space, and we continuously rely on the narrative that we’re special, what we do is special and it is so different to the rest of the IT Operations world.
While it may have been true once, we need to get over it because it is absolutely not the case today. SAP Operations in particular is playing catch-up with the rest of the ITOps world which has moved on to revolutionary concepts like SecOps, Infrastructure as code and intelligent automation. While we are catching up fast, we all must recognize the part we must play in embracing this journey.
In my role, I speak to a large number of IT operations leaders and ERP professionals each and every day, and there is one word on their mind in nearly every case — automation. How do they automate the basic and foundational elements of their team day-to-day.
This is not coming from a desire necessarily to reduce cost (although that is present in some cases), no, more often than not it is about improving the service quality they can provide, reducing downtime and increasing bandwidth for strategic and innovation-led efforts. Simple stuff that is continuously derailed by operational tasks that occupy our most expensive people far too much.
This all leads to the question: how do you kick start your automation agenda to drive rapid value — and break out of this vicious cycle of fire-fighting and manual effort?
Shift the team mindset towards automation-first
It’s all about getting your on-the-ground teams to identify and categorize candidate automations which can inform your journey. Operations teams, by their nature, deal with incoming operational tasks via tickets, support systems, alerts and more and, as they close out a task or ticket, it’s the ideal time to categorize these tasks and establish whether it was something that could (or should) be automated in your future ERP landscapes.
Start gathering this data now and reviewing it on a regular basis (don’t let it pile up into a mountain of data). Encourage your teams to always ask if automation is appropriate in everything they do and reward those that embrace it. I’ve yet to come across an operations professional who wouldn’t jump at the chance to implement one of their own automation ideas.
Be led by the value
If you’re switching the team mindset towards an automation-first culture through constant and deliberate highlighting and categorization of tasks, not only will you end up with a list of potential automation candidates, but you can easily identify recurring items which allow you to quantify the potential benefit of pursuing automation in that case. You will quickly see those tasks that are eating time each and every day as clear quick wins that the team would only love to get off of their plates.
As you mature your automation engine, apply quantity or duration thresholds above which tasks MUST be considered for automation giving your team a clear and obvious roadmap of value. In a recent discussion with one of our MSP customers who are leading the charge in this space, they revealed a nearly 50% time availability increase in their team after just one year of categorization, prioritization and automation like this.
Don’t boil the ocean
It can be easy to think that there is a one to one mapping between a task or ticket and an automation, but the reality is that this is just not true. As you identify candidate automations, always be aware that the right answer for you (right now) might be partial automation of part of the process. Naturally we all would love to completely remove a task type from the team in its entirety (and that may indeed be your end goal) but don’t let the quick-win mid-task automations pass you by, especially if they might bring you 60/70/80% of the potential benefit of complete automation.
Of course, if you can get to 100% on a task with limited extra effort, absolutely go for it, but don’t let them grow into huge project-shaped anchors that drag down your automation efforts. It is the difference between automating the end to end deployment of security patches versus the quick win (and significant time improvement) from automating the detection of new patches and doing automated system-impact identification.
Adopt limited tools and platforms
Technology and platform choice to support your automation efforts can be a paralyzing topic and I’ve seen folks spend huge amounts of time and money trying to put together the perfect end to end automation toolsets with all of the TLAs built in e.g. CI/CD, IaC, PaaS, Cloud and so much more (I’m sure I could make up a few and it would look right) and this is a noble endeavor.
I’m all for using the best in class technologies for each appropriate scenario but don’t let it overcomplicate your journey. If the learning curve for your team to actually start automating your operations is higher than the automation itself, you’ve gone too far. Pick two or three enabling platforms and expand as required. I would advise considering the following three questions in this space; How do you get context on what is happening in your landscape (monitoring), how do you react to the information (automation execution) and, finally, how do you relay your automation activities back to those that need to know (integration).
Get constant feedback
Whether you’re responsible for ERP Operations internally at a large organization or you provide Operations services to customers, it is vital to shout about the journey you and the team are embarking upon. You will get some amazing insight from your end-customers as to the pain they experience when interacting with your teams if you simply ask. Some of the most successful automation candidates are found when customers point-out non-obvious process issues they experience on the other side of the fence and, oftentimes, they are the quick and easy SAP automation wins that dramatically improve their lives. If you bring your end users (or customers) on the journey with you they will notice and celebrate wins with you and welcome further investment in this space.