Why Automation Matters : Lost Time

Sorry for stating what I hope is the obvious, but automation matters. It’s mattered for a long time, but the constant mention of Cloud and DevOps over the last few years has thrown even more emphasis on automation.

If you are not sure why automation matters, I would just like to give you an example of the bad old days, which might be the current time for some who are still doing everything manually, with separate teams responsible for each stage of the process.

Lost Time : Handover/Handoff Lag

In the diagram below we can see all the stages you might go through to deploy a new application server. Every time the colour of the box changes, it means a handover to a different team.

So there are a few things to consider here.

  • Each team is likely to have different priorities, so a handover between teams is not necessarily instantaneous. The next stage may be waiting on a queue for a long time. Potentially days. Don’t even get me started on things waiting for people to return from holiday…
  • Even if an individual team has created build scripts and has done their best to automate their tasks, if it is relying on them to pick something off a queue to initiate it, there will still be a handover delay.
  • When things are done manually people make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how good the people are, they will mess up occasionally. That is why the diagram includes a testing failure, and the process being redirected back through several teams to diagnose and fix the issue. This results in even more work. Specifically, unplanned work.
  • Manual processes are just slower. Running an installer and clicking the “Next” button a few times takes longer than just running a script. If you have to type responses and make choices it’s going to take even more time, and don’t forget that bit about human error…

Let’s contrast this to the “perfect” automated setup, where the request triggers an automated process to deliver the new service.

In this example, the request initiates an automated workflow that completes the action and delivers the finished product without any human intervention along the path. The automation takes as long as it takes, and ultimately has to do most of the same work, but there is no added handover lag in this process.

I think it’s fair to say you would be expecting a modern version of this process to complete in a matter of minutes, but I’ve seen the manual process take weeks or even months, not because of “work time”, but because of the idle handover time and human processes involved…

They Took Our Jobs!

At first glance it might seem like this is a problem if you are employed in any of the teams responsible for doing the manual tasks. Surely the automation is going to mean job cuts right? That depends really. In order to fully automate the delivery of any service you are going to have to design and build the blocks that will be threaded together to produce the final solution. This is not always simple. Depending on your current setup this might mean having fewer, more highly skilled people, or it might require more people in total. It’s impossible to know without knowing the requirements and the current staffing levels. Also, cloud provides a lot of the building blocks for you, so if you go that route there may be less work to do in total.

Even if the number of people doesn’t change as part of the automation process, you are getting work through the door quicker, so you are adding value to the business at a higher rate. From a DevOps perspective you have not added value to the business until you’ve delivered something to them. All the hours spent getting part of the build done equate to zero value to the business…

But we are doing OK without automation!

No you’re not! You’re drowning! You just don’t know it yet!

I never hear people saying they haven’t got enough projects waiting. I always hear people saying they have to shelve things because they don’t have time staff/resources/time to do them.

As your processes get more efficient you should be able to reallocate staff to projects that add value to the business, rather than wasting their lives on clicking the “Next” button.

If your process stays inefficient you will always be saying you are short of staff and every new project will require yet another round of internal recruitment or outsourcing.

Is this DevOps?

I’m hesitant to use the term DevOps as it can be a bit of a divisive term. I struggle to see how anyone who understands DevOps can’t see the benefits, but I think many people don’t know what it means, and without the understanding the word is useless…

Certainly automation is one piece of the DevOps puzzle, but equally if you have company resistance to the term DevOps, feel free to ignore it and focus on trying to sell the individual benefits of DevOps, one of which is improved automation…

Cheers

Tim…

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

One thought on “Why Automation Matters : Lost Time”

  1. “but equally if you have company resistance to the term DevOps, feel free to ignore it and focus on trying to sell the individual benefits of DevOps, one of which is improved automation…”

    Ha! This is so similar to the term of “Unit-Testing”. I sometimes completely avoid the term and just talk about “(automated) self-testing” because of all the dogma, opinions, assumptions around the topic.
    Thanks for the great article!

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