If the IT department were a social network, then #automation would be a trending topic. Cut costs while improving the speed and quality of IT services. Tick. Create greater agility to keep up with the pace of business change. Tick. Free up IT resources to move from managing infrastructure to business service development work and curtail shadow IT. Tick.

We know it works. We have more than 170 clients using Capgemini Automation solutions. We have clients where automation is now being used across two thirds of their IT operations. We’ve achieved seriously impressive reductions in operating costs while driving up service performance. We’re now able to implement infrastructure to support new business services in hours rather than days.

I should be running around from customer to customer offering them a Capgemini-branded silver bullet for securing their IT department’s future.  But I’m not. We’ve learned a number of things through our client engagements that have changed the way we talk to clients about automation.    

Automation is inside-out not outside-in – We’ve learned that Automation is an inside job. Simply parachuting in a group of automation experts to effect regime change and leave again quietly isn’t sustainable.

Automation requires a complete transformation of IT operations. Not just technology but people and processes. IT operations teams are full of hardware experts. Yet, automated environments require a completely new kind of skillset and plenty of software expertise.

With automation skills in short supply, managing talent is critical. It has to start from within with plans to retrain key operational staff to help drive lasting change. 

If we, or our clients, ignore the change management element of automation projects then that warm feeling that comes from reduced costs, better performance and greater capacity to support new business needs will quickly turn into a huge headache.

Don’t place bets too early – The market for automation tools is still in its early stages. Gartner is tracking more than 20 different technologies in its Hype Cycle for I&O Automation, from basic IT task automation to cognitive tools that employ deep learning to proactively fix issues before they happen. Vendor offerings are evolving quickly and the market will look unrecognisable in five years’ time.

Part of that market evolution is the work being done to build these disparate technologies into integrated automation platforms. This is a double edged sword. On one side, potential simplification, on the other, potential lock in.

Gartner goes as far as saying that it is unlikely that any one vendor will deliver a platform that can cover everything with the necessary depth of functionality. The market is moving too quickly for long term automation commitments. We’re certainly keeping our options open, working with a number of different vendors, and advising clients to do the same.  

Focus on process, not technology – As with any new technology there have been thousands of opportunistic automation implementations. They’ve focused on underlying technology not overarching processes. Many have successfully proved the concept, encouraging the organization to look at what else they can automate and, unwittingly, creating islands of automation across the enterprise.   

The problem with these automation islands is the difficulties in scaling the implementation to achieve benefits beyond the immediate. Integrating everything together and putting governance around it can be painful. So painful, that a number of CIOs I’ve spoken to have decided it’s better to rip everything out and start again.

It’s easy to be seduced by quick wins but the more sustainable approach is one that’s systematic and focused on processes as part of a long term roadmap.

 I’m hugely excited about the transformative potential of automation but it is not a silver bullet.

It needs careful consideration and planning, a focus on the bigger picture not individual elements, an open approach to technologies and platforms and a commitment to manage serious change.

So what I’m talking to customers about is the opportunity to rethink both their IT department and its relationship with the business around automation.  And they’re listening. My colleague André Cichowlas explains more here