Try Now

2020 – Finally, the year of IT automation?

Table of Contents

Post Featured Image

According to the Netwrix Research study “IT Trends 2020” 54% of all organizations plan to focus on automating manual tasks in 2020. It’s only topped by “data security” with 74%. The research paper also states, “most organizations are still struggling to automate routine tasks. As such, #automation is one of the top three priorities for organizations of all sizes and verticals”. Additionally, 59% of IT/systems administrators plan to spend time and money on automation.


     

IT automation tools

While it’s great to see, that automation is a top priority in 2020, the question that comes to mind is, why should 2020 be any different from previous years? Let’s face it, automation tools have been available for quite some time. Take for example Windows #Powershell, the task automation and configuration management framework from Microsoft. Thanks to Jeffrey Snover and his team, it was introduced back in 2006, and with PowerShell Core, released beginning of 2018, Windows, MacOS and Linux systems can be managed with a single scripting language. Of course there are other technologies available as well, like Python, Ansible, etc. So, the tools are there. But for many organizations IT automation still seems to be an area with a lot of room for improvement.

 

The Clicker vs. The Automator

As we all know, tools and technologies are only one part of the solution. The other part is, of course, the human factor. There are still many IT Pros and SysAdmins who prefer to manage their infrastructure manually by clicking through the GUIs to create users, spin up VMs, etc, even when it comes to recurring tasks.

The reasons for not start automating are manifold. Often it is an undefinable mixture of fear and ignorance. Some ask “what am I gonna do, if all my tasks are automated?”. Others are not willing to learn new things or don’t see the need to look into new technologies and solutions. Let me tell you, these kinds of IT people will be left behind in the industry sooner or later, because companies are not looking for “Principal Button Clickers” anymore (a great phrase I heard in episode 152 of the MS Cloud IT Pro podcast).

What they really need are future-proof IT Pros, who are able to manage an ever-growing number of on-premises, hybrid and cloud systems/services. This includes the capability to not just run the existing infrastructure, but constantly improve its reliability and security. In order to achieve these goals, automating and delegating recursive tasks is absolutely essential. So, it’s high time to start learning and using things like PowerShell or Python today.

 

Why automate now?

In 2020 organizations of all sizes and verticals are going to invest time and money into IT automation. Let’s take a look at some reasons.

Reduce Operation Costs

Administrative tasks like patching systems, deploying applications/services, creating new users or virtual machines have to be performed constantly and often multiple times a day. Executing these tasks manually is time-consuming, costly and (very often) frustrating for the ones in charge.

Increase Workforce Productivity

As an IT professional you need to have the time to work on strategic projects and innovations that help your organization to be more successful. If you spend your days only with recurring operational tasks, you will never be able to add additional value to your company or enhance your knowledge. Also, the employer might start asking, why pay a lot of money for people who only perform “assembly line work”?

Improve Quality

Manually managing IT infrastructures means clicking and typing through several programs and GUIs. This approach is not only extremely time-consuming, it also offers no way to standardize processes and manual errors lie in wait around every corner. Only with automation you are able to achieve consistency and you can lay the foundation for delegating tasks to service desk teams or to provide self-services.

Staff Shortage

The previously mentioned reasons for automation are not new at all but nevertheless still valid and relevant. What really became a new aspect is the growing problem of finding the right IT staff on the market. So, even if you’re willing to hire new people and pay them well, they are simply not available.

As a result organizations need to make sure the existing IT staff is deployed the best way possible. This, of course, includes that IT Pros are not performing recurring standard tasks, that could be automated or delegated to help desk teams or even end-users. So, these people need to be enabled to work with on-premise, hybrid and cloud systems in a secure and standardized way.

 

How to go forward?

If you haven’t started with IT automation yet, now is the time. As an administrator and IT Pro you should think about the following next steps.

Identify your most annoying and time-consuming recurring tasks

Take a look at your daily routines. Ask yourself questions like, are there situations where colleagues from the service desk team ask you to do the same thing multiple times a day? How much time do you spend with these tasks per day? How could you become more valuable for your company if you could use this time for higher value tasks? Create a list of your top 5 tasks that you would like to start to automate and delegate. So, here I don’t talk about hyper automation, AI infused super powers, blah blah, because it all starts with you and how you organize and improve the way you manage your IT infrastructure and services.

Learn PowerShell now

Tools for automation are available to you and many of them are free. PowerShell, it’s part of every Microsoft solution and with PowerShell Core, Linux and Mac administration is at your fingertips as well. Furthermore, thanks to the great PowerShell community and many vendors, who also support PowerShell, you can manage all kinds of on-premises, hybrid and cloud scenarios.

The best way to start with PowerShell, is to learn it from the inventor himself, Jeffrey Snover. There is a great video series called “Getting started with PowerShell” on Channel 9. Even though it’s based on version 3.0, the content is still up-to-date and the way Jeffrey and Jason Helmick (meanwhile part of the Microsoft PowerShell team) are teaching PowerShell is very entertaining.

Automate your first recurring tasks with PowerShell

Based on your analysis regarding the most annoying and time-consuming tasks, write your first PowerShell scripts. Search the web for scripts, that you can start with and adapt them to your needs. A good source for scripts is for example “Sample scripts for system administration” by Microsoft. If you’re looking for ready-to-use PowerShell scripts for many use cases and platforms like Exchange, Active Directory, Azure, Office 365, VMWare, etc. take a look at the ScriptRunner ActionPacks on GitHub.

Make PowerShell A Real Solution

Once you’re familiar with PowerShell and you’ve created a number of scripts, it’s time to think about the next step. Let others run your scripts and start delegating tasks by make the scripts available to other administrators, your help desk team or end-users.

This, of course, has to be managed securely, because you don’t want to give everyone full admin permissions in Exchange, AD, Azure, etc. Another security aspect are the credentials that are needed for the scripts to run against the different backend systems. These credentials should be stored centrally and independent of the users who actually run the scripts.

You also have to face the fact, that these colleagues typically are not familiar with PowerShell. Maybe they even haven’t heard of PowerShell at all. So, you have to find a way to make it easily accessible. The best way to achieve this, is via a nice web user interface.

Lastly you want to have control of all the PowerShell activities. Who has executed which script? How long did the execution take? Have there been any errors? Did scheduled scripts run correctly?

In summary there are 5 steps to make PowerShell a real solution.

  • Centralizing all PowerShell scripts
  • Securely managing credentials and permissions
  • Automatically creating easy-to-use web user interfaces
  • Monitoring all script activities
  • Delegating recurring tasks to help desk teams and end-users

With ScriptRunner, the all-in-one management solution for PowerShell, these steps are easily done.

Would you like to learn more about how ScriptRunner simplifies the way you develop, manage and delegate PowerShell?

Watch the recorded webinar “Make 2020 your year of automation with PowerShell”.

 

Summary

So, from my perspective the answer to “2020 – Finally, the year of IT automation?” is clearly “Yes”. If you haven’t started with PowerShell automation and delegation, now is the time.

And remember, I’m not talking about the big bang, highly sophisticated, super complex hyper automation, multi million dollar project. For me, it is about improving and automating step by step and making your daily life easier as a system administrator and IT Pro. It would be great, if this article gave you some impulses and motivation to start, continue or enhance your automation journey.

About the author: