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This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

Automating IT operations will help departments do their jobs better
and faster, not put them out of work, says ServiceNow’s Pablo Stern

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me to define the term digital transformation. I didn’t want to give a long technical answer, so instead I gave the one word answer of “speed.” In the digital era, market leaders will be defined by which organization can adapt to market trends the fastest. This means the whole company must move with speed—business leaders need to make decisions fast, employees need to adapt to new processes quickly, and the IT department must make changes to the infrastructure with speed.

However, IT moving faster does not mean trying to execute the same manual processes 10 percent faster, as that would just lead to more errors. Nor does it mean throwing more people at the problem by adding to the IT staff. IT in the digital era means a complete re-think of operations with automation at the heart of the strategy.

To better understand why this is needed and possible to do today, I interviewed Pablo Stern, general manager and vice president of ITOM for ServiceNow, at the company’s recent Knowledge17 event in Orlando last week.

Why is it time for businesses to take a serious look at their IT operations?

We are at an IT inflection point, so there is some urgency for businesses to look at their IT operations. Software is powering our world. Businesses need to realize that software and IT can be used to competitive differentiation. Against this backdrop, we have a number of IT challenges, such as the growth of the hybrid cloud, bimodal IT, device proliferation, data explosion and security threats, making it harder than ever for organizations to control their IT operations. It’s either focus and change or go extinct.

With more organizations having mission-critical services, it makes sense for IT organizations to be proactive versus reactive when it comes to eliminating/preventing service outages. So, what is holding IT organizations back?

The problem isn’t lack of desire. The biggest issue is that IT organizations and budgets haven’t grown at the pace of the technology they are servicing. The situation with IT isn’t pretty right now—more critical business services, more infrastructure, more silos and increased complexity with less visibility. All this translates to more and bigger service outages that are harmful to the business. The tools of yesterday require so much handholding and manual effort that IT is stuck being tactical. They want to be a strategic partner but are ill-equipped.

IT should consider automation their friend. It’s a tool to help them do their job better.

How is the intersection of hot technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation going to change IT operations?

Intelligent automation is the game changer for IT operations. With machine learning you can synthesize large quantities of data and quickly find insights. Predictive analytics allows you to see ahead by looking backwards. Automation allows the operator to take their hands off the wheel. When combined, IT can quickly assess the landscape, predict what will happen, and take action automatically.

For example, at ServiceNow, we’ve announced that we leverage anomaly detection and predictive modeling to help IT understand, predict and automate themselves out of service outages. Now, IT truly becomes the strategic partner to the business.

With more businesses investing in hybrid cloud environments, IT departments are facing new sets of challenges, such as increased overhead to deploy, manage and optimize infrastructure. How is ServiceNow going to help deal with this?

Hybrid cloud environments bring a dual challenge to business. The end user—who is trying to leverage these capabilities to get their job done—and IT—who is trying to regain control. At ServiceNow, we give the end user a self-service portal that allows them to deploy and manage their business services. In parallel, we empower IT by giving them complete visibility to their hybrid cloud environment and giving them the tools they need to reduce risk and manage cost. This puts the end user in the driver’s seat and enables IT to be strategic. It’s a win-win.

There is currently a tremendous amount of fear from IT about automation replacing their jobs. By moving to an automated environment, isn’t IT just putting them out of work?

Absolutely not. IT should consider automation their friend. It’s a tool to help them do their job better. IT departments are drowning right now in a sea of data, complexity and manual processes, and the problem is only going to get worse. Over the next five years, billions of new devices will be added to the network, all spewing out more data, which will accentuate the problem even more.

Businesses desperately need IT to build new skills, such as data science, analytics and other areas, but IT can’t do it if they’re spending all their time doing tasks that could be automated. IT can shepherd in a new era of efficiency, managed by IT, and increase capacity by 10x magnitude. Automation isn’t the enemy but rather the salvation for IT.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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