Automation rolls on. What are you doing about it?

Automation technology drives a new wave of change

Automation rolls on. What are you doing about it?

The only constant in work is that work changes. It shifts. It pivots. It requires new skills, new training, new ideas. This has always been the case. But today, with everything becoming connected to the internet and digitization reshaping the definition of value in entire industries, the rate of change is increasing dramatically.

In IT specifically, automation technology is driving a new wave of change, making many rote operations tasks that we’ve performed manually for decades a thing of the past. All of this is great news; after all, how many of us truly enjoy the laborious and time-intensive process of manually configuring and troubleshooting devices using Command Line Interface (CLI)?

But it does present us with an important question: How can we as IT professionals ensure our enduring value?

For any who saw the movie Hidden Figures, you’ll know that this is not a new dilemma. The movie shares the real-life story of Dorothy Vaughan, the leader of a team of "human computers" at NASA who performed manual launch and re-entry calculations necessary for space missions in the early 1960s.

Recognizing that mainframe computers were going to replace much of this work, Vaughan took the action of teaching herself and her team the programming language of Fortran. Together, they successfully transitioned through the automation of their prior jobs to new, arguably more interesting and in-demand positions as programmers. Dorothy’s story is a great example of empowerment and self-created career opportunity.

[Sidebar: If you have daughters, Hidden Figures is a wonderful movie to watch together, and it will hopefully inspire more young women and minorities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We need them!]

Why does this story matter now?

Automation has a history that goes back hundreds of years, which means we’ve actually rendered ourselves antiquated time and time again. Yet each new generation of automation sets up new roles and creates new opportunities for those with ingenuity like Dorothy Vaughan. Today we sit at the dawn of a new horizon in which software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities, integrated with automated workflow, can manage many of the tasks of network operations. That’s progress, right? And it certainly benefits those who have the developed skills to deploy and leverage these technologies in their own environments.

Automation in networks

Increasingly IT organizations recognize the value of more automation in networks. Automation can speed up network operations to enable services on demand, respond to changes dynamically, such as increased capacity needs, and resolve issues quickly before they impact the service experience.

And like prior waves of automation, new work is required to determine how to best use network automation capabilities in each unique environment and for different use cases.   

Beyond the advantages of getting things done faster, automation opens up possibilities for new services with personalization and gives back time to invent and create. You can think of this as creating innovation capacity in your organization. And as digital transformation sweeps through, you are going to need it.

Networks are central to delivering the value of digital business. In his critically acclaimed book The Seventh Sense, bestselling author Joshua Ramo argues that survival today entirely depends on an organization’s ability to network successfully. Not just socially, but digitally. According to Ramo, the network is so much more than pipes and plumbing or a transporter of data. It’s a strategic platform.

Leading change

Anytime I speak with people about this, they all nod their heads. Everyone agrees that the network must be an underlying force for innovation. Yet IT is often regarded as the slowest and most reticent organization to change. It’s not really a surprise because, let’s be honest here, transforming for digital business is hard. Change is scary. Maybe we have been rendering ourselves antiquated for generations, but when you’re in the middle of a major transition, the status quo can look pretty darn tempting! This, Ramo says, underscores the importance of having the right leaders in place to guide necessary changes.  

Leaders, whether by title or influence, are the spark for change and shape its prospects for success. With the right approach, you can ease angst and inspire enthusiasm for new ways. Here are some ideas on how to successfully lead change:

  1. Change starts with you. You need to set the vision of what change looks like and answer "why change?" If the team understands the why behind the change and the outcome they are trying to achieve, they can help in moving forward quickly and with less stress and strain.
  2. Change is personal. You can share your ideas and inspire confidence in the change, but each individual must build his own belief and make his own decision to change.
  3. Get people involved in owning the change. By giving those around you an opportunity to be heard and respectfully addressing concerns and questions, you can overcome the natural resistance to a new idea.  
  4. Communicate. Share as much as you know when you can about what the change means for each person. Acknowledge questions that you cannot answer, and if possible, provide a timeline for decisions and answers.
  5. Encourage the team to help each other. Be a great example of helping others to accept change and make the transition. Encourage and offer assistance in missteps and failures. Make the direct ask to the team to support and be patient with one another.
  6. Provide training and education opportunities. Provide opportunities to learn new skills, try new things and take on new projects.
  7. Start early, break the change into steps and highlight progress. Start now to give your team time to change. Changing a couple of behaviors at a time lets you make steady progress toward your future state. And by sharing the early successes, you can build confidence that change is possible—that change is good.

Transitioning to automation

Ultimately, we have a choice: Bemoan the changes stirred by new capabilities in network automation or accept the challenge and embrace the multitude of new, awesome tools to bring about needed transitions toward digital transformation.  

Automation and machine learning are going to redefine a lot of what we do in networking. So, stay with the wave. And like Dorothy Vaughan’s inspiring example, focus on leading others through the change by keeping skills current. You are absolutely up to the task!

In my next blog post, I’ll share steps and tips to adopting new skills and technologies in NetOps. The great news is that if you want to keep your skills current and ensure you have a strategic role in the IT world of tomorrow, there is much information available online to help you do that.

Let’s get started.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.