As enterprises try to accelerate their digital transformation efforts, network agility is more important than ever, and network automation can help by ensuring quick access to data, maintaining network performance and improving security.\nWith work-at-home policies preventing IT teams from physically accessing most locations, automation is being used to perform remote updates, fix problems in data centers and branch offices, and to assist work-at-home efforts. It can also help eliminate human scripting errors to close configuration gaps that lead to security breaches.\n\nWhile networking suppliers are advancing network automation tools and despite the talk of self-driving networks, IT professionals need to look to incremental gains in network productivity that current offerings can provide.\nBenefits of network automation\nNetwork automation tools can eliminate time-consuming manual tasks such as provisioning new networking gear, changing configurations or implementing new policies.\u00a0 The benefits include:\n\nReducing the hours needed to complete network-operations tasks\nReducing human error that can cause outages\nHelping identify causes of network slowdowns\nDetermining what devices are on the network\n\nBroader benefits can include faster provisioning of new networks in an enterprise, improved network performance thanks to fewer configuration errors, and improved security by reducing configuration errors that create security vulnerabilities.\nEvaluating automation\nGiven the immense variety of network architectures, there is no one-size-fits-all path for automating the network. IT teams need to ask themselves which processes, elements and locations are most likely to benefit from automation.\u00a0 For example, what are the high-value, time-intensive tasks involved in current operations? Which processes can be automated quickly given available tools?\nAutomation tools can provide a single source of truth as IT teams inventory devices attached to their networks. Other tools can provide end-to-end visibility across endpoints, applications, network and cloud to help IT analyze performance of specific applications.\nMost teams have alert fatigue, with large enterprises reporting thousands of alerts per day, so they could benefit from help understanding and making actionable the information that is available about the network. Automation tools should enable IT to better understand and fix network slowdowns, connection errors, managing quality of service, and capacity planning.\nNetwork-operations options\nMoving from fully manual to fully automated network operations is a long journey, and innovative IT teams choose to identify and tackle specific elements of automation. They might select one domain at a time \u2013 branch, campus or data center \u2013 on which to focus their efforts. Or they might pick a type of network equipment \u2013 Wi-Fi, routing, SD-WAN, switching \u2013 for which configuration management can be highly valuable.\nThere are three choices enterprises can make in deciding what automation tools to use:\n\nRely on their primary network equipment supplier\nConsider point automation solutions from third-party network-management suppliers\nDo it themselves with open-source tools like Ansible.\n\nEach option has pluses and minuses depending on the architecture of the network they are being considered for. And all three options can be combined to tackle individual automation challenges.\nNetworking and IT suppliers are promoting solutions that they claim leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to \u201csolve\u201d network management challenges.\u00a0 Machine learning is widely used today to gather useful information from large networking datasets and to suggest what issues to look for.\nThe complexity of most networks and related network security challenges mean that it is very unlikely that networks will \u201crun themselves\u201d any time soon. But currently available products may be adapted to situations where most networking tasks are still performed manually. New tools are available to enable incremental automation, and IT teams should evaluate aspects of their networks that can benefit from these new capabilities.