Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Automate

textile machinery1 Some people know me only for packaging and re-packaging software (yes, that is a real term).  Some know me only for Active Directory and Group Policy.  Some know me only for WSUS.  Some know me only for SMS and ConfigMgr.  Some know me for developing custom web portals and web applications.  Some know me for writing scripts.  Some know me for developing desktop and server applications.  Some know me for technical documentation and developing manuals.  Some know me for reviewing AutoCAD programming books.  Some know me for telling very stupid jokes and picking my nose.  But in reality, if I had to categorize my most best job title it would be “systems automation”.  I stopped picking my nose in public in the third grade, and it’s been downhill ever since.

I’ve never believed that computers were intended to be driven around like shopping carts.  It’s counterintuitive to require a lot of people to keep computers working.  Charles Babbage was aiming for a world where the machines would do our work “FOR US” not “WITH US”.  He started this by inventing what we now call “software”.  I’m sure when he was bolting together his amazing carpet loom contraption that he hadn’t anticipated where that would lead.

One of my favorite jobs I ever had, aside from industrial delivery services, was as a “business systems manager”.  I was tasked with automating as many processes in our IT environment as possible.  Period.  Whether it was tying together HR systems with Active Directory, or contracts with finance, or IT with assets, or assets with HR, or mobile devices with SOX monitoring, or automated diagnostics and change management.  It didn’t matter.  If it involved humans pushing buttons or typing things, and it could be done automatically somehow, I went after it.  I loved it.  But that all unraveled with a strange merger and divestiture of the company, and well, whatever.  What’s done is done.  That was a rare job indeed.  I don’t think I will ever see another one like as long as I live.  Today, it’s all about specialization.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is the most boring shit I’ve seen you write about yet.  No wait, the other thinking: What would you expect?  If you automate everything, then you put IT staff out of work.  Wrong!  Wrong! Wrong!  The idea is to free the IT folks from mundane bullshit work so they can brainstorm and innovate.  This is how you turn IT from a “cost center” into a “revenue center”, or at the very least, an engine for producing competitive advantages and reducing costs.  Remember, “virtualization” didn’t spring out of someone saying it was “cool”.  It got its wings from impressing the business folks with how it could reduce costs, speed things up, provide better protection and redundancy, and do it in less space.

So, this was going to be about automating Windows.  Or automating things in the Windows environment (Active Directory, patch management, software delivery, asset management, etc. whatever).  But when I laid out the same 8-step model I’ve used for almost 20 years, it was obvious that it applies to anything and everything.  It’s simply a model for automating any process or related processes.  I could break down each step, but the more I thought about it, it’s perfect “as-is”.  I don’t need to explain anything more.  If you don’t understand a particular step, think about it harder and it should become clear.  One thing to note is that in this model there are no weighted steps.  Every step is as critical and important as the others (although, Step 2 is the hardest).  If you skip one or half-ass it, it will half-ass you right back.  Enjoy!

Dave’s 8-Step Automation Gyration Contemplation:

Step 1 – Diagram Current Processes

Step 2 – Fix Broken Processes!!

Step 3 – Update the Diagram

Step 4 – Connect the Dots

Step 5 – Take Baby Steps

Step 6 – Build, Test, Deploy

Step 7 – Monitor and Refine !!!

Step 8 – Document !!!!

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