EPISODE #78: As Automation Advances, How Will IT Adapt?
The IT industry, not unlike biology, evolves at a measured pace. Innovations perceived as great leaps forward are more often usually just novel combinations of existing capabilities repurposed for new tasks. The wow factor generated by the latest vendor offerings is primarily due to their inventive approach to solving current problems, not the revelation of some unimaginably futuristic scientific advancement. It therefore behooves us to consider the solutions IT automation produces in evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, terms.
One such executive taking this long view is Travis Greene, Director of Strategy for IT Operations Products at Micro Focus. As witness to a couple decades worth of progressions in IT operations, he has a clear-eyed perspective on where our industry is going, based on where we’ve been. Travis drops in to share his insights with us, and along the way we’ll learn why developers will never be able to wish IT Ops away, the future role of humans in automated enterprises, & the biggest factors in making IT automation successful.
Guy Nadivi: Welcome, everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi, and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Travis Greene, Director of Strategy for IT Operations Products at Micro Focus, a British-based multinational software business with over 12,000 employees worldwide. Now, when most people think of Micro Focus, they think of COBOL, a programming language that’s been with us since the 1950’s, and which a recent study suggested is still very much out there with upwards of 800 billion lines of code being used by organizations worldwide, but Micro Focus isn’t just a COBOL vendor. It turns out, they also have a thriving business in IT automation, which is part of their bigger drive to help organizations digitally transform their operations.
Of course, this is a topic of keen interest to our audience, so we’ve asked Travis to come onto the show and share some insights with us about IT automation from the Micro Focus perspective. Travis, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.
Travis Greene: Thanks, Guy. I appreciate the invitation to join you today.
Guy Nadivi: Travis, tell us a bit about your background, and what led you to become the Director of Strategy for IT Operations Products at Micro Focus?
Travis Greene: Well, I was a former Naval Officer, but I got out in 2000, and at the time I was able to move into IT operations. There, I gained ITIL expert certification, so I worked in that field for about five years, and then Micro Focus hired me, and I’ve worked to help the company understand trends and communicate our solutions since then, so I spent a lot of time briefing and learning from analysts, from our customers. I do a lot of writing and speaking at conferences and for various periodicals, so it’s sort of my job to connect what’s happening in the industry with the sort of roadmaps and the solutions that we’re putting into place, and then communicate that back out.
Guy Nadivi: Your company, Micro Focus is very strongly associated with COBOL, which on the one hand is thought of by some as perhaps the poster child of legacy technology. Yet at the same time, it’s been estimated that COBOL supports close to 90% of Fortune 500 business systems today, comprises 65% of all active code used today, and runs 85% of all business transactions. So it’s kind of intriguing to learn that Micro Focus actually touts itself as a vendor that helps organizations seeking to power their own digital transformations. Please tell our audience how a vendor so closely associated with COBOL’s legacy reputation is driving digital transformations.
Travis Greene: Yeah. Look, a lot of people don’t realize they’re interacting with COBOL every day. Let’s just put that out there on the table. When you use an ATM machine or purchased a plane ticket, or even drive through a set of coordinated stoplights, you’re using COBOL, but Micro Focus, we’ve always been about transformation, so one of our core products supports the migration of code from mainframes to cloud infrastructure. In the portion of the business that I work in, which is IT Operations Management, we’ve taken some of the best assets we acquired from HP Enterprise in 2017 and completely rebuilt them to make them containerized and cloud native so that we can offer the industry’s most comprehensive approach to things like Enterprise Service Management, cloud management, AIOps, and governance, but we underpin all of that with a unified automation platform, we call OPTIC, because fundamentally, our customers need to both run their existing business while they’re transforming.
Most of our customers have existed for decades and had IT systems for a long time, and they can’t just cast off those investments without endangering their business, but what they do need is a more unified and simplified approach to automating IT operations, and that’s what we are here to provide for them today.
Guy Nadivi: Is ITSM a commodity now?
Travis Greene: That’s a good one. We were having this discussion internally just the other day, and a lot of people would think so. I mean, there’s definitely some evidence to that effect. The last I heard, there were an estimated 200 ITSM or service desk vendors in the marketplace. About three years ago, I went to a Gartner show, and there was an analyst who said that the reason why there’s no one in the Visionary Quadrant of their ITSM Magic Quadrant is because there’s not much innovation happening in that space.
While I think they’ve softened that stance recently, because the most recent MQ does have, I think at least one vendor in the Visionary Quadrant, I would say to anyone who thinks that ITSM is a commodity, is that you’re probably thinking too small, and the reason why is because ITSM has really evolved into this concept of Enterprise Service Management. Now, I know there are some out there who think that that is a vendor construct or is just marketing hype. Look, as vendors, we’re guilty from time to time of doing things like cloud washing and AI washing and things of that nature with our products, but I do think Enterprise Service Management’s here to stay, and it’s different than ITSM because it’s becoming this hub, this central nervous system for coordinating digital service delivery. Let me explain what I mean by that. It’s a place where people come to request all kinds of services.
When ESM was first coined as a phrase, it was used to describe things like how HR organizations could use ITSM or ticketing type of tool for their users to request things like onboarding and offboarding, and then follow up with the automation that’s needed to deprovision, let’s say not just access, but also physical access cards, and maybe deprovisioning infrastructure like laptops, that sort of thing, so yes, those use cases exist, but that’s just sort of, I would call it phase one of Enterprise Service Management. We’ve seen this evolution in the industry with digital transformation as … Forrester calls this product-centric operating models. Charlie Betz over there. If you haven’t read his research, it’s definitely worth taking a look at. He talks about how the approach of a digital product owner is necessary, and product management skills in general are necessary in order to deliver against the full promise of digital services.
What that means is that those digital product owners need somewhere to go to understand the quality that they’re delivering of their services, the sentiment of their customers, and how effective the automation is that’s supplying the request or fulfilling the requests and responding to the needs of their customers, and so this sort of approach of using ESM as the front-end of digital service delivery is a much bigger topic than a traditional service desk would be, but it still contains things like Change Management, and Configuration Management, and Service Level Management. All the things that we typically associate with ITSM are still there. However, it’s being applied to the acceleration of the delivery of these digital services, and that therefore, when something goes wrong, it becomes this sort of collaboration glue. A lot of people are using tools like Slack or Teams now to coordinate reactions to problems that are happening in the environment, but underneath all of that, those tools are effective at communications, but then, to glue together the automation that happens behind that to provide information about what’s actually happening in the environment and how to maybe even automate the restoration from problems. You’re going to need a strong integration and automation engine behind that, and that’s what ITSM tools have evolved into.
Guy Nadivi: You’ve written quite a bit about Hybrid IT operations and the role that IT automation can play there. How can IT automation help organizations remain competitive as IT operations becomes hybridized or hybridized?
Travis Greene: Yeah. Well, I mean, let’s admit that on-prem computing infrastructure, it may never go away completely if regulations remain as they are. Perhaps at some point in the future, when we’ve come and gone, that maybe that won’t be the case, but in the near term, even though there’s a lot moving to the cloud and most of the new apps are deployed there, you still are going to wind up with a footprint of existing infrastructure, that again, has been a major investment of most corporations over the decades that’s going to remain on-premises, and so it really comes down to asking a question, “How can we be more efficient in IT operations to support the flexibility of operating in both of those worlds?” You’re going to need some sort of way to provide consistent policy and cost governance, a consistent approach to discovering what’s in the environment and storing that information, observability across all of those environments in a consistent manner because let’s admit, when something goes wrong, it could be a combination of on-prem infrastructure, network devices. You might retain your databases on-premises, and yet have a front-end interfaces being supplied from the web, and so it’s far more complicated than it ever was before.
Oftentimes, what we see is people who will implement tools for one environment or the other that then have gaps in how those tools integrate to be able to deliver a more comprehensive picture of what’s actually happening in the environment. There must be some way to deliver that integrated approach but maintain the velocity and convenience that developers expect, or they will go around ops. I mean, we’ve heard it before, developers want no ops. They see the advent of cloud infrastructure and the ability to just use infrastructure as code and get what they want immediately as basically replacing the need for any sort of IT operations, but then, they also are the same ones who complain that they’re spending 50% of their time, I’ve even heard some averages as much as 70% of their time now dealing with the production instances that aren’t performing at the level that they’re intended to be, trying to troubleshoot those things, so that requirement hasn’t gone away. I mean, we still have to be able to provide a performing environment for the end customer, and that’s always going to take precedence over the build of new things, so I think really, developers are doing themselves a disfavor if they want to completely eliminate the need for operations.
What they need to do is find some way to work with operations so that it delivers both the expected experience that they have, but there’s some transparent governance, there’s transparency in how the provisioning of observability, and backups, and all the sort of things that operations teams are really good at so that we don’t place the business at risk of either cost overruns or some sort of vulnerabilities and security risk, and yet, we don’t slow down the developers from being able to provide all of the great new transformative applications and services that are necessary to keep pace in today’s competitive world.
Guy Nadivi: You’ve also written that due to some inherent limitations in Robotic Process Automation, RPA will need to be integrated into broader business process management and IT process automation platforms. Gartner refers to such a convergence as hyperautomation and have named it one of their top trends for 2022. Do you think hyperautomation can ultimately democratize automation technologies so people outside of IT will be less reliant on IT?
Travis Greene: Yeah. I mean, you hear a word like hyperautomation, and you think, “Maybe Gartner’s borrowing from their Hype Cycle a little bit too much.” I do think there’s something there, and I think it is important that we recognize that automation moving forward is not the same as automation was, even three years ago, prior to the pandemic. The big thing that’s changed is that there’s a recognition that siloed automation is like putting a straitjacket on automation. Yeah, you can move around and do a few things, but you’re not going to get very far with it.
If all you’re doing is automating various slices of functions or disciplines within IT operations or even beyond. Hyperautomation therefore is going to require far more integrated approach, and I think that’s why platforms amongst the vendor, that’s become a very popular term, is to have a platform, and for good reason. I mean, you’re going to need an approach that extends beyond the former boundaries, but is unified in the way that it does things, like collects data and stores that to be able to provide reports out to the various stakeholders that are going to need it. In order to do that, in an integrated way, you’re going to have to normalize data and you’re going to have to normalize it very quickly because people want more real-time information, not what happened a month ago. I mean, there is occasion where you need to understand what’s happening over longer periods of time, but if you want to understand what’s happening right now, your data collection and ability to normalize data from multiple vendors’ toolsets to make sense out of it all had better be something that is robust and capable of dealing with that kind of scale. That’s the other thing that’s, besides integration is scale that you’re going to need to deal with for a true hyperautomation approach.
That means that you’re going to have to have a robust enough set of infrastructure to be able to support the speed with which all of this information is flowing and move it out to the appropriate consumers or the appropriate tools. That’s really what a good platform does, is it’s capable of not just doing everything itself, kind of like the old days of the frameworks. I remember when frameworks were all the rage in IT operations. We’re not talking about single vendor frameworks, we’re talking about an ability to provide a core set of capabilities, but also work with other vendors to bring in their data and to provide control backouts in response to various scenarios that happen. You think about something like Robotic Process Automation, which most people are using to try to automate the mundane workloads that are being handled today by workers.
We have an RPA tool ourselves, but one of our first customers, one of our first users was in doing the currency conversions. Every day, there was a guy who had to go download the latest set of currencies and apply that to a tool that was used to then provide quotes out to customers. That’s something that’s easily done with automation, but it needed a UI-based interface, and so that’s great, but it would be even more powerful if then, the way that that information is published to another tool that’s used as sort of the shopping engine for the company, then picks that up and puts that out on the web, that’s also associated with the ability to understand a performance of that web page, and if there’s slowdowns and where the bottlenecks are occurring, and making sure that, “Hey, maybe the RPA tool didn’t do its job. Maybe there’s a problem with that.” That’s the fundamental challenge that we have for that particular app, and we’re not able to process orders because of that.
There’s all these sort of scenarios where we have to get out of the mindset that it’s all about automating the one thing, but being able to provide sort of this self-driving car approach to IT operations.
Guy Nadivi: Travis, what does it take for AIOps to be successful?
Travis Greene: Yeah. I mean, I’ve mentioned AIOps a couple times here, and that’s really been the evolution of what was traditionally monitoring. With the investment we had in the HP tools, we’ve got a long history here. We’ve got a lot of credibility with it, still probably one of the largest customer bases in the industry for that, but what we’ve seen is the demand from them to … It’s a combination of automation and AI to deliver against this idea that we don’t want to have to manually set up rules for monitoring and adjust what’s happening and make sense out of all the data.
I mean, we’ve never had more insight into our environments, or I should say more data in our environments, and yet less insight into what’s actually happening. We’re flooded with data right now, and so AIOps is all about getting through the noise and getting to the root cause of problems so that we can recover from incidents even faster. To answer your question, “What does it take to be more successful?,” you’re going to need integrations. I’ve already mentioned this a couple times as well, but there are very few environments out there that are sort of single vendor approach to things, so you’re going to need to pull in information from your cloud providers. You’re going to need information from your network providers.
You’re going to need information from your APM or Application Performance Management tools. You’re going to need to pull in information from your on-premises infrastructure, as well as SaaS services from the user experience all the way down into the databases. You’re going to need broad observability, and again, it’s hybrid, right? It’s across the cloud and on-premises, and you’re going to need to pull that in, normalize that data, and then be able … Of course, the other big part of this is the AI, right?
I mean, a lot of people are claiming they’re AIOps vendors right now, but really don’t have the strength of an analytics engine to back that up. It’s really more about, “Hey, it’s time-based, event correlation, or maybe they’re able to do some topography-based things,” but true AI, it learns. It’s not stagnant. It’s something that sees patterns and says, “Wait, I’ve seen that before. I know what it’s going to look like if that happens again, and so I’m going to be more proactive about identifying this as a problem,” and ideally …
I mean, look, if all we had … Imagine you had a security guard who was at a bank, and all he did was just monitor for guys in ski masks and guns coming in the bank, and suddenly started shouting, “There’s a robbery, there’s a robbery,” but didn’t actually do anything about it. Well, what’s the point of that? I mean, for AIOps to really be effective, we need to automate the recovery steps behind it, and especially for known errors. It’s amazing just what a high percentage of sort of common known things happen every day, and yet a lot of that’s responded to manually because, again, back to the point about too much data, too much noise and not enough insight, so if AIOps can help us get that insight, then we can really narrow down the amount of automation that has to happen and ultimately drive to that place where we’re either preventing an incident from occurring in the first place, or when it does occur, that we absolutely minimize that mean time to recovery because ultimately, in today’s environments, customers are going to go seek another source, another vendor if we are constantly presenting them with trouble when they try to make purchases or whatever the case may be.
Guy Nadivi: With 40,000 customers, I’m sure you hear lots of different perspectives as feedback. What do you think are some of the most unrealistic expectations currently plaguing the field of IT automation?
Travis Greene: Well, I’d say the thing that probably holds people back the most is the sense that they want to take what they’re doing now and just automate it. Whatever manual processes that they become familiar with, that their teams are comfortable with are what they want to take, and then apply in an automated fashion. Sometimes that works, but I think if you’re really going to take on, as Gartner would say, a hyperautomation project, then you need to start realizing that there might be better ways to do things in an automated world, and so ultimately, you want to keep the end goal in mind, which is to provide a self-service environment where your developers can come in and get the infrastructure they need, where your employees can request things and have that automatically fulfilled, where even the operations teams are able to spend less time managing the management tools and more time on making sure that the environment is safe and that patches are applied, and that we have a good way to respond to incidents when they occur. Those sort of things sometimes need a new look at the way that even the organization is structured and the way that processes are laid out because sometimes, in a sense, that the automation is just a replacement of the human labor. While that’s partially true, it’s not completely true.
There’s always going to be a need for, I think, a human to provide some oversight and decision-making skills around that, but let’s provide those humans with better data, with really better insights into what’s really needed so that they can make better decisions, and then when it comes time to implementing a change, implementing some sort of fulfillment that it’s done in a way that minimizes the amount of workload on any individual across the organization, because here’s the thing, the automation is critical to digital transformation. You really aren’t going to have one without the other.
Guy Nadivi: Travis, for the CIOs, CTOs and other IT executives listening in, what is the one big must have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion with regards to IT automation?
Travis Greene: I mean, if I could pick one thing, I would say start with, and this is the typical consulting answer, is start with a pilot project, but when you do that, build an IT center of excellence around it, an automation center of excellence, if you will, with the goal of scaling it, so you’re going to have to have a bigger goal in mind. There’s not a whole lot of point in just staying with the pilot project and just staying with the center of excellence. You got to use that to build a set of capabilities, prove it, and then expand it. When you’re selecting an automation platform, do one that’s going to be able to achieve the goal that you’re trying to achieve at the end of that project, not the one that is fit for purpose for a limited set of capabilities. Yeah, you’re really going to have to look for the things I’ve already been talking about, which is ability to integrate across multiple vendors, ability to provide that user experience, that it’s something that people enjoy working with, because they’ll reject it if they don’t, and yet, has an ability to be transparent about how it’s providing the governance and the policy enforcement, and implementing, monitoring, and all those sort of things because that’s still needed.
It’s just people don’t want to deal with it. They want, again, that sort of push button to start engine, drive car sort of thing, not the no one wants to sit there and understand the inner workings of the transmission and everything else that goes into making a working vehicle. They just want to drive the car, so the parts that are underneath have got to work together. They got to work in concert with one another, so think big, but start small.
Guy Nadivi: All right. Looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Travis, it’s great hearing the market perspective from someone else in the IT automation space, and given that change really is the only constant and that in these extraordinary times, we all need to be adaptable. I found your views on hybrid IT operations and hyperautomation particularly interesting. Thank you very much for coming on to the show today and sharing your thoughts with us.
Travis Greene: Thanks, Guy. Appreciate it.
Guy Nadivi: Travis Greene, Director of Strategy for IT Operations Products at Micro Focus. Thank you for listening, everyone, and remember, don’t hesitate, automate.
Travis began his career as a US Naval Officer, transitioning to IT Operations in 2000. He joined Micro Focus in 2005, and is a leader in helping customers benefit from cross-portfolio solutions. Travis possesses a unique blend of IT operations and security experience, process design, organizational leadership and technical skills. He is a regular columnist for Security Week Magazine, InfoWorld and is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He has been a speaker at Interop, RSA, itSMF and Gartner events among dozens of others. Travis is Expert Certified in ITIL, is Pragmatic Marketing Certified, Mandel Communications Certified, and holds a BS in Computer Science from the US Naval Academy.
Travis can be reached at: