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Intelligent operations guidance from Accenture, Ahead, Orion

The nascent intelligent operations field promises to shake up how companies do business. But customers need not start from scratch to get the benefits, IT consultants noted.

Intelligent operations is an emerging field that combines monitoring, automation, cloud computing, analytics and AI to transform how organizations get their work done.

For an IT department, intelligent operations could mean improving the process of monitoring systems, identifying root causes and remediating issues. For a customer service department, an intelligent operations approach could mean boosting the efficiency of call center operations.

The aim is to provide dramatic improvements, but sweeping changes can lead to disruption. IT service providers carving a niche in intelligent operations are working to lessen the dislocation. Industry executives suggested organizations typically have an opportunity to use some of the tools they already have in place -- so starting from scratch isn't the only option.

Looking to launch an intelligent operations consulting practice? Here are three important steps to consider when engaging with customers.

Assess the existing environment

For service providers, an assessment of the as-is environment is among the first tasks of an intelligent operations engagement. A look at the present helps create a foundation for the "future-ready" client operations, said Omkar Phadnis, managing director of AI and innovation at Accenture Operations.

Omkar Phadnis, managing director of AI and innovation, Accenture OperationsOmkar Phadnis

Accenture will "assess the maturity of existing operations" in a project's initial phase, which also includes articulating the problem statement and re-engineering broken business processes, he noted.

Some enterprises may not have an intelligent operations initiative in mind when they first approach an IT services firm. Eric Kaplan, CTO at Ahead, a Chicago company that works with clients on cloud deployments, said customers may come to Ahead with availability problems in a particular part of their environment or may want to launch a new app or service. But those tactical considerations may mask broader issues that call for an intelligent operations approach.

"Take a step back," is the advice Kaplan offers his customers. "What are you trying to accomplish? What tools do you have in place? How do we take that spend and repurpose it so we can effectively put in a strategy?"

Build on existing systems

An intelligent operations project typically doesn't call for the wholesale scrapping of customers' previous technology investments. IT services firms, instead, aim to build upon what a client has in place.

Accenture's SynOps approach, which brings together the company's operations expertise and proprietary digital workforce offerings, can generally "fit on top of existing client systems and technologies, integrated at the right points," Phadnis said. Accenture offers more than 100 preconfigured analytics and AI accelerators, which can be embedded in business areas such as marketing, customer experience and supply chain.

You can't just throw in these tools and think there is going to be magic on the other end.
Raj PatilCEO, Orion Business Innovation

"Accelerators can get implemented very quickly in the existing client environment ... and start delivering the outcomes," he said.

Accenture Personalization Accelerator for Travel, for example, draws upon AI with the goal of helping companies in the industry boost customer experience.

Kaplan also believes customers can usually take advantage of systems already in place when moving toward intelligent operations. He said many customers are adopting platforms such a ServiceNow, have network monitoring tools on hand and can feed the tool data into a security information and event management system. He said organizations may use products such as Splunk to serve as a deep repository for log data.

Those components can get businesses started down the intelligent operations path, but they may need to invest in additional tools.

"I think where we see customers need to spend money are things like application performance management," Kaplan said.

He said organizations may have a legacy application performance management (APM) tool in place. Older technology may have rudimentary event correlation and deduplication features, but customers need an updated approach that reduces "noise" and helps them focus on what really matters, he added.

A customer needing an updated APM could purchase Cisco's AppDynamics or upgrade an older version of Dynatrace, Kaplan said.

Organizations with fewer tools at their disposal may require a different technology strategy. Those customers might look at an offering such as Datadog, which Kaplan said encompasses monitoring, log management and APM.

Integrate for best results

Industry executives suggested intelligent operations projects will involve multiple tools, rather than a single solution.

"There isn't one platform that is going to cover all the angles here," Kaplan said. "It is really, 'How do we put in the right tools for the right problem?' There has to be an integration story. In isolation, tools do their job. But often we need to trade data between them and leverage data from one to take action in another."

Raj Patil, CEO at Orion Business InnovationRaj Patil

Customization is critical for getting the tools of intelligent operations to work together, said Raj Patil, CEO at Orion Business Innovation, a technology services firm based in Edison, N.J. Intelligent operations projects tend to be multifaceted: Organizations must identify what data they have, or need to acquire, to make a process more intelligent, while also considering delivery platforms such as cloud. In addition, the automation component of intelligent operations could start with robotic process automation and progress, over time, to more sophisticated AI and machine learning offerings.

"Every day there are emerging players -- the landscape is rapidly moving," Patil said. "But those are the blocks. There's bespoke that needs to be done ... especially in complex environments. You can't just throw in these tools and think there is going to be magic on the other end."

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