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Self-service automation gives WLA maximum power

Users don't want to wait for an admin to run a report. Admins don't want to drop their work to do it. Set parameters on self-service options and let workers help themselves.

There have been few advances to workload automation tools in recent years, which means there is room for improvement.

A maturation of job scheduling, workload automation (WLA) runs reports or schedules workloads, i.e., jobs, triggered by events and not just on a time schedule.

The event, in this case, is an end user request for items such as reports, password changes or configuration updates. If a user, or a help desk portal , sends an email to an admin who is busy, the reply could take anywhere from several minutes to a few hours -- and that assumes the admin doesn't extend the request to somebody else in a different department to respond to the initial query. Humans -- and email servers -- are fallible, and the unfortunate reality is that an email message might get lost entirely.

Enter self-service automation, which removes the human bottleneck and gives the end user a modicum of autonomy and power over their own workflow, said Robert Naegle, an analyst at Gartner. Admins set up the self-service portal, and dictate the number and nature of permissions accessible to user roles, such as managerial or general staff, or accounting and other departments. Self-service automation lets the end user initiate a project instead of the administrator. This removal of a potential human bottleneck can save time and free up the admin for more strategic tasks.

Self-service automation improves productivity

Admins at a major northeastern utility company have used CA Workload Automation's AutoSys self-service product for more than 20 years, so they are deeply familiar with WLA. A workload automation admin at the company, who requested anonymity, was excited by CA's most recent 11.3.7 update. The release includes access to standard APIs, as well as SQL commands, plug-ins or a command-line interface, among other options.

The AutoSys self-service automation saves the admins time because they can write a single script for a process, which AutoSys can monitor. The tool also triggers dependent processes and systems to run when the task successfully completes.

IT doesn't build a business process for the end user to own and manage, but rather it has automated a process that lets the end user initiate a task, according to Naegle. End users don't have to wait for IT to prioritize their requests, and admins aren't interrupted from other work to run a batch process or acquire a report for the user.

It's more operations automation [than business automation], but [it's] automating a business service ... trying to provide a service for the business that they want and need.
Robert Naegleanalyst, Gartner

For this utility company, the end users are the operations admins in different work groups, and self-service automation means everybody continues to focus on their particular tasks without interruption: Operations pros have access to server status reports without having to ask the server admins for help, for example, and read-only views into databases mean database admins don't have to pull the information to order.

"It's more operations automation [than business automation], but [it's] automating a business service ... trying to provide a service for the business that they want and need," Naegle said.

CA Workload Automation's AutoSys has competition in the market with self-service automation, including Cisco Tidal Enterprise Scheduler, IBM Workload Automation and BMC Control-M. BMC's automated self-service portal is available in the form of a web-based companion application.

End users like self-service automation because it speeds up requests and helps IT work without interruption, but the BMC application's importance varies between customers and their need, said Laehr Mistry, an assistant manager of workload automation at Atec Group in Albany, N.Y.

Giving end users -- who might not be tech-savvy -- more control can feel like a disaster waiting to happen. However, Control-M enables admins to narrow the scope of jobs and operations that an end user can activate, especially when those users are external vendors, organizations or processes, Mistry said. So what if something goes wrong or a process is delayed that might kick off a dependent process, which will consequently break? "You can use [BMC self-service] to hold onto that job, which saves from errors that are time-consuming to resolve," Mistry said. Everything is predefined, including which users have access to what data and which actions can be taken by any given job role or department. This spares admins from security nightmares.

A key benefit of workload automation is the built-in procedure to handle any kind of process failure, which dumb scripts cannot do. If Job A succeeds, then the automation tool will trigger Job B; if Job A fails, the tool instead triggers an alert to an information management or ticketing tool for examination.

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