CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

Digital automation is very effective but often fails to deliver. As a result, many reach for robotic process automation – even though they already have automation capabilities in their environments.

Thousands of hours are spent on back-office processes or manual desk tasks. These are routine and repeatable, yet require some level of expertise, but the humans who oversee them could be doing better things, hence the allure of automation. It’s about spending full-time hours engaged in more productive activities, thus increasing efficiency, performance and revenue.

Failure to deliver

Digital automation is very appealing, unfortunately, it struggles to meet its promises.

“Many automation projects are not living up to expectations,” said Sipho Mogapi, MD of Lubanzi ICT Consulting. “They start well, but then delivery slows down and only exists in isolated pockets.”

Digital automation projects struggle for many of the same reasons associated with other technology projects, such as poor buy-in and resistance from silos. But the demand for automation efficiencies has not gone away. This is pushing a lot of interest in robotic process automation.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a novel solution to automation problems. RPA systems can be trained to interact with an application just as a user would. It literally automates the actions a human would be performing. Unfortunately, RPA cannot fix all automation problems.

“There is a lot of interest in RPA and it has its place, but it’s too hyped. Many companies are not leveraging on what they have already automated, using the tools for test automation, because they are too invested in what RPA promises. They are not leveraging the capabilities that are already possible with their existing automated tests.”

Real automation value

Businesses with modern digital systems to their environments can access automation capabilities, but how can they do so and improve automation’s poor delivery record?

“You have to start from the top down,” Mogapi explained. “There needs to be a group strategy and automation has to be adopted at a group level. If you do not have that, it is a challenge. There are too many silos in delivering software development projects. At the project level, automation can still be adopted and achieve great results. The problem comes when teams need to integrate to deliver those solutions.”

He gave a few reasons to why automation fails:

Expectations that an automated process will be the same as the original process after changes in the system, not thinking about maintenance;

Expectations that technology, not people, will cause change;

Lack of strategy in implementing automation;

Management holding unrealistic expectations.

Automation is not about replacing like for like, it changes the organisation and should be expanded iteratively. Dedicated focus and the personal touch are what deliver successful automation. This is why a specialist provider makes a significant difference, supported by the services and frameworks of large backers.

Lubanzi uses its agility as an SMME to give the dedicated attention needed for automation to take root. At the same time, it can deliver these services at an enterprise level and for large customers. By leveraging Micro Focus solutions though Axiz’s SMME programme, Lubanzi combines the personal touch with best-of-breed solutions.

Axiz has developed an SMME programme through which smaller solution providers can access the services and support to implement Micro Focus services and products. This includes a SITA Framework Agreement that gives SMMEs access to and capacity for public sector projects without undergoing a tender process. The programme also accelerates SMME delivery of any size private sector customer, arming Axiz and Micro Focus’ partners with the right skills, insights and support systems to focus on what they do best.

The promises made by digital automation are true and many of those capabilities are already inside current systems. Unlocking these is not a question of buying the hottest new technologies, but selecting a partner who can invest the time and focus required. This starts to deliver the true value of digital automation and helps lead companies towards their transformation into modern enterprises.

A wave of big data from a slew of ubiquitously networked devices, sensors and the Internet of things, is flooding organisations across the board, and putting pressure on data centres to deliver and perform at their peak. Moreover, the need for instant, ‘from anywhere’ resources from the business perspective, has led to the development of powerful ‘hyperscale’ cloud data centres.

This is according to Tondani David Mphephu, Azure expert at leading ICT value-added distributor, Axiz. “It’s no surprise then that Internet giants, and the hyperscale data centres they are creating to support their platforms, are at the centre stage of all conversations around the storage and data centre today. The sheer scale at which these providers are developing infrastructure, the innovation they are driving, and how they are competing are dominating the cloud landscape are hot topics.”

He says hyperscale cloud was developed by the cloud behemoths (think Microsoft, Amazon and Google) to support the creation and delivery of software-based services at lightening speed, and with the lowest possible price tag. “They wanted a platform that underpins the ongoing, reliable and scalable delivery of software-based services without the expense and speed limitations that go hand in hand with physical hardware and networking infrastructure.”

The hyperscale cloud is essentially a software-based environment that is removed from physical infrastructure so that all resources provided by the infrastructure can be manipulated quickly and programmatically, without long, onerous procurement cycles and time-wasting human intervention, explains Mphephu. Software applications developed to run in a hyperscale cloud environment are designed to be fast, cheap to deploy and extremely resilient to physical infrastructure failure.

Hyperscale cloud is not only removing the barriers to service innovation by allowing new software to be deployed almost as fast as it can be created, it is driving the democratisation of many technologies that were previously only available to large enterprises, such as analytics and AI, he says.

Mphephu adds a caveat: “All hyperscale providers are not equal, and because software is at the heart of all technology innovation, those who get it right, will devour market share. This is why Microsoft Azure  now offers a whole new set of capabilities and features far superior to its competitors. The fact that more than 95% of Fortune 500 companies use Azure speaks for itself.”

Axiz offers Azure to its partners, and has the skills to help them realise the numerous benefits of the platform, which simply cannot be realised without a good hyperscale partner, he says. “Think about resources. Today’s world is an ‘everything instantly’ one. Organisations need speed to deliver, and the require vast amounts of data capacity. At the very core, hyperscale is built on three pillars of speed – build, deploy and respond, and it can help businesses deliver on all of these. However, hyperscale needs to be executed and deployed in phases, and this is one area where having a good partner is key, as they will not only help you plan to improve your time to value, but help navigate your organisation through deployment, ensuring that your business has the appropriate services and the space needed to expand.”

And because organisations can’t afford any downtime, a good hyperscale partner will ensure that your environment is kept up and running and is resilient, says Mphephu. A good partner will have the necessary experience in delivering hyperscale deployments, and will have proven themselves, by having a true understanding of the points of failure to avoid, and an appreciation of what challenges hyperscale providers face.

Another major benefit of having the right hyperscale partner, is visibility. “We all know the old adage, you can’t manage what you can’t see, and in a hyperscale environment, visibility is crucial. Too many people trying to manage such a vast ecosystem is asking for trouble, but at the same time, it is crucial that the right people know what is going on in the data centre at all times. To avoid a bad management situation, a hyperscale provider will be able to deliver upon a service-based integrated technology that gives your organisation the appropriate optics and controls that to boost performance through a single pane of glass,” Mphephu continues.

Next, he says, is flexibility. “There’s no point in adopting hyperscale if you don’t have the agility and flexibility needed to scale up and down as required, or if you are locked into a contract that doesn’t meet your needs. It is not an exact science, it is not always possible to predict exactly how much capacity the organisation needs now, never mind how much it might need in two years time. Finding out what works and what doesn’t can take time, and a good hyperscale partner will work with your business, and scale and grow with you, as well as give you a flexible contract.”

Finally, in terms of cost savings, it’s no good jumping on the bandwagon without understanding the true cost of ownership (TCO). It’s not a question of an upfront expense, or even knowing exactly what you’re in for on a monthly basis financially into perpetuity. “It is crucial to work with a hyperscale partner who can help align your business strategy with your hyperscale needs,” concludes Mphephu.